Inside tips and advice from AcceptU's team of former admissions officers


What’s in a rank?

August 19, 2010, Posted In College Admissions

When it’s an adjective, “rank” can mean “strong and offensive in odor or flavor.” That sounds about right.

The annual U.S. News & World Report Best Colleges rankings came out this week. It’s the twenty-seventh annual ranking, so it’s not too surprising that there wasn’t much fanfare surrounding its publication, not to mention the magazine ranks just about everything else now: best high schools, best hospitals, best graduate programs, best world universities, best cars and trucks, best vacations, best health insurance plans, best nursing homes, best mutual funds, best states for teen drivers, and best leaders.

Harvard was ranked first, Princeton was ranked second and Yale was ranked third. The only time these rankings were a little bit fun was when CalTech moved up to first place in 2000. That shook things up a bit. But it didn’t last very long, and CalTech was relegated to its usual rank of top ten-ism for the rest of the decade. After all, how many people will buy the magazine when CalTech is ranked first? It’s a small and prestigious institution of the highest academic caliber, but it doesn’t sell magazines.

Rankings tend to favor private, well-endowed institutions with small undergraduate populations. But maybe that’s not what you’re looking for in a college! Maybe you want a huge university with a top-ranked basketball or hockey team, and the chance to work with a professor for a summer research program. Or maybe you want to major in animal sciences, speech pathology or criminal justice. Not every college offers every major, so find the college that best fits your academic interests. Perhaps you’re looking in a specific geographic region of the country because you don’t want to head far from home, or maybe cost – as it is for so many – is a factor.

Rankings are helpful in giving you a sense of where colleges fit, compared to one another, with respect to standardized test scores, admission rates, and reputation; some even rank party schools, beautiful campuses and accessible professors.

But to nitpick between the college ranked #32 and, say, #42, is silly at best – and plain stupid at worst. Visit colleges and get a feel for campuses, students and surroundings. Talk to friends or ask your school counselor for advice.

And then create your own rank of colleges that are best for you.