In a June 17th Forbes article, author and Admittedly CEO Jessica Davidoff likens U.S News and World Report’s Best College rankings to an American Top 40 music chart: ever-changing and only temporarily relevant. So, then, why do college rankings, an antiquated piece of the puzzle that is American higher education, have the power to persuade students everywhere to covet admission to a select handful of colleges and universities, when there are so many more from which they can (and should) choose?


Of course, college rankings and metrics can be useful – especially when they’re based on tangible factors like student retention rates, average starting salary after graduation, and strength of alumni network – but our societal tendency to place often insurmountable value in how a school is ranked on one list is a habit that needs to be redirected. And, according to Davidoff, it has been.

In 1995, Davidoff says, according to a survey by the Higher Education Research Institute, more than 40% of students reported that the U.S. News rankings were either “very important” or “somewhat important” in deciding where to go to college. Between 1995 and 2007, that percentage of students reporting rankings as “very important” increased by 50%. As educational consultants, we have witnessed the upward trend, and thus were both surprised and encouraged by Davidoff’s next finding: in a survey of more than 500 college-bound students representing all 50 U.S. states, students cared more about their future alma maters’ academic programs, career offices, and price tag than they did about how the schools stacked up on a list.

How did the shift away from U.S. News and World Report come about? Well, we strongly encourage you to read the full article, which can be found here, but Davidoff illuminates two factors we find relevant:

  1. Tuition prices are 80% higher than they were pre-recession, yet job placement is “unstable” (Davidoff’s opinion) at best. Students are inundated with articles and conversations about return on investment and student debt, forcing them to think about college affordability in a different, more practical way.
  2. As a generation, college-bound students place more trust in “technology-powered peer data” (think publicly available Uber driver ratings and student-authored blogs with thousands of young readers) than they do in institutional authority.

To quote the Johns Hopkins admissions rep who led one of our sessions at May’s IECA conference, “it’s not about getting in (to college), it’s about getting out and thriving.” And if that means that a student must disregard college rankings in an effort to find a school that will propel him or her to personal, academic, and professional greatness, we’re all in.

Happy 4th of July – stay safe!


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