The Danger of the College Ranking System

“Define the word best for me.”

This question is generally met with a bit of hesitation, followed by one of the words that makes me cringe most: rankings.

One of the biggest obstacles I have to overcome when helping a student with his or her college list is convincing that student to look beyond the mere ranking of the school when deciding whether or not to apply. So often students will tell me they did not research one of my recommendations because it was not ranked highly enough on the “US News & World Report Best Colleges” list.

Sure, these rankings are in place for a reason. But there is some grey area in how they’re developed and who is ultimately making that final call about which schools are ranked highest. And the one-size-fits-all approach does not take into consideration that different types of students do better at different types of schools. When you look at a list that consists primarily of large, public universities, what is the student who would do better at a smaller, liberal arts college to do?

Colleges go to great lengths to rise in the rankings. They employ more faculty in order to keep class sizes small. They solicit alumni donations to increase their overall endowment. But should the amount of money a college spends dictate the quality of education it offers? Not necessarily! In fact, more school spending can lead to hikes in tuition, and having to pay more for a big name is not always the best option for a family.

It’s also important to keep in mind that at your safety schools—schools at which you’re in the top 10-25% of the incoming class—you’re likely to see more merit aid than at the elite reach schools where you’re competing with other very talented students for few merit opportunities.

When I’m working with a student on his or her college list, the most important thing that I stress is finding the right fit. Just as no two colleges are the same, no two students are the same. The “best” school for one student may not be the “best” for another. I challenge my students to consider which things are most important to them so that we can approach the search process with these things in mind.

So the next time you take a look at any ranked list of colleges, proceed with caution and keep in mind what defines the word “best” for you.

Until Next Time,

Molly Monet, PES Student Services Consultant

P.S. Working through your college list can be exhausting.  With so many factors to include in your decision, it can be overwhelming.  How do you find a college that fits you academically, socially, and financially?  It’s cheaper to find the right fit now rather than after you get on campus.  I’d be happy to help you create your perfect college list.  Simply click here to get started!

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