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Why Should Adult Students Avoid College Rankings

Ana-Marcela Lopez

College rankings are quite similar to restaurant reviews on Yelp, which can be either illuminating or misleading on any given day. One person’s negative or positive experience at a restaurant might not be indicative of every customer’s true experience, but it’s a first-hand account—it’s natural to take their word for it. You might read what influenced their critique and wonder whether those will be as significant or relevant to you. And no matter how scathing or glowing the reviews are, you will have an experience all your own. 

The same idea applies to colleges and universities. Your experience at a school will be as unique as you are, regardless of how it stacks up against others on a rankings list. Relying on college rankings, which are largely founded on impersonal quantitative data and perceived prestige, isn’t enough. The factors on which these rankings are based rarely ever give an accurate portrayal of what makes a school unique, so it is unwise to rely on them to make an informed decision. 

That said, college rankings can be a useful place to start your college search, as they can help make sense of the overwhelming number of options. But use them cautiously; many traditional rankings are created based on data that can—and often is—manipulated for the sake of gaining more favorable standing. In fact, several schools in the last decade have admitted to skewing test scores and acceptance rates in order to rise in the ranks of U.S. News World & Report’s annual lists of “best” colleges. 

Take, for example, Claremont McKenna, a highly ranked liberal arts college that admitted to misreporting the data that U.S News uses in its evaluation of schools. Or consider Baylor University, which attempted to raise its SAT score metric by offering financial awards to admitted students who retook the test. These incidents are just a couple of examples of the lengths to which schools will go to achieve desirable rankings. The result? Undue pressure on schools to focus on metrics that only tell a part of their unique story—a disservice to both the schools’ time and resources as well as the students looking for a great educational experience. The true value in many schools cannot be quantified. 

Why should you avoid rankings?

Rankings can be detrimental to a traditional student’s pursuit of their perfect school. They can be even more misleading for adult students who have unique needs that aren’t even considered by traditional rankings systems. Adult-specific metrics are often more qualitative in nature and, therefore, difficult to track (not to mention the fact that they are not usually considered in rankings algorithms in the first place). This means that the attributes and experiences that will make going back to school more enriching and successful are not taken into account. 

What should you look for instead?

Choosing the perfect school can be a daunting task. With so many programs, how do you understand which is the best option for your needs and goals? At Abound, we are pretty confident we have it figured out. Rather than focus on irrelevant data, we understand what really matters to adult students. We have identified the four A’s, which are the true pillars of a quality adult education:

Accessibility:

Schools that excel in adult education are committed to meeting the needs of adult students. Whether you’re working full time or raising a family, these schools allow you to complete your degree through classes in the evening, on the weekends, or online. With a busy schedule, it can be hard to make it to traditional office hours or the library. Student success is contingent on access to quality resources, so even students with a busy schedule can navigate the typical time constraints of traditional library and office hours. Institutions that make such resources accessible to non-traditional students are leaders in adult education. 

Affordability:

At Abound, we understand that college is a significant financial investment. Our cohort of schools are committed to making their degrees as affordable as possible by offering competitive tuition rates, generous financial aid, scholarships, and grants.

Acceleration:

College at any age can be an exciting, transformative time, but as an adult, we know you have work and life to enjoy. High-quality accelerated programs allow you to reap the many benefits of a degree as quickly as possible so that you can create more time for your personal and professional life as quickly as possible. Our schools offer a direct path to a degree in a timely fashion. They also award students for prior learning or work experience, so you can put your earned skills and experience toward your degree. 

Advancement:

Adult students go back to school for several reasons, one of the most important of which is to advance their career. But there’s more. Graduates are prepared not just for their next job, but also for a lifetime of career exploration. In the ever-changing job market, it’s especially important to be resilient and prepared. That’s why our cohort of schools emphasize experiential learning and real-world experience. Students then graduate with the soft skills that make them stand out to employers. 

Rankings are not evil. They can actually be a helpful starting point as you begin to research what school is the best fit for you. But we advise you to use them judiciously; the bulk of your research should be devoted to the experiences and resources that will help you succeed. Understanding your career goals and how a school can help you achieve them goes beyond the metrics of traditional rankings. And that’s where we come in. Abound: Finish College narrows down your options and gets you in touch with schools that we can confirm are Accessible, Affordable, Accelerated, and Advanced. Take a look at the schools we trust and find the program that works for you.

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