College Rankings: Are you fooled?

For a long time, I have wondered about college rankings. I mean, what group of individuals in America is so august that it has the audacity to gaze down from the mountaintop and pass judgment on so many institutions of higher learning? Personally, I attended Southwestern University and the University of Houston, neither of which garners astronomical scores on the most esteemed of American college rankings… Yet, my professors were excellent, all of them extremely accomplished, published researchers who were scholars first, humans second. There was not one moment with a tenured professor at either one of my universities when I doubted whether a professor had meaningful lessons to teach me, no less meaningful than I might have received at a school with higher rankings.

Recently, I met a girl, Ming, when I was volunteering at a college admissions event with the Houston Mayor’s Office. She was outstanding in every way: excellent grades, incredible test scores, published research, work experience. She was also an immigrant whose parents’ only gauge to measure colleges was the US News and World ranking system. They were very well educated, but not in the United States, so they assumed that those rankings were based on clear-cut facts, besides selectivity and dollar signs. Ming’s family was convinced by the rankings that if she did not attend a top-ranked college, then she could never get into a renowned graduate program in genetics – a terrible misconception, one that is all too common.

In fact, I thought she should consider our local university, the University of Houston, which has an incredible honors program with terrific professors and exceptional research opportunities. Those instructors are connected with every institution in the world and are involved in projects with NASA, ExxonMobil, the Texas Medical Center, etc… If she works hard at UH, the grad school world is her oyster.

People from all sorts of undergraduate programs get into avant garde graduate programs. When you’re applying to graduate programs, the admissions directors are more interested in what you’ve done than where you went to school. That means you need to work hard in college – do research, write articles, pioneer something. Don’t be fooled into thinking your university alma mater can win you acceptance ANYWHERE.

Wherever you go to college, it’s what you do with your time that matters, and you might even find that lower-ranked colleges are more interested in helping you succeed, more invested in preparing you as an individual to pursue your goals.

Defiance College

For instance, in a recent article on the Washington Post blog explained how much more deeply a small university may commit itself to student success than its larger, more glamorous counterparts. In it, Mark Gordon, the president of Defiance College, a liberal arts college in Ohio, illustrates the absurdity of college rankings by explaining that they are based on nothing more than student entry qualifications; rankings tell you nothing of student success.

Rankings are based on reputation, which is based on past rankings, which may have been skewed from the start. It’s certainly not a reliable measure to use for picking a match school. Instead, you should consider the uniqueness of a school’s program and find the approach that best matches your personality. Before reading Gordon’s article, I had never heard of Defiance, but now I am intrigued and believe its hands-on format may offer the perfect amount of guidance for some of our students.

Defiance may not have high rankings, but the school lives up to its name and refuses to follow the pack. A student who goes there is likely to walk away ready to work in the world. Can all of those top schools say the same?

– Jessica Givens