Choose the Best Ranked University Instead of the Best Ranked Program

Best Ranked Programs, Best Ranked Colleges, Best Ranked Schools
It always astounds us when students limit their college choices to schools that rank highly for a specific program (photo credit: John Phelan).

It never ceases to amaze us when parents and students (and it’s more often the parents) ask us during free consultations how one can optimize one’s case for admission to a specific program — like a chemical engineering program per se. And then when we ask them their top choice schools, they rattle off MIT, Georgia Tech, UC Berkeley, UT Austin, Caltech, Stanford, Michigan, and University of Minnesota. In that order. And why? Because they read the US News & World Report ranking on top chemical engineering programs. Yes, we too can read. Yes, oh yes we can. But we wholly do not support students limiting their top school choices to schools that happen to be ranked highly for a given program. Let’s walk our readers through why that logic is unsound.

Choosing Top College Choices Based on Program Rankings is Foolish

The University of Delaware is ranked higher than Princeton University for chemical engineering. So too is the University of Wisconsin. And every other aforementioned university. Who in their right mind would attend the vast majority of these schools over Princeton University? Certainly nobody we wish to work with because it means they simply don’t get it and we seek to work with people who do get it. They don’t get the fact that the strength of an undergraduate education isn’t necessarily within the specific field of study — it’s in the entire undergraduate experience. And they don’t get the fact that undergraduate students very often change their majors. Indeed, they sometimes change their majors every Tuesday of their freshman year. Imagine if a student passed up the likes of Princeton University to attend the University of Delaware only to realize the third week into freshman year that chemical engineering wasn’t for her? Yikes is right.

Students Should Instead Seek to Earn Admission to the Best College Possible

We are all for specialization. We are all for daring admissions officers not to admit students who are going to change the world in one super specific, often unusual way. But what we are not for — and what we will never be for — is limiting top undergraduate college choices to schools that rank highly for a specific program (that’s for graduate school, not undergrad!). Because not only does Princeton offer a better undergraduate education than most — if not all — universities with chemical engineering programs that rank higher in the US News & World Report ranking, but their broader engineering department is likely a whole lot stronger than the departments for these schools, too. And, heck, if you’re an employer hiring chemical engineers, our guess is — all else being equal — you’ll hire the Princeton grad over the Delaware grad eleven times out of ten. Sorry, Delaware!

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