As a high school student, I know first-hand the increasingly pervasive presence of college in a student’s life. From volunteering to grades to hobbies, the goal of college is always in mind.
However, not every college will work. Students typically want to go to the nation’s best colleges, and to find the best, they turn to ranking systems—specifically the U.S. News and World Report’s college rankings. Turns out it doesn’t just function as a ranking system; according to The Atlantic, it has proven to be very influential on the behavior of colleges, who strive to top the ranking list in order to garner more applicants. The results, however, have been detrimental.
For instance, a key aspect of colleges that U.S. News and World Report analyzes is the amount of money a college spends, whether it be on classes, teachers, or facilities. Less money spent will then result in a lower ranking, and this has encouraged colleges to recklessly spend as much as they can. Indeed, benefits have arisen, where many universities are now top research centers and contain top-notch professors. Yet, this reckless spending has not only added to the inefficiency of the college financial system but also to the already staggering tuition rate.
A more important aspect is selectivity. The more selective a college is, such as requiring higher SAT scores and higher GPAs, the higher its ranking. What does this mean? Firstly, colleges will, once again, lavish money on a bunch of ads, so that more students will apply. A larger pool of applicants, however, does not result in a larger number of admissions; thus, the acceptance rate will seem lower. Perhaps more drastic, though, is the fact that due to higher standards (i.e. higher scores and GPAs), rank-thirsty colleges that once catered to pools of lower standings will now rush for the same elite high-scoring students. This usually correlates to accepting more wealthy people, since they usually have more resources (such as affording outside classes). Thus, high-ranking colleges like Harvard struggle to accept lower-income students; indeed, only a dismal 6.5% of Harvard students come from the bottom 50% of the income distribution. Good for the elite, but there will now be fewer options for students who aren’t so elite, putting them at a severe disadvantage.
All the aforementioned problems trace back to U.S. News and World Report’s college rankings, which by the way is composed by literally, magazine editors. Which calls into question, are these rankings even accurate? There are many reported cases where colleges easily cheated the system, such as when in 2011, New York’s Iona College admitted its employees lied about test scores and other stats.
Perhaps the better question is, do we even need a ranking system? Harvard University has consistently outranked the University of Chicago, but does that really mean Harvard is indeed better? Obviously not. Some may say that surely, Harvard has to be better than community colleges, but even comparing those two is inaccurate; for a student who cannot handle the academics of high school, Harvard would in fact be the worst choice and community colleges the top choice. In essence, it’s all subjective.
Ultimately, the easiest way to fix the ranking’s overwhelming influence on colleges lies not in the colleges themselves but in the applicants and their families. Colleges want to climb the ranks only because applicants look at the rankings. Sadly, many families have the incorrect notion that the only good college is a highly ranked college. Society must rectify this notion, possibly through public campaigns or counselors. So to the applicants out there—please don’t look at the rankings. Do some research yourself to find the right college.