US News and World Report Rankings are useless…so stop giving them value.

I usually don’t write my blogs in first person. I also don’t typically include personal anecdotes. However, the US News and World Report (USNWR) rankings came out this week. I hate these rankings. I have hated them since I started working in admissions in in 1997. A family came to one of my first college fairs holding the magazine, and began grilling the admissions reps about our business school rankings. It was my first time with families who put so much weight in articles designed to sell magazines. Magazines know nothing about what might be the right college for you.

One of the main reasons I hate rankings is their measurements are flawed. USNWR asks college presidents to rank other schools. Most presidents have a PhD. Many are from “top” research or highly selective institutions. So of course that group is going to pick the colleges they attended (or wish they attended). SAT and ACT scores and admission rates are also a major factor. Since so many schools went test optional, USNWR made up their own way to calculate school’s SAT/ACT scores this year. That is not ok, nor is it helpful. Just because a school admits a very small percentage of those who apply doesn’t mean its the best place for you.

Those of you who know me know that I am the middle of five kids. We all have turned out well. But we went to five very different colleges–because we were very different kids. My oldest sister had a successful career in journalism and PR, and now runs a media brand. Being the first to go to college (when our parents are not college graduates) she didn’t have the benefit of a ton of experience. She selected the State University of New York at Plattsburgh. Many of you probably have not heard of SUNY Plattsburgh. It’s campus is on the border of Vermont and Montreal, Canada in Northern New York. But my sister had great reasons for attending. She wanted a small experience having gone to a small high school. She wanted to be able to host a radio show her first year (she did). She wanted to work on the school newspaper as a freshmen (she did). She wanted to be near a city (Montreal). She also wanted to study abroad (she went to France). She had a set of criteria that was important and used it to find the perfect school–for her.

USNWR also does travel rankings. They rank the top three vacations as Grand Canyon, Yosemite and Yellowstone. Those are all beautiful places. But I don’t like to hike or be out in the sun without an umbrella. Maui is 4th on the list–that’s more my speed. New York is sixth. I love New York. Its where I grew up and still have family. But going to New York is not a vacation for me. Its a whirlwind of visiting family and friends, going to restaurants I love, squeezing in some touristy stuff for my kids and hopefully a Broadway show. It isn’t relaxing, and its often stressful because I feel guilty that I didn’t see certain people. My favorite vacation, pre COVID, didn’t make the list. I love to go on Disney Cruises. They are family oriented (and we usually go with my mom, sister and her kids). They have beautiful pools where my kids can swim and my husband and I can sit and read. I love to go to the beach. Disney Cruises stop at Castaway Cay, a gorgeous island in the Bahamas. I love to go to the movies and there is a movie theater with first run movies on the ship. I sometimes have seen a movie every day on a cruise. The food is outstanding. There are Broadway style shows and comedians. It has it all. Well–it has everything I want in a vacation. It may not be what you want. But again, it wasn’t on the list. Lots of colleges you may like aren’t on the USNWR rankings or aren’t near the top. That’s ok.

There is a reason that Baskin-Robbins sells thirty-one flavors. Some people love mint chocolate chip while others are cookie dough people. Some people want a cup, others a cone (sugar, cake or waffle), while there is a whole group who can’t live without sprinkles (chocolate or rainbow). There is a college that is the perfect place for you. But to find it, you have to know a little bit about yourself and what you might like. Do you want a big or a small place? Do you want a specific major or activity? Do you want to go to Division I sporting events or are you more likely to play e-sports with friends? Do you want a robust arts community? Do you want personal attention from faculty? Are you hoping to meet alumni to network for internships and jobs? Reading a magazine’s ranking isn’t going to answer those questions for you. Start doing research on college search engines, then go visit some schools. Talk to people with jobs that interest you and see where they went. Talk to your school counselor and get their advice.

If I can help you create a list of schools, please let me know. I know it can be overwhelming when there are hundreds from which to choose. Starting early helps. Waiting to identify the right school at the start of senior year is stressful, and often late. Give yourself time to look and explore. With each visit you will get a sense of what you like and what you don’t. Its like getting the sample at Baskin Robbins–you get to try it and see if you like it before you get the whole cone.

I’m not a fan of cancel culture but I’d be ok with cancelling college rankings.

Published by Kate Coffman

Kate has worked in admissions, financial aid, college and career readiness for over twenty years. She most recently served as the Vice President and Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid at Franklin College. Kate has also worked in admissions at Butler University and Indiana University. Kate has presented at numerous schools and conferences helping families, educators and those who work with youth understand how to be college and career ready, how to apply to college and how to afford their education.

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