Don't get me wrong; data is great. It is gratifying to have hard facts and boxes to check. But some commercial lists employ questionable methodology, and the plain truth is that whether a student will thrive at a particular school cannot be determined by an institution's national ranking.
We wouldn't dare give a young person who is just starting out the same advice today about bank interest rates or real estate values that we did ten years ago. So why are we still giving out the same old advice about college?
I can't claim any credit for his final decision to attend a small liberal arts college, but I thought other parents who are facing a similar situation might like to see a shortened version of the letter I sent to my son more than twenty years ago.
"How can I help my daughter choose the right college?" I've been working in college admissions long enough to know there is no perfect answer to this question. But in the moment, I drew upon my 20-plus years of experience to offer some advice.
Remember that college is for you. It's not for your friends. It's not for your family (though if they are helping foot the bill, you do owe them some respect). It's for you. Don't make so many decisions for other people that you forget to make them for yourself
What I recommend to students is to create their own ranking. They should start by writing down what their top wants for a college are such as major, location, size, internships, ability to participate in sports, international study, etc.
As I straddled both sides of the admissions equation, one as decision maker and the other as parent, I was further reminded that beyond what is not within our control (the admission decisions), focusing on core priorities can guide an informative application process.
All of us know that more must be done. But is this plan a good solution? The "best value" rating system may seem plausible at first glance, but there can be no doubt that it will do much unintended harm to higher education in America.
Students who choose colleges only by name, location or because their best friend is going there, and don't look into what the colleges are all about, might find themselves let down after they start college. So how do you get quality information?
Getting accepted by Penn was an affirmation of all the effort I put into this process. And even though I've always thought it is the all-around perfect college for me, being put on the wait list gave me time to really consider the other schools I got into.
Enjoy the football games, adventures in studies and late nights that are all in the college mix. Choose the school that's right for you. Just don't forget to factor into the equation the ultimate goal after graduation: getting a job.
Everyone on campus waved to one another and most of the students knew each other. At a big school, it would be difficult to get to know everyone in my graduating class. But Williams felt like a family.