“What’s in a name?” is a familiar quote by William Shakespeare in which Juliet suggests that Romeo’s name does not matter. Perhaps this would be a good quote for us to consider when choosing a great college as well.
Although there is some truth to the value of the name, it can be argued that the name of the college is not as important as whether the college is a good “fit” and what the student does while attending.
So as school gets underway and a new senior class begins to search for the perfect college, we have to address the value of rankings as criteria for choice. Did you know the US News rankings are based on how other college administrators rank them? Sometimes those administrators know very little about the school they are ranking. Clearly in California, for many people, UCLA would be ranked higher than Pomona Pitzer, simply because many people have not heard of the Pomona Pitzer. It is difficult to compare schools with different activities and cultures anyway. Money magazine has also gotten involved in the ranking game and it ranks based on affordability, quality of education, and alumni success. Of course “success” in their book is measured by income. Other rankings may be based on graduation rates, which will clearly be higher at more competitive schools, humanistic research, and how the college reaches out to low-income students.
So let’s talk about the things that really matter, which may not be included in the rankings. How about the weather? What is great for one student may be terrible for another. How about access to professors? The small liberal arts colleges will likely give more access than the large research universities. The quality of instruction is rarely addressed in these rankings because it is so difficult to assess. Some students like the idea of crazy football spirit, while others prefer low-key school pride. And all students need to be sure the major they want is offered at the school they choose to attend. I know of many students who have selected their college based on whether or not it is near the beach only to find out the major they wanted is not offered. It’s okay to figure that out before you enroll, but it can be a costly mistake if you enroll in the school before you figure it out.
Maybe rankings give parents bragging rights or a sense of security. Maybe rankings reassure the family they are getting the best; just understand that what is “best” for one student may not be “best” for another student. Focus on what matters instead of the rankings; focus on things that give a student a happy, and satisfying college experience.