08/14/2012 05:45 pm ET Updated Oct 14, 2012

'Best College' Lists Leave Out the Most Important Ranking of All

It's become an American pastime: ranking our top colleges and universities. In just the past few weeks, we've seen new two rankings from Newsweek and Forbes.

Everyone -- parents, teens and alums -- are drawn to these lists with a curiosity that borders on egocentric.

Parents want their teens to go to the 'best' school possible; alums want to know if their alma mater ranks among America's top institutions.

Then, we all laugh as publications like Newsweek and US News & World Report tell us the nation's rowdiest and easiest schools.

Maybe those rankings were a romp several years ago when college was affordable. Today, some young people are mired in student loan debt so steeply that they may never get in the black the rest of their lives.

Parents and teens who want the prettiest campus or most active Greek life should be asking a much more important question.

Which student loan service is the best?

On Google, I searched 'student loan rankings' and found only one random site that claims to have ranked companies like Sallie Mae, Chase and Wells Fargo. None of the big boys in the rankings game -- like US News -- came up in my query.

Why is that?

The student loan crisis has reached epidemic levels. CNNMoney recently reported that Americans have now totaled $150 billion in student loan debt.

That's billion with a 'B.'

And that's why publications like Newsweek and US News are so vital.
Teens (and their abiding parents) shouldn't focus anymore on aesthetics (i.e. prettiest, most Greek). The decision should rest on best value (US News, et al do provide that ranking), best schools for job placement after graduation, which loan service is the most reputable and maybe even the top places to seek scholarships.

None of these are as sexy as 'biggest party school' but this is the info we truly need.

College isn't a game, but we keep treating these rankings lists like the college football BCS. We need better resources to make these colossal financial decisions. Four (or for some of us, five) years in school can impact our balance sheets for decades.

Where do we turn for the real rankings list?