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Reaction to the New Wall Street Journal College Rankings

November 1, 2016

Let’s say that you’re a top ranking student.  You’re in the top 5% of your class due to your high GPA. Your SAT, ACT and AP scores are enviable.

WSJ College Rankings

You also are well-rounded and your extra-curricular activities are just as important to you as your academic pursuits.  You excel in high school.  In fact, your guidance counselor frequently tells you that you’re one of the best prepared students in your graduating class.  And as a result, you’re going to be recognized with an award for outstanding achievement the following day.

But then you go to school the next morning and you find out that you’re not in the top 5% of your class any more.  Confused, you try to find out why.  And you’re given a conflicting and arguably ridiculous excuse that the formula used to determine high-achieving students has changed.  The school no longer cares that you have a high GPA, your test scores aren’t important, and your extra-curricular activities are just seen as well, extra, but not really necessary.  And because of the school’s new ranking system, you go from being in the top 5% of your class, to barely ranking at all.

You’re confused, upset, and outraged.  And rightfully so.  You worked hard for what you achieved and now a random new way of ranking has made you seem less competitive with your peers.   

You’re probably saying to yourself, this won’t happen to me, right? Well, probably not, but for many colleges and universities that were once seen as top colleges, this is exactly what happened, virtually overnight.

If you haven’t already heard, the Wall Street Journal has released its new rankings of colleges and universities.  And the rankings have been even more hotly contested than expected.  And the reasoning? Traditionally rankings have been based on variables such as applicant test scores, percentage of students accepted, and overall selectivity.  In general, the new ranking system focuses on items that are difficult to measure such as post-graduate success indicators and student engagement.  Hence, the new rankings attempt to focus on the student experience, both during and after college, but in doing so, other key indicators of a valuable college education are left out.

Arguably, a new college ranking system wasn’t necessary in the first place.  In fact, if anything it might have been discouraging to see that the college of your choice either didn’t make the rankings or was significantly lower than you expected.  But that’s the problem with college rankings, no matter what methodology is used, there is always going to be a subjective aspect that makes you question whether or not college and university rankings actually hold value.

And you should question rankings, because for all the pomp and circumstance surrounding the results and what they mean for the colleges listed (or not listed), the rankings fail to give you data on the most important aspect of any college and that aspect is, will it ultimately be a good fit for you?

So before you find yourself getting upset that last year your number one choice was in the top 10, but now it’s in the lower twenties, think to yourself: Does it really matter?  Will this in any way impact your decision to attend that school?  And if it does, then you should rethink why you’re trying to attend that school in the first place.  If a highly-contested college ranking system makes you reconsider your first choice school, then you’re using the wrong tools to determine which college would be best for you.

The college that will be the right fit will challenge and stimulate you intellectually.  It’ll be a college that encourages you to learn and explore subjects that you didn’t even know existed.  It’ll be a college that holistically makes you a better student, if not a better person.  And ultimately, it should not matter how this college or university is ranked a year or four years from now.  Whether it’s now or in the near future, these rankings can’t decide for you if attending a certain college would make you happy.  Feel free to read the rankings, but don’t let them dictate your future path.  You’re more than a class rank and an SAT score just as a college is a lot more than just its number on a ranking system.

Remember, your decision regarding where to attend college is an important one.  And it shouldn’t be swayed by what to many might seem like a random ranking system that holds little merit.  The value of your education can’t be determined by a ranking on a list.   The value of your education will be determined by the quality of instruction you receive, by the relationships you make, and the knowledge you gain that can be applied towards an amazing career.  


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