Let’s say you are a student—a high school junior or senior. You’re thinking about going to college—in fact, you’ve made the decision to go to college—and you’re trying to decide which ones to look into. You have two or three ideas about what you want to study, you’re pretty sure what part of the country you’re interested in, you realize you’re a better learner with semester classes, and you want to make sure the college has a strong vegetarian menu.
Why on earth are you looking at the US News rankings?
I honestly have no idea if any of the qualities you’re looking for are part of the method US News uses to calculate its rankings, but even if they were, you can’t really explore the “grade” US News gives each of those qualities. In other words, a highly-ranked college may be great for one of your majors, but not the other three. They may offer semester classes, but US News doesn’t tell you that. And the college may have a requirement that each student start the week downing a full rack of baby-back ribs, but this would be news to—well, US News.
I can tell you what little I know about the US News rankings. Average SAT and ACT scores are a big part of them, and this has never gone over well with school counselors for all kinds of reasons. But now, with so many—I would be willing to say most—of the ranked colleges going test optional, this information has very little value or relevance. Some colleges may, in practice, still have a preference for test scores, but you can’t really give that information a value without being very judgmental—and that’s not the purpose of this kind of rankings.
I also know that an even bigger part of the rankings includes the opinions university presidents have of other colleges. It’s always nice when other people in your profession admire your work, but how many other colleges do university presidents really know well? Maybe fifty? So after that, they’re basically guessing—or being influenced by the materials other colleges send them in order for college presidents to give their college a higher rank (yes, this happens).
On top of that, I just have to ask—how many college presidents do you know, and how many of them know about your college interests? Don’t worry—the answer from most students is, and should be, zero, and even if it isn’t, knowing a college president doesn’t really improve your chances of getting into a college, with the small exception of the one they run. So this really shouldn’t matter to you.
Many people are excited about the changes US News made to their method this year, changes which tried to make the rankings more inclusive. Those are welcome, but it still makes the top choice school a place that’s ridiculously hard to get into, and it still doesn’t tell you if it’s a good place for you.
Come to think of it, it’s hard to say just what the rankings tell you about you and your college interests. Building a college list requires the right information, and many online college search tools help you do just that with the answers that really matter to you. US News doesn’t have that information. Please be sure to tell your parents that when they show you the rankings, and if they don’t believe you, show them this. It could make an important difference.