Jason is a two-sport athlete with a B+ average. He’s hoping to expand his interest in History in college, but he’s not sure what major to pursue. He does know he needs to stay close to home, since his parents are close to retirement age, and he needs to help out with the family business every now and then. He’s also looking to be an engaged spectator at a school that has, as the students say, the full college experience—for Jason, that includes a good football team.
Having been raised by a mom who sings in the church choir, Bridghette has been around music since birth, and hopes to keep her singing interest alive in college. At the same time, she knows her talent won’t pay the bills, so she’s also looking for a school where she can study Accounting—and while she couldn’t care less about sports, she wants a school that’s near a major opera company, where she hopes to work in the front office as an intern, learning a bit more about the business side of the music industry.
Jose hopes to find a school where he can become a physician, and quickly. Having completed all of the AP courses his high school offered as a junior, Jose is one of those students who learns with ease, which means an accelerated medical program is right up his alley. He’s interested in becoming a surgeon, but big cities don’t interest him all that much. He was raised in one, and wants a change of scenery.
Let’s say you are the counselor for all three of these students—something that would be hard to do, since they don’t go to the same high school. But let’s say they’ve asked you for some help in putting together their college lists. Do you end up giving them each the same list of schools—and will those schools be in the same order, meeting their needs in exactly the same way?
I’m really hoping your answer to this question is no. Jose wants nothing to do with a big city, but strong opera companies don’t exactly pop up in remote areas, and that’s what Bridghette is looking for. One of these students might end up going to school with Jason, but since accelerated medical programs are hard to come by, that likely won’t be Jose—and since Bridghette isn’t crazy about sports, it’s unlikely her list will overlap much with Jason’s. We don’t know everything about each of these students, but based on what we know, it’s pretty unlikely one list of colleges will really help these students pursue their individual plans.
Which takes us to college rankings. The latest lists of Best Colleges on the Planet are debuting this week, but what does any of this have to do with kids? If you handed Jason, Bridghette, and Jose a copy, would that help them with their college plans, or their lives? Would it put them in the best position to live fuller lives, and change the world? Is there any way the people who compiled the list could know that list is going to help Jason, Bridghette, and Jose, since they’ve never even talked to Jason, Bridghette, or Jose?
There are lots of ways data can help students make strong college choices, but our job is to find data that supports the goals of the students, not create students whose goals support the findings of the data. College guides can do that; college rankings can’t.
So why do we care about them, and why should we ever use them?