Skepticism Over College Rankings Applies Equally to Private School Rankings

Skepticism Over College Rankings Over on the Independent Educational Consulting Blog, Dodge Johnson, IECA president, offers his preemptive salvo on the coming U.S. News annual college rankings.

Suffice to say, he’s skeptical; not a fan; and his piece can serve a foundation on why it’s important to approach many types of rankings with a healthy dose of skepticism.

Dodge’s thinking certainly applies to any family engaging in a private or boarding school search.

Of course schools at, or near, the top of the U.S. News rankings will be happy. Social climbing schools will be envious and strive to improve their rankings; and, those confident of the work and role in the market will ignore the goofy exercise and get on with their work.

The problem, though, is that too many people with pay heed to U.S. News, and similar, rankings imbuing them with perceived accuracy and looking at them as guides- of sorts.

Just as with college searches, too many people weigh a boarding or private school’s reputation and perceived ranking too heavily in their school search.

Cure yourself of the ranking and reputation ills

If you don’t already bring a healthy dose of skepticism to such ratings, Dodge can help you cultivate it. He challenges the ratings system on several reasonable grounds.

I’ll leave most of Dodge’s criticism up to you to read choosing instead to highlight one.

The U.S. News rankings in no way, shape, or form take into account the quality of their work with the kinds of students they teach. Dodge encapsulates his thinking using this example:

“…An institution in my back yard, Delaware County Community College, attracts a wide age range and a stunning diversity. Students speak a ton of languages but many don’t have a very good command of English. Many work full time. Many are single parents. A fair number never finished high school but have earned a GED. Many have to scrape to come up with any money at all, let alone tuition and essentials for classes. In other words, for most, college is an uphill struggle. And this college does a remarkable job of putting these students on track, keeping them there, and turning them into professionals or readying them for four-year colleges.

Should I rank DelCo above or below Princeton, Michigan, Harvey Mudd? I submit that the answer depends not so much on data or on how U.S. News might massage them as on what I value. And that’s what a college search should be all about: deciding what things are important to you and then go looking for colleges where you’ll find them.”(IECA)

Choosing a school is a value proposition based on how the program fits who you are and where you are in life. In order to produce the best possible fit this kind of thinking must guide any school search.

College/Private School/Boarding School: Fit Matters Most

The best school, or college fit begins with the student:

  • understanding who he/she is
  • where he/she stands in their personal development
  • what is the educational goal for the student
  • then, working to find the school that that meets the student where he/she stands and can, then, grow them the furthest

I’ll extend Dodges thinking using a thought that we share with families all the time.

In America, there’s a school or college for everyone. What’s the best one? The one where you can grow the most.

And, most of the time, the best fit has nothing to with ratings, rankings, or reputation.

Our work on boarding school rankings:

  1. Boarding Schools: Don’t Rank Them, Understand Them
  2. Boarding School Rankings: Ignore Them!

Photo credit: FrenchKheldar via Creative Commons

  • Anonymous

    As a college admissions consultant, I try to help my students and their families keep the rankings in perspective.  It is far more important for students to choose schools that are a good fit for them than it is to choose a school because it rates high in the college rankings.  Many students would not even be happy in some of the top ranked schools even if they did get in.  College is about finding a good match academically and personally.   

Brian Fisher

A product of both private and public education, Brian Fisher served as a teacher, coach, dorm parent, and administrator at three different boarding schools. Brian also fills the role of Director of Development at Wolfeboro, The Summer Boarding School, in NH along with being a partner at AdmissionsQuest.

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