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I’ve always been a really big nerd. I took the SAT for the first time in middle school, I was awarded a full scholarship to attend a private high school, and to this day, there is nothing I love more than learning. Because of that, it wasn’t a big surprise to me or my family when the prospect of prestigious universities came up.
My freshman year of high school, I did what every good nerd would do. I popped open Google and typed in the following:
“Best Colleges in the United States”
The first link took me to the U.S. News College Ranking list. (Spoiler alert: it will always be the first link.) And down I went into the college ranking rabbit hole…. RIP little bunny.
Flash forward to my sophomore year. Now, I’m cross-checking every school that interests me with this god awful list. It’s my North Star. Not ranked in the top 50? Off the list. Darn. I really loved that one.
Does this sound familiar? Have you second-guessed any of the schools on your list because of their rankings? Or maybe you’ve added a school that you know nothing else about except its rank on a list?
In case no one has told you this yet: COLLEGE RANKINGS ARE TOTAL BULLSH*T. Period. End of story.
Now you might be thinking, woah Brooklyn, that’s a little presumptuous. But I can back this sh*t up, so hear me out.
We’ll start with some information from U.S. News themselves on exactly how they rank colleges.
“Hard objective data alone determine each school’s rank. We do not tour residence halls, chat with recruiters or conduct unscientific student polls for use in our computations.”
Hmmm. They don’t tour residence halls to see where students will be living? Seems like the place that you eat and sleep and shower might be a little important if you ask me. It’s only where you’ll spend like 80% of your time for the next 4 years. Let’s keep going…
They don’t chat with recruiters. Granted recruiters are basically salespeople for the college I could see how they might put a bias punch into their pitch, but they also know almost everything there is to know about a university. A recruiter’s wealth of knowledge can be a pretty good resource for choosing a college.
They don’t conduct unscientific student polls. Really? I mean, I’d take it with a grain of salt, but it seems like the student opinion of a college should play a pretty large factor in how a college ranks if you ask me. Like when I’m applying to college I think it’d be really cool to know what percentage of students are happy, don’t you?
Instead, they use alumni giving as an indicator of “student satisfaction” without considering that it is probably just measuring excessive wealth and perpetuating the divide. They use selective admissions to measure academic excellence, suggesting that students with higher test scores and GPAs in high school will be more successful in college without actually accounting for college success. (Schools also self-report this data and more than a few have been caught fudging their numbers to get a better ranking.)
And my favorite indicator, because it is so obviously flawed is the “expert opinion,” weighted for 20 percent, in which they ask institutions to peer review each other and ask high school counselors to give their opinions on the academic reputation of colleges. But I thought they only use hard objective data? Opinions seem pretty subjective to me. Apparently, they consider opinions to be objective if they come from the top administrators but subjective if they come from the students. It’s ageism at its finest. #hypocrites
I’m not trying to blast U.S. News. Okay, I’m hating on them and their stupid lists for sure, but the point that I’m trying to make to you is that every college list is flawed. You should never let a ranking dictate which colleges you apply to and which ones you don’t.
In trying to make their rankings “objective” these lists reduce a four-year college experience into a poorly representative number. It’d be the equivalent of college counselors looking only at your test scores to make a decision on your admission without ever considering your background, extracurricular activities, work experience, volunteer hours, or reading your essays. It’s safe to say all of those components holistically are what make you YOU, and give them a much better picture of what you’d contribute as a student than your test scores do.
So stop making decisions based on college rankings. Even the list of Colleges That Change Lives (which I think gives a far better picture than the US News Rankings) is still based on someone else’s criteria of what makes one college better than another. Unless their criteria perfectly align with your own, then these lists are useless.
And I’m in no way excluding our own lists from this criticism. Our Hive Five college lists are not objective and they’re usually constructed around a single data point (location, programs, or even criteria as arbitrary as the “campus vibe”). These lists are designed to be informative and encourage you to explore colleges you may have never considered, but you should always choose to apply to schools that serve you holistically.
Ok, now for my own college application confession:
I WAS REJECTED FROM HARVARD.
And if the freshman-year version of me got that rejection letter, she would have been devastated. Like many bright high school students, I initially subscribed to the belief that the name and ranking of a school were really important. (Ha!)
I still applied to a few high ranking schools out of curiosity (though my heart wasn’t in it, so I totally half-assed my applications and didn’t even answer supplemental essay questions – don’t do that!!) and I got a mixed bag of rejections and acceptances in return.
But by my senior year, I wanted so much more out of a school than prestigious status on a list. I wanted to attend a college where I would be happy and I could thrive. The only school I was interested in was the University of San Diego and I turned down several “higher-ranking” universities to accept their offer. That’s because, to me, the University of San Diego was #1.
I don’t want to go so far as to say it doesn’t matter where you go to college, because it does matter to the extent that your college is a good match for you and that you can grow and thrive there. But I will always stand by the notion that the value of your education is based on what YOU make of the educational opportunities that YOU have, no matter where your school ranks on a stupid list.