The Truth Behind College Rankings

1. They are not accurate
2. They make colleges panic and behave badly
3. They make students choose the wrong schools for them
4. They don’t mean anything
5. The data can be false
6. They encourage parents to fixate on the same few schools
7. They tempt you not to feel super proud of your own school
It’s no secret that college counselors do not esteem college rankings. How can you compare and rank things that really can’t be measured?  Are rubies better than emeralds? Is French food better than Italian?  Is my Prius cooler than your VW van?  By their very nature, college rankings really can’t mean anything. They make people feel better, but they are completely subjective. This is not to say that data is bad, but assigning arbitrary value weights to subjective data points and then comparing the aggregate results is, in this case, data misconstrued. 
Data can be very helpful. For instance, you might be interested in freshman retention rate, the percent of students living on campus, and the average financial aid package, while I might really care about the number of students doing research as undergrads, the total count of volumes in that gorgeous labyrinth of a library (shout out to you, Widener!!), and how many faculty have Nobel Prizes (I’m kind of a geek like that). So my advice is to chuck your rankings, do your own research, look at the numbers that matter to you, and think for yourself.
The bottom line is: why are you going to college? To get an education. You can do that at any college, so rankings don’t matter. Truly, if you go to any community college, and you get super passionate about your studies, and you talk to your professors frequently, and you do your very best on every single assignment and finish at the top of your class–you are going to get a great education. Many CEO’s of Fortune 500 companies went to schools you’ve never heard of. The name on your degree is not as important as your intelligence and drive. 
It’s what you do with your learning that matters. You could go to a very fancy name brand school and learn very little for four years if you chose to. You could even go to a very fancy school and graduate with a degree where it is very difficult for you to get a job. Or you could go to a famous school and do well and use the network and get a great job.  But do you know what? You can do all of those same things at your local state university, too. I should know; I went to both, and I had an awesome experience at both the name brand place and my big state school.
At the end of the day: your motivation matters most.  What grades did you get? What internships did you do? What do your references have to say about your work ethic and contributions in class? These things matter far more than the name of your school, especially after you get that first job. And the greatest ingredient you will ever need to succeed is determination.  As Sir Winston Churchill so rightly put it: “Never, never, never give up.




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