Looking at More than Just One College Ranking

When any student begins a college search for the US, they begin by googling “best colleges in the country,” submit and click the first link which, 99.99% of the times is the US News & World College Rankings. This mammoth list that was started as a way to drive more readers to the U.S. News Magazine now generates an annual viewership of 10 million visits the month its published annually. Its probably the best known listicle in the world ( sorry Buzzfeed) but a lot of people are skeptical about its validity. 

Every year, The Atlantic releases an article about how problematic the ranking is: 

U.S. News is always tinkering with the metrics they use, so meaningful comparisons from one year to the next are hard to make. Critics also allege that this is as much a marketing move as an attempt to improve the quality of the rankings: changes in the metrics yield slight changes in the rank orders, which induces people to buy the latest rankings to see what’s changed.” 

Malcolm Gladwell also dedicated a long essay just about US News Rankings calling the president of the program a preppy hack and elucidating his disdain with the system because of how it fails to compare apples to apples. The current metric compares small liberal arts colleges with large public funded schools both of which have different priorities, student demographics, and budgets: 

“There’s no direct way to measure the quality of an institution—how well a college manages to inform, inspire, and challenge its students. So the U.S. News algorithm relies instead on proxies for quality—and the proxies for educational quality turn out to be flimsy at best.”

Colleges lose their holistic touch this way. The best way to actually learn about a college is by interacting with current students, alumni, faculty, and admissions counselors; along with independent counselors who have been in the industry for decades. However, if you still crave the usual listicle (I know I do), look for ones that don't try paint the whole college with one paintbrush but rather rank colleges for a certain attribute that they possess. 

Here is a list (ha!) of a few to look into: 

  1. 10 Best College Campuses in 2017
  2. Colleges that Change Lives
  3. 2017 Best College Dorms in America 
  4. College rankings based entirely on other college rankings