The Ivy Coach Daily

May 3, 2021

A Confession on College Rankings

A piece up on Inside Higher Ed contains a juicy confession.

What do our nation’s elite college admissions offices care about most? Loyal readers of our college admissions blog know our answer to this query: the all-important US News & World Report rankings. For many years — for decades in fact — we made this assertion much to the chagrin of admissions officers who were quick to deny the claim. But as we so often tell our readers, admissions officers have a long history of not always telling it like it is. Their word on issues like test-optional admissions policies, legacy status, and college rankings isn’t exactly the gospel. Rather, it’s the gospel according to paid marketers for universities. And, yes, admissions officers market for their respective universities. Yet every now and then the truth comes out — and folks don’t even realize it because we’ve been speaking out about it so loudly and so often from atop our soapbox in admissions that at some point folks forget the original lie.

Admissions Leader Acknowledges Colleges Care About US News Rankings

As Angel B. Pérez, the CEO of the National Association for College Admissions Counseling, to which we are a member, writes in an op-ed for Inside Higher Ed entitled “The Admissions Profession Is in Jeopardy,” “The fears my colleagues share typically go something like this: ’I chose a career in admissions because I wanted to help talented young people of every background get an education. But things aren’t the same anymore. My college president and trustees are focused squarely on the bottom line and U.S. News & World Report rankings. Now I spend more time with our chief financial officer or general counsel than with students. The pressure to generate more revenue through each class is intense. Nothing feels like it’s about students. I think it’s time I got out.’”

The Notion that College Rankings Matter Is a Confession Long Overdue

And therein lies the confession. America’s elite colleges care deeply about their rankings. Admissions leaders are pressured by their college’s president and trustees to focus on their US News & World Report ranking — so of course that ranking is vitally important to them. And yet this confession comes with no fanfare. It’s sort of like when The College Board started offering its own test prep, which contradicted the argument the organization made for years that the SAT was an exam for which one could not prep. Of course, we all knew that was bogus. Just as we all knew that colleges care first and foremost about their rankings in US News & World Report. If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? Thank you to Angel B. Pérez for telling it like it is, for acknowledging that rankings matter. And ten years from now, we anticipate reading an editorial containing a similar juicy confession on test-optional admissions policies because, contrary to the words of admissions officers, students with great scores enjoy an advantage over students with no scores.

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