When Rankings Steer You Wrong: What Else to Look for in a College

College rankings: They’re almost as American as football mascots and frat parties. Students and their parents clamor to know what the “best” schools are, keeping U.S.News & World Report’s college rankings staff busy year-round. But a growing number of naysayers—some colleges themselves—have crafted a convincing argument for abandoning rankings altogether.

But if college rankings become obsolete, where should college-bound students begin their search?

Start Online

With its seemingly endless stream of ready info, the Web is a perfect—and free!—place to start. These sites prove especially using in digging up college dirt:

• In addition to informative, easy-to access articles, CollegeView.com offers SuperMatch, a tool that ranks preferences like male-female ratio, major, and Greek life to find schools that match students’ individual criteria. Users can also request info directly from schools on their short list through CollegeView.

CollegeConfidential.com houses blogs, video tours, visit reports, and more to give a glimpse of prospective schools through the eyes of fellow students. Peruse real user-generated feedback before making your final decision.

• Students might not be concerned about the cost of college, but parents certainly are. College Navigator provides detailed information on college expenses, financial aid, and how expected family contribution (EFC) factors into cost. Many families find that after merit- and need-based aid, private schools that were once deemed too expensive are suddenly an affordable option. Read as much as you can to avoid paying sticker price for college.

Visit…in Person or Virtually

Nothing can replace touring a campus while classes are in session, but there are a few ways to connect when traveling just isn’t possible. Find out whether your prospective school(s) offers virtual or photo tours of the physical campus, and email your contact with questions as they arise. Alternatively, have your guidance counselor help you find out about bringing admissions representatives to your high school for a recruitment visit.

Other Fish in the Sea

If you find yourself in love—or maybe just in ‘like’—with a school that’s out of reach for whatever reason, it’s time to look for schools with similar characteristics. Start with the athletic conference your favorite school belongs to. Often, you can find more realistic options that are similar in flavor and geography. Additionally, the Education Trust’s College Results Online allows you to search similar schools based on a wide variety of factors such as graduation rates, admissions, cost, retention, and more. Simply enter the name of the school you like then click the “Similar Colleges” tab at the top and start sorting.

Find the Right Fit

Ultimately, the right school for any given student is not the one a magazine deems “#1.” It’s about the right fit for you, and the surest way to find that fit is to avoid the hype and do your homework. Do it correctly, and you’ll land on the best-fit college for you.


This article was written by Lisa Mader

Lisa Mader relies on extensive teaching experience, a master's-level education, and affiliation with some of the industry's most important accreditation boards to help college-bound students maximize their performance and find their best-fit college. Through her company LEAP, Lisa has helped countless families in the areas of test preparation, college selection/application, choosing a major and future career, and much more.

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