Forget Letterman's Top 10 list. Don't give another thought to this
week's list of must-have CDs. If you're pondering life after high school,
the only lists that really ought to be taking up head space are the American
college ranking lists. They're the annual list of all the colleges and universities
in the United States, rated according to very strict sets of standards and
Right about now you may be thinking to yourself: "What do
I need a formal ranking list for? I can make up my own mind. I don't need
someone I don't even know telling me which school is best."
a good way to think. While rankings are helpful in providing an overview of
the best schools, they are not necessarily the best tool to determine which
school is best for you. So you are right in thinking a list or ranking system
can't dictate how and where to spend your valuable tuition dollars.
you are the one seeking and getting a higher education, and you are the one
who should be making that all-important life choice. But since the range of
college choices is so incredibly large, some help could be, well, helpful!
rankings systems can provide that help. "Rankings are irresistible and inescapable,"
says Marisa Ostroff, a college and career center counselor.
seems to be an emotional and intellectual need [for these rankings] that is
real. Rankings have led students and parents to discoveries. They seem to
gain a wider perspective and are able to better connect the puzzle of college
She also credits these rankings with "demystifying the
admissions process and...creating a common vocabulary for parents, students,
counselors and universities."
In other words, rankings help expose,
explain and rate schools using the same standards or guideposts right across
High school counselor Brenda Melton agrees that ranking
systems can be crucial eye-openers. "College ranking systems are an exploration
guide for students who are seeking outstanding postsecondary education in
their chosen career field. By comparing rankings, students have a perspective
of the credibility of their [prospective] college or university," says Melton.
But that doesn't mean rankings are the be-all and end-all of the tricky
college selection process. Sometimes the information gathered by these rankings
systems, and even how this information is gathered, can be a bit misleading.
Ostroff points to one of the most influential ranking systems (U.S.
News and World Report) as an example of this potential flaw with the rankings
She says this particular system places too much importance
on things such as tuition and reputation. On the other hand, this same system
places too little importance on what she and other educators consider truly
important issues, namely how much money the schools actually spend on preparing
students, and asking students how they rate the education they received at
these particular schools.
"The difficult-to measure concept of institutional
reputation is another special concern, especially when the figures keep changing,"
Students should also be aware of the fact that these rankings
may not represent all their postsecondary options. Some colleges, for example,
decide they don't want to be included, and so refuse to participate. Some
of these colleges claim numbers and statistics only represent part of the
"best of the bunch" picture.
Ostroff explains that some people believe
colleges should be rated according what students learn, and how they use the
knowledge they've gained.
If the general consensus is that rating
systems can indeed be helpful, which one listing should you rely on? According
to Barbara Blackburn, a high school counselor, look inward first.
sources rank colleges for various reasons, like highest rate of acceptance
into postgrad professional programs, best overall buy...."
that students start by pinpointing their own wants and needs. If you don't
yet know your major, an overall, general ranking list would be appropriate.
"If you know you definitely want to go to medical school, then looking
at a ranking of schools that produces a large percentage of successful med
school admissions would be best," says Blackburn.
U.S. News and World Report as a convenient one-stop shop because it includes
many statistics in handy table forms, allowing parents and students to compare
the academic quality of schools. The expansive list, especially if it's checked
early on in the college selection process, can help readers zero in on schools
with specific criteria they need and want.
"Scanning the list may
also result in learning about schools which were never considered or even
heard of," says Ostroff. She also agrees with Melton, who says visiting the
campus -- online or in person -- and having a personal interview with the
college staff is critical to making that final decision.
Ostroff offers this priceless bit of advice: "Not every college or university
is the right fit; therefore, beginning the college entrance process early
will help eliminate any disappointment. It is very important to realize that
fit should be chosen over prestige. There are many schools where students
can be very successful."