You’ll see throughout this website that the theme of Beyond College Rankings is to heavily critique the use of ranking systems, and hypocritically, to offer many rankings for your use.

Rankings are widely critiqued, and I’ll offer my own thoughts, which in many ways parallel those of Yale’s Dean of Admission and New Yorker journalist and bestselling author Malcolm Gladwell.

The most central problem with rankings is exactly what Gladwell’s article addresses. There is no universal factor or set of factors that makes a school “good.” Any selection of such factors simply indicates a subjective decision about what does make a school “good.” All rankings therefore, are subjective, and if ten different people ranked colleges, it would be highly likely that this would result in ten different rankings.

And, honestly, that’s how it should be. People are different, and different characteristics do make different schools better for different people. I, for one, do think that the selectivity of a college is an important factor to consider. In my opinion the primary reason to apply to a competitive school is for the student body, which will be filled (mostly) with ambitious peers who were stars of their high schools. It’s a fun crowd of which to be a part. But what indicates selectivity? Certainly not acceptance rate, which says much more about who is applying – and how easy it is to apply – than how hard it is to get in. Even worse is GPA – the diversity of GPA systems between high schools and colleges across the country, much less world, is incredible, and trying to standardize that into a comparable model is amusing. When it gets right down to it, the only truly standardized measure is the SAT, and does anyone – who doesn’t work for the College Board – honestly believe that the SAT actually measures someone’s ability to succeed in college and beyond?

Crucial to note, however, is that what I just stated is my bias. Many people, including the creators of many ranking systems – most notably US News – place significant weight on those very categories. And that’s totally fine. Going a step further, at least US News and I agree that selectivity is important in deciding if a school is “good,” but there are many people who would disagree vehemently, and have very valid arguments.

The primary takeaway point. Rankings are subjective methods of evaluation that can be fun guidelines, but should not be accorded serious weight, unless the ranking is of one’s own construction and evaluates those variables that are most important to oneself.

And that’s where I try to be helpful with this website.