Written by Charlotte Wall
Many claim “an Ivy League degree offers the most success,” and if not those exact words, the sentiment has been inferred thousands of times. Undoubtedly, rankings are a major contribution to the over 300,000 applications to the eight Ivy League schools for the class of 2019. However, with only 14,000 first-year spots available, there were many disappointed families and students once decisions were announced.
Ultimately, “good” colleges are looking to put together a well-rounded group of students in a class—they are not necessarily looking for the most well-rounded individual.
The odds of getting into “highly selective” schools are significantly low. Dartmouth and Brown accept only nine percent of applicants, whereas Cornell and Georgetown offer more hope at a 16 percent acceptance rate. “Name-brand” schools like Harvard, Yale, and Stanford pitch application rates of below seven percent. Colorado College now has an application rate of about 18 percent, according to U.S. News.
It isn’t illogical to aim to attend a renowned school. Private universities boast total prices of tuition and room and board of over $250,000 for an undergraduate education. Parents have begun to look at this price as an investment rather than an expense with the current job market. Further, parents believe that having a recognizable college name on an education will make job candidates more attractive—in sum, parents want the best return possible on their investment.
However, an Ivy League degree does not necessarily guarantee that someone will be “successful” and be granted a high-paying—or even low-paying—job. Instead, it only makes candidates more likely to be given an interview.
From this calculus, what is missing is the variability in the nature of schools. Yale is completely different from Harvard, and Brown is not similar to Princeton in many respects. Further, college coaches and counselors advertise that students should look for the school that would best suit he or she as an individual. However, this process is often overlooked by school reputations, which are dominated by rankings.
Furthermore, “high-ranking” schools across the board try to appeal to rankings in order to attract more applicants. This is regardless of how well these schools may actually “fit” applicants. Economically, colleges actually seek to attract and then reject the highest amount of students possible because this process increases a school’s factor of “selectivity.” For this reason, schools cannot afford to be excluded from high-agency rankings.
In the end, it is students and their families who lose in the application process because they place emphasis on getting into a specific list of high-ranked “name-brand” schools and disregard finding the right “fit” for the individual. Moreover, the importance of this process is undermined by rankings and often buried, which makes finding the right fit even more challenging—especially when students and parents conflate a high rank with a good fit. As a result, national college rankings typically wind up being misleading.
Many find U.S. News to be a reliable authority on college rankings. However, the factors U.S. News uses to assess colleges widely vary. Also, some of the reasonable “inputs” of factors are often meaningless in regards to the actual quality of education. For example, U.S. News highly weighs the number of classes with class sizes below 25. This factor is a comfort for high school students who are accustomed to education in this setting. Therefore, a class size should not be a referendum of the quality of that class. Although small seminar style classes are frequently valuable, it is a fallacy to judge that an amazing class cannot happen in a setting of more than 200 students.
Moreover, all rankings inevitably suffer from the bias of those who create the lists. Editor priorities may differ from what is important to a certain student. For this reason, in order for colleges to properly attract the most well-suited students, colleges must provide insight about the school rather than mere information. It is important to acknowledge both the inputs and outputs that make a school unique.
Although colleges may often complain about rankings, these institutions play huge roles in their perpetuation. If colleges truly want fitted students who actually suit the schools into which they are accepted, then colleges will publish honest data that give students a better foundation for making the best decision possible.