My Experience with College Rankings
We associate Fall with a lot of things. Leaves falling, pumpkin carving, and—if you’re like me—the release of college rankings lists. That may not always be the first thing on your mind, but if you’re a high school student, a family member of a high school student, or an adult wondering if and where you should continue your education, it may be on your radar. There are so many options out there, and when I began my own nationwide search for graduate schools, I had to find some way to narrow it down. So, as soon as my Dad knew that I was looking into graduate programs, he sent me the U.S. News and World Report list and said these were the schools I should be looking into. And so I did! I mean, why not? I didn’t know where else to look.
With the list as a guide, I visited and applied to some great schools that caught my attention. The University of Texas at Austin ended up being my final choice; I liked the opportunity that came with an amazing faculty, a graduate assistantship, and the chance to be a scholar-practitioner at a large public institution with a diverse student body. The program also happened to be #5 on the U.S. News list. I was on my way to a satisfying, widely reputed Master’s program.
Throughout my Master’s in Higher Education Administration and during my work as an academic advisor, I noticed an odd trend at the professional conferences I attended. I talked to other academic advisors from schools of all different sizes and all different levels of “prestige” and realized that so many overlooked schools were offering impressive degrees and resources to help students graduate. It became apparent to me that the most popular and widely trusted college rankings list hasn’t been capturing every high-quality school, nor every quality that makes a school for students. My U.S. News-recognized program gave me a great education, but these other schools were offering a great education as well! An education that I—and, likely, so many others—didn’t even have on my radar.
I’m not saying the list brings no value; it helped me find my school. The problem is that it only shows one kind of school, the kind of school that has the resources to compete for rankings and win their way to to the top. And that doesn’t necessarily mean the kind of school that is student focused.
Colleges of Distinction and Abound focus on schools that put students first, whether they be Research 1 institutions, mid-size publics, small private schools, or anything in between. We recognize schools of promise but make a point not to rank them. Ranking should be left to each individual student based on what aspects of education are most important to them (field of study, student activities, career outcomes, format, etc.), so we act as their starting point by featuring schools that make their experience a priority.
On Colleges of Distinction and Abound, you’ll see schools you recognize as well as schools you’ve never heard of before, and that’s exactly our point! We hope to demystify the college search and help folks discover better schools based on qualities that matter.