Jill Haley: Why you should ignore college rankings | TheUnion.com

Jill Haley: Why you should ignore college rankings

Jill Haley
Columnist

Photo for The Union John Hart

Yes, it is that time of year.

The college rankings are out and US News and World Report and Princeton Review have published their rankings on the top colleges in the United States.

I read all the rankings, compare them to last years and then try to not think about them again, which is nearly impossible because my students and parents have all read them and want to talk about them.

The list doesn't change much. At the top are the elite private colleges that are nearly impossible to get into. In fact, the more students a college rejects (selectivity), the higher the rankings!

The bigger question is, does getting into a highly ranked college really matter in the long run? The evidence is pretty clear that it might not.

New York Times columnist Frank Bruni's book, "Where You Go Is Not Who You'll Be" looks at just that. Bruni focuses on the choices students make on where they go to college.

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What he concludes is it is what you make of your college experience is a lot more important than where you attend.

This is in contrast to what most of us have come to believe; that getting into the best college can be a game changer for the future. Social media and publications, like the Princeton Review who rank colleges, contribute to the idea that there are only a few highly selective colleges that the best students should go to.

What do rankings actually measure? US News and World Report uses data that considers graduation rates (important) but also alumni giving, high school class rank and class size. The most accessible colleges, the state public schools, don't fare well when taking into account many of the components of ranking.

The most selective university in the country, Stanford, released a study that demonstrates that rankings are based on factors that don't actually reflect what students and parents say they want in a college. Factors such as student-learning, future job prospects and earnings are not often taken into account when ranking colleges.

The Stanford study agrees with Bruni's findings that "the most successful students, both in college and beyond, are the ones who engage in the undergraduate experience regardless of how selective a school may be. This is almost always the case whether a student attends the top-ranked or 200th-ranked college."

We can look at some success stories to drive this point home when we look at President Barack Obama's undergraduate college at little known Southern California college, Occidental. What was important for his learning was the internship Oxy offered in Washington DC that channeled his interest into public policy and ultimately politics.

What really matters in choosing the right college? Finding a college that is the right fit for you socially, financially and academically is what matters, regardless of the rankings.

And once you are there, make the most of the opportunities available to you.

Jill Haley is a retired high school counselor who now works as an independent college counselor. She can be reached at http://www.getyouintocollege.com or jillncca@gmail.com.

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