Universitas Blog

Tiers are for Wedding Cakes: The Myth of US College Rankings

Thursday, April 25, 2013

                                                                                                                                                 usnews college rankings

In a previous post  (The Importance of Fit Part One) I hinted at my loathing for college rankings and promised that it would be the subject of a future post.  Well, the future is now.  

If I had just one wish, it would be that the yearly US News and World Report:  America's Best Colleges issue and all its clones (I think Forbes magazine does something similar) would be consigned to the Great Garbage Can in the Sky and that its authors and publishers be consigned to the deepest pits of hell to roast slowly for all eternity.  Okay, I guess that's two wishes but you see where I am going with this...

So why the hate?  Most people love the US News rankings so much that this single issue has outlived the magazine itself.  It's found in the homes of many high school seniors and many students and even counselors use it as their college application bible.  Everybody loves rankings!  We rank everything:  hair dryers, cars, and now, apparently, colleges.  Alumni love it when their alma mater is ranked in the Top 20.   But as was once said, "Not everything that counts can be counted and not everything that can be counted should count."  Nowhere is the above quote more true than with colleges.

To rank colleges implies that we can quantify what makes a "good" college.  Nothing could be further than the truth!  One's college experience is so intensely personal that to say that one's experience is better than another borders on the blasphemous.  Even the input that go into the rankings is suspect.  A full quarter of the ranking is based simply on reputation.  College presidents, provosts and admission deans are polled and are simply asked to rank the undergraduate programs of schools with the same mission as themselves.  For example, presidents of large universities are asked to rank programs of other large universities and presidents of smaller liberal arts colleges are asked to rank the programs of others like themselves.  Many of those acknowledge that they lack the detailed knowledge of other colleges that they would need to respond meaningfully.  The remaining 75% of a college's ranking is based on retention and graduation rate, faculty and resources, student selectivity, alumni giving and graduation rate performance.  Several of these factors have subcategories, e.g. student selectivity includes the statistics of the incoming freshman class (SAT scores, GPA, etc.) and how many applicants they turn away (the lower the admission rate the higher the ranking).  I think that last subcategory is really specious....check out what I say about selectivity being a measure of college quality in a previous post "Ivy League: Who Needs 'em?".  Check the part about its similarity to IHOP.  What is glaringly absent in the survey is a measure of categories like student satisfaction or teaching quality.  Do a Google search on "colleges with best professors".  What do we find?   Not a single Ivy among them.  Okay, a Google search isn't the most scientific way of finding the schools with the best profs but it isn't any less scientific than what US News is doing so...

But what really stokes my intense hatred of this list is that colleges cheat, fudge data, and indulge in really low rent admission practices to climb a few notches.  Schools like Emory University and Claremont McKenna College have fudged SAT data to look better in the rankings.  Another thing that's curious....why do Ivy League schools and other hyper selective institutions bother going on recruiting trips?  Even all the way out here in the Philippines, schools like Penn, Brown, Duke and Georgetown come trolling for students.  Why?  They have more than enough applicants...look at an earlier post when I look at the admission numbers of the Ivies.  Why do they need more applicants?  Simple.  They need more applicants so they can turn more away.  If their admission rate goes down, they are seen to be more selective and they get brownie rankings points.  Another measure they have is yield.  The more students who are admitted who subsequently enroll, the higher the yield and the better they look.  As a result, some colleges have taken to rejecting or waitlisting top admission candidates because they feel that these students wouldn't come if admitted anyway.  So why mess up their yield?

But all is not lost.  A few years ago, the president of Reed College (easily one of my very favorite colleges in the world...more in a future post) basically told US News to jump in the lake.  Reed was completely opting out of the rankings game and would no longer be cooperating with US News in any way.  US News did not take the defiance very well...they knocked Reed College, easily one of the top 5 national liberal arts colleges (it's ironic that I'm using a ranking here), to number 75 using data that came from God knows where.

So what's the take home message here?  If you haven't already figured it out, it's trash the rankings.  Do your homework, folks, and carefully research your university choices and look for the best fit.  Prestige and image mean ultimately nothing.  They might make your friends and your parents's friends go ooohhh and aaaahhhh but that's it.

I'll let Lee Bollinger, president of Columbia University have the final words:  "Now more than ever, people believe that the ranking...or the presumed hierarchy of "quality" or "prestige....of the college or university one attends matters, and matters enormously.  More than ever, education is being viewed as a commodity... The large and fundamental problem is that we are at risk of it all seeming and becoming increasingly a game. What matters is less the education and more the brand."

References

Springer, Reider, and Franck  Admission Matters 2nd edition, Jossey-Bass, 2009.

http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-505145_162-57570111/u.s-colleges-with-the-best-professors/

http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-505145_162-57510906/4-reasons-to-ignore-u.s-news-college-rankings/

 

stinky-boots

Thursday, April 25, 2013

usnews college rankings

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Wait listed?

Monday, April 15, 2013
waiting list   For some, the application process to Dream U did not end in acceptance or rejection but rather the limbo of the wait list.   The college will offer a place on the wait list (note that you should NOT have to pay an extra fee to get on the waiting list) and you reply whether or not you want on this list.  My opinion on waiting lists?  Forget it and move on with your life.  If the school didn't want you in the first go around, why should you want it?  For me, the wait list is a soft no.  It's essentially a rejection but they don't want to send an outright rejection sometimes for fear of offending a legacy applicant, a valuable feeder school, or any of a host of political reasons. Some people think the waiting list is where the institution will go to if their admitted students go elsewhere.  This is only partially true.  The university knows that a number of its admitted students will choose to go elsewhere and will intentionally overadmit to make up for this.  A school has an idea of what its yield (the percentage of admitted students who decide to enrol) is year after year but it's obviously not exact.  For example, if a school traditionally has a 50% yield (about half of its admitted students choose to attend) and has 1,000 freshman seats to fill, they will admit 2,000 students.  Only if their yield is smaller than expected will they go to the waiting list. But there's still a chance, right?  Sure, but check these numbers out from CBS News.  Last year, almost 600 students accepted slots on Stanford University's waiting list.  Number of those accepted off the waiting list?  Zero!  At Yale, only 70 students from a waiting list of 617 squeezed in.  At Notre Dame, only 8% of students on the waiting list were ultimately admitted.  Even my dear old alma mater, Santa Clara University, offered over 2000 applicants slots on its waiting list, only 57 were rewarded with a yes. So my advice?  Throw away that wait list offer and spend your precious time getting used to the idea of going to the school that wants you. http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-505145_162-57578506/the-odds-of-getting-off-a-college-wait-list/ https://bigfuture.collegeboard.org/college-university-search/santa-clara-university?searchType=college&q=SantaClaraUniversity

waiting list

Monday, April 15, 2013

Making *the* Choice

Monday, April 15, 2013

college-choice  At this point in the college admissions game, the ball is on your side of the court and the time has come for you to make the final decision.  Where should you spend the next four years of your life among all the outstanding colleges and universities that had the obvious good judgment to admit you?  For some, the choice is easy.  They were admitted to the school that was far and away their top choice.  If financial aid is a factor in your decision, then I honestly feel that you should seriously consider attending the school with the lowest net cost of attendance.  This is not necessarily the school that gave you the biggest scholarship but the one that comes out cheapest for you to attend after scholarships.  If you've considered your college list carefully to begin with, you should, ideally, have applied to a list of colleges anyone of which you would be happy to attend.  Sure, you'll probably prefer to attend University A or College B but if University C or University X cough up the dough and since you know that you would be happy at C or X then go there.  I say this simply because the cost of a US college education is not trivial except for the wealthiest of the wealthy in the Philippines.  If you can make it easier on your parents to pay for your education, then do them that favor.

But for most of us, financial aid is not a factor and we're looking at three or four final choices.  In my family, my son has cut it down to two.  Here are some suggestions.

1.  If you haven't yet, visit the colleges, if at all possible.  Ideally this is something you should have done when you were researching your college list.  But sometimes schools come up after you've done your college tour (like it did in our family!)  I understand that the cost of visiting is steep but it's worth it  given how much you'll be spending over the next four years.   If you've already visited the college before, consider re-visiting especially if your last visit did not include sitting in on a class and staying overnight at the dorms.  Some institutions have a Preview Day or an Admit Day which they set aside several days to welcome admitted students and their families to look at the campus, sit in on classes, stay overnight in the dorms and bond with your prospective classmates.  The Philippine summer coincides with the American spring so visiting during our summer is particularly useful since the American students will still be around campus.  My son and I visited in June and July 2012 and the campuses were dead.

2.  If you can't visit, at least visit their web site.    God invented the Internet for a reason and it isn't (always) porn!  Hopefully this is something you've been doing at least semi-regularly during your college application process.  This time, visit the department web page of your intended field of study.  Send an email to the chairman or to the undergraduate studies coordinator and see if they even answer you.  (Hint:  it's a bad sign if they don't) Some admissions offices have a list of student ambassadors who you can send an email to and ask about what life is like at the school although you might get a rosier picture than usual since they are student ambassadors and do work for the admissions office.

3.  Consult with local alumni.  If there are any alumni of the college in your vicinity, by all means, consult them.Good better best

4.  Don't forget to talk to your high school counselor.  He/she might know people you can talk to or email.    He/she might also have pointers, tips and other things to consider when making your decision.  Of course your parents will have weighed in by now.

5.  If all else fails, go with your gut.    A lot of indecision stems from fear, a fear of making the wrong choice.  Suck it up, toss a coin if you must, but MAKE A CHOICE.  Then let it sit in your mind.  Forget about the other school(s) for now.  After a couple of days, ask yourself how the choice feels.  Does it feel comfortable?  If not, repeat with another choice and repeat as necessary until the choice feels comfortable.  If you did your college research carefully, you can't possibly go wrong with any of the remaining choices.

Once you've made your college choice and let the lucky winner know,  you should decline the offer(s) of the other school(s) and let them know where you'll be going.  Remember always that there is no such thing as the perfect college and even your thoughtfully made choice will have some faults.  The key is make your choice, not look back, and do your very best to make your college experience  the best it can be.  Rest easy, knowing that you've made the best choice you could possibly have made.

 

                                                              Tyler at Princeton                                                                                                                                                            

Tyler at Princeton

Monday, April 15, 2013

Good better best

Monday, April 15, 2013

Choices

Monday, April 15, 2013

college-choice

Monday, April 15, 2013

John Sy, President and Senior Counselor
Universitas College Counseling
203A CM Recto Street
San Juan, Metro Manila, Philippines

johnsy@universitasph.com
+63 (917) 833-3825


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John Sy, President and Senior Counselor
Universitas College Counseling
203A CM Recto Street
San Juan, Metro Manila, Philippines

johnsy@universitasph.com

+63 (917) 833-3825

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