Rethink How You Rate College Rankings
College rankings are fun to talk about, but families shouldn’t view them as the be-all and end-all when they’re building a list of prospective colleges. The reality is that these rankings are subjective. From U.S. News & World Report to The Wall Street Journal to The New York Times, every source uses different data points and has its own inherent biases.
At Partners For Achievement, we encourage families to focus more on pinpointing schools that are the best fit for their child. Just because a college is highly ranked doesn’t mean it’s ideal for your circumstances. Does the social environment mesh with your child’s personality? Does the school excel in the student’s field of interest? What are the potential career prospects upon graduation? Does the tuition fall within your family’s budget? If not, is the school generous with merit-based aid? These are some of the other questions you need to consider.
Value of college rankings
That said, there are positive insights and valid reasons to consider a highly-ranked university, including the power of the alumni network, the caliber of teaching you’ll be able to experience, the highly motivated students surrounding you, and the types of jobs and salaries that come from the companies that recruit at those institutions. School reputation and recognition can make a notable difference upon graduation. The question is, what are you going to do with it? A Northwestern or a Princeton will deliver you a foot in the door right away, but how well you did with the first job opportunity, not necessarily the school you attended, is what will make the difference when applying for the second job.
Consider your specific situation
You have to put rankings into the context of your specific situation. The rankings will indicate that Northwestern’s ACT requirement range is about 32-34, but that might not be the case for you. There are other factors at play. If you’re from, say, an affluent high school in the Chicago suburbs and aren’t a recruited athlete or from an underrepresented population, a 34 on the ACT isn’t likely to cut it. The ACT range at the University of Illinois is listed as 26-31, but if you plan to major in engineering or computer science, scores are significantly more competitive.
Furthermore, the rankings typically are skewed toward schools with deeper pockets because of factors like endowments and alumni satisfaction. You can’t blame schools for trying to score high in the various rankings because of the buzz it creates. That buzz, however, can make the college search more challenging. Many families place a lot of stock in the rankings, and for some of the reasons I’ve stated, that tends to cause confusion when they try to gauge their child’s acceptance chances at particular schools.
My advice? Create your own rankings, based on what’s right for your child. If a brand name is part of the equation, great. But remember: The rankings are just one piece, and often not the most important piece.
PFA’s College Admissions Program includes providing guidance for students on colleges that are the right fit. For more information about PFA’s College Admissions Program click here.
Kevin Krebs is the founder and CEO of Partners For Achievement. Read more about Krebs and the rest of the Partners For Achievement team.