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Wednesday, March 8, 2017



Does it really matter where you go to college? It just may.

When students are making the all-important decision about what college is the best choice, there are many factors to consider. What can I afford? What do I want to study? What school will best prepare me for my career choice?

Rankings not only factor in choosing a college





U.S. News & World Report's annual ranking of colleges and universities is a tool that can be used in the decision-making process, but it should not be the sole determinate in choosing a college home. In the magazine's report, data are collected on each school in various categories.

Each category is assigned a weight and the colleges and universities are ranked against their peers based on their composite weighted scores. The ranking categories include: retention, assessment by peers and counselors, faculty resources, student selectivity, financial resources, graduation rate performance and alumni giving rate. Although many college officials say the tier in which a school is placed makes no difference in their recruiting efforts, the report does point out some important issues about a school's overall academic and financial health.

Dropping even one notch below where it was on the list the previous year can affect corporate fundraising efforts, and alumni donations might plummet. Potential applicants read the rankings as a mark of quality, often making their decisions based on the magazine's findings.

While the "official" voice coming from universities may downplay the rankings, not so with status-seeking parents. Many of them want their children to attend a top-tier school, and are so obsessed with the U.S. News & World Report's rankings they have offered me (in my role as an international college admissions counselor) incentives if their daughter or son is accepted at one of the Ivies or a top 25 school.

High school guidance counselors, students and parents use the rankings as a measure of prestige and academic quality. It is a fact that corporations most often begin their recruiting efforts at top-ranked schools, and the best job offers generally go to the graduates of those institutions.

Alumni of highly ranked colleges often have better chances to get into medical school, law school and top graduate programs. Fellowship and grant money also flows uphill to the higher-ranking institutions.

I always tell my clients that attending a small, bachelor degree-granting institution is fine. However, if you want an advanced degree on your curriculum vitae, attending a highly ranked university will give you a leg up in the graduate school application process.

You will find that graduation from a top university will reap benefits when the time comes to ask your professors for references. Without excellent references, the fellowship money you need to stay in graduate school will be harder to attract. The more prestigious the school, the easier it will be to obtain financial support, take advantage of foreign study programs and teaching opportunities.

Perhaps more important than the U.S. News & World Report rankings when you are making a college choice is a campus visit. This is the best indicator of what a school's learning and cultural environment will be. Make sure that you talk to current undergraduates and faculty to hear what faculty-student interactions are and experience the campus climate.

In the end, you are looking for a four-year "fit" that will help to prepare you for the rest of your life. My advice is to weigh all of the information available to you when you make your college choice and do make campus visits. You may find that a smaller school will provide you with a more comfortable learning environment and will thrive in that setting.

gerald_bradshaw@post.harvard.edu

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Email: gerald_bradshaw@post.harvard.edu
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