Don’t Choose Any College by Rank!

Something that I think we tend to make a big mistake about is choosing a college by its prestige. Sure, going to a good school isn’t bad and people shouldn’t feel bad for choosing a college for being prestigious, at least as a factor in the decision. However, I’m going to say that choosing any college only for its prestige is ridiculous. Why? Because there’s more to college life and success than just how highly ranked the school is.

How U.S. News College Ranking Works

Before you get on U.S. News and see how everything is ranked, you might want to know how this very popular website’s rankings are weighted on which variables. 22.5 percent of a college’s ranking is decided on undergraduate academic reputation. 22.5 percent is decided by retention. 20 percent is decided by faculty resources. 12.5 percent is decided by student selectivity (acceptance rate). 10 percent is decided by financial resources. 7.5 percent is decided by graduation rate. 5 percent is decided by alumni giving rate.

So, if your school is known for being good and keeps a lot of its students, 45 percent of your college’s ranking decision is based on that alone. This explains why “good schools,” such as Ivy League schools, almost always make the top 10 or 20 list. Retention isn’t a bad thing to look at, though. But we’ll discuss that a little later.

Why College Rankings Shouldn’t Matter Much

The thing about college rankings is that, much of the time, it requires some sort of participation on the college’s part. U.S. News sends out a survey each year that is to be completed by the colleges and universities. In fact, this is what U.S. News says about it:

“For colleges that were eligible to be ranked but refused to fill out the U.S. News statistical survey in the spring and summer of 2014, we have made extensive use of the statistical data those institutions were required to report to the National Center for Education Statistics, including such factors as SAT and ACT scores, acceptance rates, number of faculty, student-faculty ratios and graduation and retention rates.”

Something that I find quite annoying about the ranking system used by, well, anybody really, is that it’s completely subjective. For example, I find the University of Oregon to be one of the best, if not the best, public school on the west coast. It has very little to do with academics since it has a lot more to do with college life, what the city it’s in has to offer, and the environment the University of Oregon campus is in. Let’s go over a few things that we should seriously make our decision for college about.

Campus Life

By campus life, I don’t mean Greek life (though, some of you may think that’s important). I’m talking more about what the campus has to offer. Is there a gym or recreational center? Are college sporting events important to you? What kind of clubs does the college or university have to offer? There are a million things that fall under this category. You need to look at these kinds of things because you might end up at a college you don’t particularly like. If this happens, you need to look at transferring, that is, if it’s possible.

Academic Calendar System

What kind of calendar system does the college or university you’re looking at run on? Quarter, semester, or trimester? It’s important to know this because it can determine whether or not you’re actually successful in college. Don’t believe me? When I was at Mt. Hood Community College, my GPA was 3.2. At BYU-Idaho, I had below a 2.5. Why? Because I went from 9-week quarters plus finals week to 14-week semesters including finals week.

You may or may not want to double check on dead week. There are some schools that don’t have one. BYU-Idaho was that way. You would learn all new stuff up until the few days of finals. That’s right, on top of no dead week, there’s only a few days for finals at BYU-Idaho. There’s no time for study. Hey! If it works for you, then by all means, go there. But for me, it was very hard for me to be successful.

Campus Environment

Something that you might not think is important is the campus environment. Do you want your campus to be older, with older architecture, or do you want a newer campus with no buildings older than 30 years? Is it important for you to attend a college that looks like New York City, or do you want a college that looks like it’s in some kind of forest?

Something that was important to me was the campus environment. BYU-Idaho is the one that looks like New York City. At least, compared to the University of Oregon, it does. Oregon has a lot of trees all over the place. I can easily find a place to study anywhere on campus. Campus also has that forest-y, woodsy smell to it (depending on where you are).

Campus Location

This is one of the most important things you should consider when choosing a college. Why? Because if you can’t handle a rural area, you shouldn’t go to a college that’s in one. Some would consider Eugene, Oregon too small for them despite the fact that it’s the third largest city in the state. So they go to Portland State University. Maybe you don’t even want to go to school in Oregon. That’s okay! Like I said, you need to figure out what you want in a location and then look for a college within those parameters.

Your Program

Probably the most important thing to consider, if academics is important to you, is how your major is at a certain college or university. No, I’m still not talking about ranking. The hardest thing to research is your own major. I mean, how are you going to decide whether or not a school is overrated or underrated when it comes to economics? You probably won’t know without going there or extensive research on the website.

The problem with ranking programs, like U.S. News does, is that you can’t really tell if the program is right for you. You won’t find out which schools have the economics classes you want by seeing that its economics program is ranked as one of the top ten economics programs in the country. This is why you should choose a slew of colleges that you want to attend and choose the program you want to be in.


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