It’s officially the time of year when thousands of high school students set out to answer an important question: Which college is best for me? Considering rising tuition costs and an increasingly competitive job market, finding the right college is more important than ever for students (and their parents). Research shows that if they find the schools that are perfectly matched to their unique backgrounds and needs, students are more likely to make their college investments worthwhile by earning a degree.
But sifting through college options is a daunting task.
For many students and parents, college rankings serve as a logical starting point. People love lists, in part, because they’re simple. Rankings combine various factors into some (seemingly) magical algorithm that produces something we can all understand in one glance: a list of the “best” colleges and universities.
And there are plenty of college rankings out there.
An article published this week by the Associated Press made clear the growing diversity in college rankings systems and methodology:
U.S. News & World Report may still be the 800-pound gorilla of college rankings. But with a formula that rarely changes, the latest edition — out Wednesday — looks pretty much the same as a decade ago, with very few exceptions.
More interesting are a pair of newer players to the rankings game. Both have shortcomings, but both produce a top-colleges list that looks somewhat different from the magazine’s (where Princeton and Harvard share the top spot, just like last year). And neither relies on information provided by the colleges themselves; more and more schools have been caught fudging the numbers they give to U.S. News. [New players, new approaches to ranking colleges; by Justin Pope]
The Christian Science Monitor echoed Pope’s message in an article that featured Parchment’s Student Choice College Rankings [disclosure: Parchment is a CB&A client]:
The Student Choice College Rankings are based on more than 200,000 college acceptances, so students can see where students with similar characteristics to them have been admitted and have chosen to attend.
Rankings are “often based on all sorts of input-type factors, like how selective [a school is] or how much [it] pays faculty… [and] those inputs can be gamed or selectively reported,” says Matt Pittinsky, CEO of Parchment Inc., a high school transcript service that created the ranking system last year. “What we’re doing is saying, ‘Let’s think about student choice: When a student gets into two schools, which one do they pick?’ ” …
Student Choice creators wanted a ranking that didn’t separate schools into categories such as liberal arts colleges or research universities, since many students consider all types of schools. [U.S. News college rankings: not the only way to judge schools; by Stacy Teicher Khadaroo]
The AP and Christian Science Monitor articles make one point clear: there’s not one perfect, end-all college rankings list. By considering several lists that best reflect their needs and priorities, students can get a fuller picture of which schools will provide them with the best opportunities to thrive.
More than 300,000 students are also turning to predictive data from Parchment.com to find the best fit. Using unique statistical modeling and crowdsourcing, the free Web tool enables students to research colleges and discover their chances of admission, see how they compare to their peers, get college recommendations, and send official transcripts when they are ready to apply.
Do you have any helpful tips for students and parents as they research prospective colleges?