A daunting prospect for all us high school students, college represents a step into the real world, the shouldering of responsibility, and the introduction to adulthood. There are many factors that play a role when choosing a university, such as cost, program, living arrangements, and rankings.
For many incoming freshman, the ranking of their college plays a big part in their decision. We want to go to the best university – one that meets our needs and pleases our loved ones.
But these rankings – an arbitrary number, really- do they matter?
Honestly, not really.
College is what you make of it. By going to a highly ranked university, there is no guarantee of success. Be it an Ivy league or a state school, your degree and career is determined by the work you’ve put in, not the name of the school on your diploma. In fact, a study conducted by Stacy Berg Dale of the Andrew Mellon Foundation and Alan Kreuger of Princeton found that where you go to college was not very important in the long run.
Bias in Rankings
A 2012 report by the National Association for College Admission Counseling deemed the rankings assigned by popular college admission information site U.S. News was inaccurate. For starters, U.S. News poll school universities and use their answers as hard data. It’s hard to believe an employee at a competitive school would judge their college with no bias.
Additionally, the formula used to rank schools is not well-known and continuously changing. For example, this year, U.S. News put more weight was placed on an university’s graduation rate than on the academic data of incoming college freshman. How the university keeps their students was more than student academic achievement, university resources and enrichment, and teaching ability. This entices the university to focus more on unnecessary data points so as to climb up website rankings. This issue was brought up by President Obama, who said, “Right now, private rankings like U.S. News & World Report puts out each year encourages a lot of colleges to focus on ways to game the numbers, and it actually rewards them, in some cases, for raising costs. I think we should rate colleges based on opportunity. Are they helping students from all kinds of backgrounds succeed?”
The academic community has a culture of judging institutions to figure out which ones are more prestigious, well known, and financially better off; all subjective criteria that does not holistically represent the university.
Price vs. Prestige
As a rule, the more elite universities are also more expensive. Top-tier schools require higher SAT/ACT scores and GPAs (so they do better in rankings!). Research has found that tests like SAT and ACT are geared to benefit more affluent children, putting lower-income class applicants at a disadvantage when applying. Additionally, merit scholarships are given to those who have exceptionally high marks, who are mostly richer students. The pull to merit scholarships has actually decreased the amount of funds for financial-need, leaving a less wealthy student in financial trouble.
In university, the high admissions cutoff did not play a role in academic success. However, the price of attending private well-ranked universities hugely differed from public universities.
The ranking of a university is a skewed and inaccurate representation of the institution. They are based on conjecture and subjectivity, as Suzanne Fortier of McGill University notes, “These [rankings] aren’t very accurate scientific studies, so the margin of error is big”.
At the end of the day, education is not a one size fits all model. Your earning potential is dependent on the work, connections, and dedication you put into your future.
So when facing the nerve-wracking decision of which university to attend, consider going on campus tours or asking current/former students about the academics, activities, and atmosphere. There are many items to take in when choosing a university, but it is always important to stick to your gut and follow your heart. The perfect college is the one that’s best for you.