On August 17th,US News & World Report released their college rankings. Forbes did the same just a few days earlier. Inevitably, these rankings of “the best” colleges will cause a stir among many parents and students.
I’ll be honest with you, rather than being helpful, these rankings usually just give most college counselors a headache. Why you ask? It’s because too many people give too much weight to them. Just because a college ends up on one of these lists – even one like in Forbes that is based on students’ opinions – they jump to the conclusion that these are the only colleges worth attending. Unfortunately, that couldn’t be much further from the truth.
The “best” college in the country is the one where a student will thrive. A school where a student can thrive is the place where he or she will achieve their potential and distinguish him or herself. That school may be in Boston or it may be here in Seattle, and whether or not it has a famous name makes little difference. A successful college career is not determined by the rank of a college, but rather by the student attending that school. For that reason the only ranking that really matters should be how well various schools fit the needs of a student. Since this is different for every student, no list in a magazine can really give you the information you need.
Instead, students would be better served to focus on the type of learning environment in which they do the best and to take a closer look at schools in terms of the factors that are proven to increase the chances of student success in college. These include the level of academic challenge, the extent to which active and collaborative learning is employed, the level of student-faculty interaction, the availability of enriching educational experiences, and to what extent there is a supportive campus environment. The National Survey of Student Engagement measures these benchmarks in the schools that choose to participate in their survey (617 in 2009). By participating in the NSSE, colleges demonstrate their commitment to continual improvement in these areas. You can find out more about how NSSE can help you, as well as the scores of participating schools by clicking here.