With the release of the most recent college rankings by Money, US News and World Report, Time/Wall Street Journal, The Princeton Review, Colleges of Distinction and many others, I often wondered how families of college-bound students derive meaning from all of this information.
Admittedly, on the college side, it is only natural for schools to market the rankings that cast a positive light on their institution while downplaying those that do not appear as favorable. While each publication provides specific criteria for their methodology, it is hard to imagine families spending the time necessary to sort through the chosen criteria and discern the relative emphasis placed on each factor in order to appreciate how that ultimately influences a schools position.
Where do we go from here?
It appears that there is no end in sight to the growing number of external groups who will continue to rank colleges based on a selected set of criteria that they have determined to be important. However, unlike a product such as a toaster or a vacuum cleaner reviewed in Consumer Reports, colleges have nuance, personality, distinct environments and other qualities that cannot be captured by a statistical formula. Rankings can provide some context, but will always fall short of conveying the total experience a student could have at a particular college.
I hope families will view the rankings as simply a piece of the puzzle and recognize their inherent limitations. My recommendation is that no college of interest be excluded from a student’s consideration set simply because they were not “ranked” as highly as others. Take the time to visit and explore all college options based on the criteria that is important to you. You might be surprised at what you discover.