On Ignoring the People Who Say to Ignore College Rankings

College Rankings, Importance of College Rankings, University Rankings
Rankings of colleges and graduate programs should not be ignored. Rather, they should be a consideration in selection (photo credit: Pradipta Mitra).

College rankings should be ignored, right? Wrong. We came across a piece published today in The Los Angeles Times by Cindy Muchnick and Jenn Curtis entitled “Don’t focus on college rankings lists, which are misleading and easily manipulated by colleges” that we feel the need to scribble red pen all over. In their editorial, Muchnick and Curtis essentially make the argument that good parenting is about “prais[ing] your kids’ effort rather than the outcome of their tests, sports games or performances. Don’t praise the A; instead praise the effort that it took to get the A.” Fine. Don’t praise the A. Praise the effort that it took to get the A. Thanks for that helpful, revelatory parenting tip!

Some Advise to Ignore College Rankings, to “Seek Best Fit”

But we’re not going to let just any fluffy advice slide. Muchnick and Curtis then offer this tidbit: “Don’t focus on college rankings lists, which are misleading and easily manipulated by colleges; relying heavily on them can result in your student missing out on discovering great fit schools.” Oh please. If you want to look at college ranking lists, look at college ranking lists (the kingpin of which is the annual Us News & World Report college ranking). If you want a school’s ranking to be one of the influences in your college admissions decision-making, then so be it. After all, without college ranking lists, a student may very well choose to attend Villanova over Princeton. Sorry, Villanova. Villanova is a fantastic school that has only been growing in competitiveness. But it’s not Princeton. And we don’t know a student in their right mind who would choose Villanova over Princeton (bring on the haters but you know we’re telling it like it is — which is what we do).

But College Rankings Matter and So Should Not Be Ignored

The college rankings can and should absolutely serve as a resource in deciding which colleges to apply to and ultimately attend. Does that mean that a student should choose to attend the fourth-ranked school over the fifth-ranked school simply because it’s ranked one higher by US News & World Report? Of course not. And do colleges manipulate the rankings? Of course they do; we write regularly on the pages of our college admissions blog how colleges manipulate these very rankings. But it’s not like Villanova (sorry Villanova, we love you and we picked you at random!) is so adept at manipulating the rankings that it outranks Princeton. So the fact that these schools absolutely do manipulate these rankings is not reason in itself to ignore them. That’s ridiculous.

The Best Ranked School Could Be the Best Fit School, Too

And the notion that one cannot find the best fit school for oneself by even considering the rankings is entirely preposterous. The best fit school may very well be the best ranked school. Want to clerk for the Supreme Court? The best fit school is in that case are Yale, Stanford, or Harvard Law. Not the Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law. Again, sorry Villanova — we do love you but clerks for our nation’s highest court often attend one of our nation’s highest ranked law schools (Villanova, to its credit, has the #71 ranked law school by US News)! The rankings are but one of several factors students can and should consider when considering colleges — irrespective of the fluffy parenting advice Muchnick and Curtis may have shared in today’s Los Angeles Times.

Agree? Disagree? Love us for telling it like it is? Hate us for telling it like it is? Let us know your thoughts by posting a Comment below.

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1 Comment

  • Jefferson Bowen says:

    For undergrad school, I guess there’s no harm in considering rank among all the other factors that go into whether a school is a good fit for you, but don’t obsess over it (hello tiger mom, that means you). And don’t put the cart before the horse–if your application and body of work are not up to the schools’ standards based on the published profile of the their most recent admitted class, rank is irrelevant because the odds of getting admitted are not in your favor to say the least.

    Find a school that you love and it loves you. If its rank meets your objectives, even better.

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