College Rankings

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

Group of students writing on their desks.

Lo and behold, the college rankings are out! It’s that time of the year again for the annual publication of the 2020 US News and World Report Rankings. Last year, we were featured in the US News and World Report 2019 edition where founder and CEO of AdmissionSight Eric Eng discussed some of the more nuanced strategies and thought process for applying early action.

The top universities in America is a subjective question. Yes, we all look at US News Rankings, TIMES, Business Insider, ARWU, Forbes, and all those lovely publications every year to see who is on the top or who is on the bottom. The top colleges in America will continue to reign supreme for many years to come despite the advent of online education which is providing superb access to education in the masses.

People don’t go to the Ivy Leagues for the education, necessarily. They go for the prestige – the status – the exit opportunities that a name brand education will carry them throughout their career. Because we can tell you there are many qualified students than the number of spots exist, and given the broken state of the college admissions process that exists today, there are certainly students who deserve to be there who aren’t, and students who do study at the top colleges that don’t deserve to be there.

The top colleges in America? We’d put them in three tiers, in no particular order:

  1. Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Stanford, MIT, Caltech, Chicago, Columbia
  2. UPenn, Duke, Johns Hopkins, Northwestern, Berkeley, Carnegie Mellon
  3. UCLA, USC, Vanderbilt, Tufts, Rice, etc.
  4. …the rest

If we missed your school, please forgive us. This is purely subjective and it’s incredible how much attention the public pays to these metrics. Everything from size of the endowment to the prestige to the research opportunities to Nobel Laureates to Fields Medalists at these schools determine how good they really are.

And that’s not to say you can’t game the system and get into these schools if you really try to. The process isn’t perfect, and neither are these institutions – but if you look at some of the most successful people on the planet, many have gone to these schools, so perhaps there is some real causation behind correlation, or vice versa.

Students in a group activity

And you may argue that Steve Jobs didn’t attend one of these schools and neither did Jack Ma. Generalizations don’t equate to facts. These schools don’t guarantee success – we get it. But they do mean something in the public’s eyes, and who’s to say you wouldn’t attend if given the opportunity?

Like every year when these rankings from US News, Forbes, and Wall Street Journal come out, there is an incredible amount of controversy and opinion from journalists and the media about everything that is wrong with the rankings and how they “don’t matter.”

The old saying goes that you should pick the college that is the best fit for you, and ignore the rankings because they’re meaningless indicators of how great a college experience should be.

And yet the same people who decry the rankings are the same people who, year after year, secretly and eagerly await the new rankings to come out and check where their school is on the list. Oh, the irony.

As a college admissions consultants, we believe that some of this outcry from the media is merited, but others are not.

We don’t quite believe in picking a college that is “right for you.” In this day and age, when the Ivy Leagues, Stanford, UChicago, MIT and other top universities are making a strong push toward increasing diversity, we’re a strong believer that your high school child will eventually, albeit with some experimentation and networking, find his or her niche within the Ivy gates.

College students walking around the campus.

In any given class, you’ll have accomplished musicians, scientists, engineers, politicians, artists, and the like. From a capella group to research teams to dance groups, the diversity at these schools is impressive and you will find a social peer group that you fit in with, even if it takes a little bit of trial and error.

Get in the best school possible, then if anything you can decide which school is the right fit for you.

In reality, who actually picks a college because of the experience these days? These universities have evolved into emblems of societal hierarchy, though certainly not to diminish the incredible educational experience these universities offer. Students pick schools due to the name brand recognition – it’s no secret.

Every year high school students and families anxiously compete at the highest echelons to get a coveted spot at one of these schools. If data is any indicator, more often than not students will choose the university that is higher ranked, not one that is necessarily the right fit for them. So we guess these rankings do matter. The reasoning behind this simple.

These degrees from these institutions of higher learning open up more doors than you can imagine. The starting salary of most of these college graduates is $70,000, with most median career salaries hovering at $135,000 a year. These numbers are heads and shoulders above the salaries of universities outside of the Top 10. When employers screen for resumes, a name brand school sticks out like a sore thumb on the resumes.

Whether it’s Goldman Sachs or Morgan Stanley looking for investment banking hire from Princeton or Harvard, or Google and Facebook looking to hire the next top product manager or engineer from Stanford or MIT, you can bet a degree from the Top 10 university will be put at the top of the list. That’s also a big reason why we at AdmissionSight don’t put too much importance on college lists.

Why spend so much time crafting together a school list that is the right fit for the student? Instead, you should be applied to every university in the Top 10 if you have the academic and extracurriculars stats to back it up. Because if you don’t apply, you have a zero percent chance at getting in.

The common application allows you to apply to 20 universities. Apply to as many colleges as possible – you only get one shot at this. We’ve seen students who get into Yale but rejected from Rice, for example. It’s actually not uncommon. And imagine if that student never applied to Yale – he or she wouldn’t be attending there today.

So should you pay attention to the college rankings? We’ll leave it up for you to decide.

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