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CPR March Newsletter: The Latest On College Rankings

Dear Fellow Parent,

A big welcome to new members who attended my keynote at the SERF College Fair at Lincoln-Sudbury High School last weekend! Stay strong while your junior dives into their college search (or enters full avoidance mode) or your senior receives college notifications and either loves or hates the results (because: no gray area for teenagers).

The US News and World Report shrewdly releases their annual rankings during the college admission version of March Madness. Knowledge is a great source of empowerment, which you 100% deserve! So I’m devoting this newsletter to sharing information you may not have realized about those rankings and offering alternative resources.

Facts About the US News and World Report College Rankings:

  • The US News invented the “best colleges” rankings in 1983 as a gimmick to sell more magazines (its sales lagged behind Time and Newsweek). Before that prestige was a thing, but the terms “top” and “top tier” colleges did not exist.
  • Here are the actual criteria used for the rankings. You decide if the US News formula matches your needs and values.
  • Most of the “top” ranked law and medical schools (including Yale, Harvard, Stanford, Columbia, etc.) announced last November that they would no longer participate in the US News rankings because the formula did not reflect their values and actually undermined their missions.
  • Just a couple of weeks ago, three brave undergraduate colleges (Rhode Island School of Design, Colorado College, and Bard) also announced they will no longer participate in the US News annual ranking surveys.
  • I’m labelling those colleges “brave” because Reed College stopped participating in 1995 and plummeted from #38 to #90 as punishment. (The US News will rank colleges anyway, even with no metrics to go on.) Then last year, a Columbia University math professor exposed how colleges game the rankings, and Columbia slid from #2 to #18. (Both Reed and Columbia continue to thrive, BTW.)

Some Alternative, More Accurate Resources:

  • Create a personal “best colleges” list. Students, brainstorm YOUR most important criteria for a college. It’s okay if they change month-to-month (or day-to-day) as you become more educated about your options. Then type your top 3-5 criteria into your search engine, see what pops up, and research those colleges.
  • Ask your high school counselor to share suggestions. They might have a realistic sense of what would be a good fit for your child, beyond the 50 colleges you’ve heard of.
  • Use impartial books that are not paid advertisements for a specific college, or published to sell magazines or attract eyeballs as rankings are. See College Admissions Cracked for more recommendations, but a couple of my favorites are Loren Pope’s Colleges That Change Lives and the Fiske Guide. Online, the government-run College Scorecard provides financial information to benefit you instead of colleges.
  • Consider big or small, urban or rural, geography, and cost instead of selectivity when choosing colleges to visit or ultimately attend. Make your search about what you want out of a college, not which colleges will accept you.
  • Make sure colleges on your list offer the major you’re considering, though studying where that major is “top ranked” is a waste of time for most students because 80% of undergraduates change their major, anyway.
  • What’s YOUR definition of success? Which colleges offer what you need to help you achieve it? I’m not shaming you if prestige is part of it. I’m just saying that I’ve known students who thought they wanted to study engineering, business, or Arabic but applied early decision (a binding commitment) to a college that didn’t even offer that major because the students thought they’d have a better chance of getting in at another college that would “look” more impressive. Misery and yet another round of transfer applications ensued.

Sanity Saver…

The lesser-known endings to some famous adages:

Great minds think alike, but fools rarely differ.
Rome wasn’t built in a day, but it burned in one.
Curiosity killed the cat, but satisfaction brought it back.

In Conclusion…

No shame (ever)! It’s no secret that I’m cheering for the demise of the US News rankings (and all the copycats contributing to the college admissions craziness you should NOT have to endure), but I don’t blame you for paying attention to them. Who couldn’t? They’re broadcast literally everywhere. At least now you have some alternative tools, and if there’s anything you need me to cover in this newsletter (because if you do, others do, too), contact me here. As always, I’ve got your back.



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