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College Rankings – A Vicious Cycle

University ranking

As I start working with year 12 students, I hear the infamous question, “What is the best university in the US?”  I am pretty sure at some point they have come across a rankings list compiled by a third party organization. These lists rank how some colleges and universities stack up against each other, and the message it conveys is the higher the rank, the better the institution. I don’t necessarily have a problem with the logic behind the message that a higher ranking = more opportunities available, and a quick glance at the top 100 will easily show they have millions of dollars in endowment funds which can keep them running even if they stop charging fees.

My concern is how so many students, both American and International, base their understanding of colleges on these rankings. The number of students who use rankings alone to determine where they look, apply, and ultimately would like to attend (assuming they get in!), is a concern of mine as a college consultant.  Students start to think that the most top ranked colleges and universities are the only options for them. This is especially prevalent as international students may have a limited knowledge of American higher education. When I’m speaking at schools or college fairs and I ask students to guess how many colleges and universities are in the U.S, most of them guess between 300-500 institutions, when there are actually more than 4,000! I strongly believe that amongst this number there has to be more than one school that can be a great fit for a student.  What determines a good fit for the student has a lot less to do with rank, endowment and fame and more to do with location and community, opportunities on and off campus, and major programs.

It is quite possible that the college or university for which a student is best suited, is not necessarily one that is internationally recognized or even listed in the top 100. And that’s OK! Did you know that nearly half of the colleges and universities on the top 100 list are some of the most selective and competitive colleges to be accepted to? Nonetheless, it doesn’t help when friends and families inquisitively ask about the students’ choice, which they have never heard of, no matter how great of a fit it is for the student.  No wonder students feel they should pick a college based on how recognizable the name is to family and friends, and that’s only because of these rankings lists. It’s a vicious cycle.

And in this vicious cycle the student becomes so focused and fixated on finding the “best” school that they completely forget that it’s more important to find the RIGHT school for them.  Moral of the story? Don’t get caught up in the hype of college rankings. A highly ranked school does not automatically guarantee your success because you still have to do your part at being a great student. It’s more important to find a place where you can BE your best so you can DO your best.

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