If you're at all involved with the world of college admissions or college in general, you've no doubt seen all the different varieties of college rankings. If you've spent much time on the College Confidential discussion forum, especially in the late summer, you've probably seen the massive discussions — sometimes heated arguments — about the infamous U.S. News Best Colleges rankings that come out every year around that time.
It must be part of our competitive human nature to cheer for a favorite college, either on the sports field or in a magazine's opinion. I certainly won't get into which colleges are the best. I've always been an anti-rankings guy. I believe that whichever college provides a young person with the best fit, best education, and other intangibles at an affordable cost (minimizing or hopefully eliminating the need for massive student loans) is the #1 ranked school for them.
Thus, I was amused the other day when I came across the Top 10 Weird and Zany College Rankings You Should Probably Ignore. As the introduction to these interesting rankings states:
For some, a college ranking means nothing at all, while others heavily rely on a university's “rank" for getting into graduate school or making their resume stand out in a pile of job hopefuls. Blame the economy, but those standard college rankings are meaning less and less to employers, which has caused the higher learning industry to resort to weird and zany college rankings that may draw headlines, but do little else.
I've often thought about creating my own rankings for your reading (probably “dis") pleasure. Since I like to spend considerable time in the Theater of the Absurd, some of my rankings might include:
– Top Schools Where It's Easiest for Freshmen to Get a Date for Homecoming
– Best Colleges Where Protestors Are Guaranteed Free Beer after Being Pepper Sprayed by Police
– America's Easiest Colleges to Gain A Degree from in Exchange for Babysitting Top Administration Officials' Children
Although I haven't yet begun my research for any of these seldom explored areas, I have scheduled some quiet time to come up with even more new categories.
1. Smartest guys and girls. This isn't so weird or zany, but it is rather pointless. Being surrounded by smart guys and gals will force you to up your game, but it won't necessarily make you smarter. In some cases, being around highly intelligent people can make you feel inadequate, especially if you're adjusting to other things like a new environment and making new friends. Who cares if the smartest guys and girls are at your school? What matters is the school is a wise fit for your learning style.
This makes sense. If you're looking to be a big fish in a small pond, and you think you may be perfect for community college, then you shouldn't' be looking at MIT or Stanford. On the other hand, if you can get in (big “if" there), you could recede into the woodwork of a high-powered school by just cruising at a B- or C+ level at one of the Top 50 institutions U.S. News touts.
3. Off campus housing. This is a silly college ranking because off-campus housing varies depending on how far or close you'll live to the school and your budget. While this ranking from Collegeprowler does take into account things like cost of living and traffic you'll encounter getting to campus, it's still such a general.
(I like the way they mention about living in proximity to your budget. I've found that I'm usually living too far way from my budget. :-)) Faulty grammar aside, I agree that this category does fall into the “too general" folder simply because of the many variables involved. Living off campus nullifies a lot of fun dorm life. How could I ever forget those amusing nights on campus when my roommate would come back to our room blind drunk? I always kept my closet door closed to shield my skimpy wardrobe from any threat of projectile vomiting, which occurred on an all too-frequent basis. So, don't weigh these rankings too heavily.
5. Party schools. This isn't so weird anymore, as PR has given the title a major boost in the past decade. Playboy magazine has dished out the title in recent years, taking into account female to male ratio, alcohol consumption and the medicinal medicine facility nearby. This results in tens of thousands of students lighting up on April 20th. Talk about new traditions.
“Medicinal medicine facility" — brought to you by the Department of Redundancy Department. In my view, the better, more useful ranking category would be Best NON-Party Schools. Believe it or not, there arehigh school students looking for colleges and universities that don't smell like beer kegs Thursday through Sunday. Trust me; just about every college is a party school. If you've been thinking about visiting a college, the best time, in my opinion, is in the spring, when weather may be warmer at night (especially in the Northeast and Midwest). If you do, be sure to take a stroll down fraternity-sorority row at night. If your nose is quite accomplished, you may be able to discern the difference between Coors and Samuel Adams wafting through the night air. Oh, and be careful of flying beer kegs.
7. Worst parking. Unless you're living off campus, you shouldn't have to worry about parking too much. Many of the colleges ranked are in New York City, which begs the idea – learn to use the subway! There's nothing that says you can't truck it to school on foot, especially if you're living on campus. Even if parking is an issue, you can always learn the ropes and park your car in a specific spot through the week while you attend classes and then you can limit the parking song and dance to weekends.
I almost didn't graduate from college because I owed the university for unpaid parking fines. Naturally, parking is a real issue for students who have cars. I was a commuter student the second half of my college career and that provided me with a real challenge finding a spot while competing with the 30-some thousand other students at Penn State. So, after getting a number of parking tickets for parking in visitor, faculty, and other lots on campus, I came up with a brilliant idea to avoid conviction. In my state, cars are required to display only a rear license plate, so I configured mine with strong magnets that allowed for fast removal and concealment in my car's trunk. So, when the parking authorities tried to ticket my car, they had no way to link my registration to my name. This worked for a while until they devised a system to track cars' VIN numbers. So, I paid up and graduated.
8. Worst food. When you're cramming for exams, you have to eat. If you're a freshman or anyone living on campus, you may have a meal plan which forces you to eat at the various school cafeterias or food vendors throughout the school year. Some of the worst food can be found at pricey colleges, which means you may want to think about stockpiling Cup O' Noodle before signing up for a year long meal plan.
Here's a ranking within a ranking. The Washington Post listed their Top 5 candidates for the worst college food:
1. St. Bonaventure (N.Y.) University
2. Colorado School of Mines, Golden
3. U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, Kings Point, N.Y.
4. Hampton (Va.) University
5. State University of New York at Albany
Are you considering any of these schools? Do you like to eat? Better check it out.
Whenever I mention food in my blog here, I always take the opportunity to mention the names of two college food directors that I've encountered over the years. During freshman year at my small liberal arts school, the name of the man in charge of campus food was a Mr. Bloodgood. Yikes. When my son went to college, the guy in charge of food there was a Mr. Orafice. Gotta wonder about that.
You can see then that there are all kinds of ways to rank colleges. You probably have some ideas of your own about how to rank them. The best rankings, though, come from the students themselves. Experience is the best informer. Theory can take you only so far and can be misleading, such as equating the best this or that with the most expensive schools. That's not always the case.
Writing this blog post today got me to thinking about some other ranking ideas. How about:
– Top 10 Colleges Where The Laziest Students Have The Fewest Missed 8 O'clock Classes
Coming soon to an Admit This! post near you.
Check College Confidential for all of my college-related articles.
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