Today’s Guest Blogger is Todd Johnson, the owner of College Admissions Partners, an organization which helps students and families through the complete college admissions and financial aid process. Todd regularly blogs on items of interest to students seeking to find the college best meeting their needs. Todd offers a free 1/2 hour consultation to discuss student needs for college admissions counseling. His contact information is available on his website.
Americans love to rank things. What’s the best car, the best doctor, the best hospital? But the real question is “best for whom”. Everyone has their own idea of what is best based on their own interests and judgment so finding the best of anything is going to be a matter of one person’s judgment.
This is true with colleges as well. We can identify which colleges have the highest SAT averages or the highest alumni giving rate but do those factors make those colleges best for everyone? But people still ask what the best colleges are.
Although there are many groups who provide college rankings, and more rankings come out each year, the best known college ranking service is of course U.S. News. For many years the “Best College” issue of U.S News has been their best selling issue. And every year the order of the colleges ranked change with some colleges improving their rankings and others losing ground. However, in real life, the quality of a college rarely changes in a single year or even in a single decade. The reason the rankings of the “Best Colleges” changes every year is because the magazine is constantly changing the criteria by which they determine the “best” college.
We can easily illustrate the problems with this type of constantly changing college ranking. In 1998 Caltech was ranked as the 9th best National University. In 1999, however, Caltech claimed the top spot as the best National University. Then in 2000, they dropped to 4th best. Did the quality of the education at Caltech change from 1998 to 1999 to 2000? The only thing that changed was the methodology used by US News that made per student spending a more important element in the rankings in 1999. Because Caltech has a high level of per student spending it jumped in the ratings. In 2000, U.S. News decreased the importance of per student spending in their rankings and Caltech fell slightly.
Reed College is an even more extreme example of the problem with college rankings. Reed is a very strong college and consistently one of the highest producers of future PhD students on a per capita basis. When the U.S. News ranking first came out in 1983, Reed was among the top 10 liberal arts colleges in the country. In 1995 Reed decided that it would no longer provide information to U.S. News for the ranking issue. U.S. News, in an attempt to punish Reed for not cooperating, assumed that all of the data that was not provided would be the worst possible and as a result, Reed was dropped in the rankings down to the 4th tier of colleges, the lowest tier available.
Now you’re thinking that I am telling you to never look at college rankings but that is not the case. The information provided by U.S. News and the other magazines which rank colleges can be helpful as a starting point in the college search process. It can tell you what percentage of students get accepted, the retention rate or number of students that return after their freshman year and other helpful statistics. Just don’t worry about the rankings because the best college for you may not be number one or even number 10.
Colleges Looking for Students
Every year at this time the National Association of College Admissions Counselors (NACAC) invites colleges and universities still admitting students for fall to make that fact known. For the list, visit the NACAC website. You may be surprised that several excellent colleges and universities have yet to fill their incoming classes.
Online Degree Programs
Waiting Lists; New Rules
This year, numerous colleges offered places to students on their waiting lists even before the date on which deposits were due. This is another of many indications that some excellent colleges are less selective now than they were in brighter economic times.