Applying to College Isn’t Like The Movies

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This week we welcome current Admission Digital Media Student Assistant Sarah Engel to the blog. Welcome, Sarah!

This admission blog has long been written by experts in application evaluation, the admission counselors themselves. But they’ve always hoped you would seek out additional voices in your college admission experience as well—students who can share the culture and community of their colleges as they experience it every day, who can provide been-there-done-that support and encouragement as you navigate the college admission experience. And truly, as a current college student, and the first to write on this blog (no pressure!) I can echo the importance of those lived perspectives. I know first hand that when you’re actually in the midst of gathering your materials, writing your essays, and sending them off to colleges with the click of a button, it can all seem a little…surreal and disconnected. Not only do you have academic and social pressures from your friends and family, you likely have your own, internal expectations and media driven perceptions that hover over you like a dark storm cloud. 

Press Play

Growing up, I recall seeing countless teen rom coms and dramas in which the protagonist is somehow accepted into a prestigious university. Serena van der Woodsen from Gossip Girl being admitted to Brown University despite never attending class? Aaron Samuels from Mean Girls getting into Northwestern despite not understanding calculus? And, of course, the entire cast of High School Musical committing to Ivy Leagues, Juilliard, Stanford, and UC Berkeley? Not once did I see them studying between musical numbers in the gymnasium!

Disney family singalong: Zac Efron joins 'High School Musical' reunion

Now, in the age of social media, we are constantly exposed to “Reacting to my College Decisions” videos of shrieking students surrounded by family members, deserving student stories on Good Morning America being posted across Twitter, and congratulatory Instagram posts for friends committing to universities. As exciting as these seem, I know from experience how they can affect one’s mental health. The neverending stream of collegiate content across the internet, film, and television puts an invisible weight on the shoulders of students to perform well. Audiences (myself included) love the satisfaction of a loveable character embarking on a new, happy journey. But how realistic is the journey really? And what does this fascination with college in the media mean for real students applying to real schools?

Take a Pause

Spoiler alert: life isn’t always like it is in the movies (seriously, how do characters have so much time to hang out before they go to work and school in the morning?) and social media isn’t all that realistic either. When your admission experience looks different from everyone’s social media highlight reel, and Disney’s happily-ever-afters, that can feel a little lonely. But you’re not alone. My hope for you is that you’ll be kind to yourself. Check in on your friends, check in on yourself, have honest conversations with each other, and set boundaries. Hey, I work with digital media in our office, and while we hope to provide helpful content to students, I know that muting and stepping away from the screen can absolutely be an act of self-care. Taking breaks isn’t just healthy, it’s necessary.

Fast Forward 

Let’s look beyond the admission decisions: a fast forward through time for you, a rewind in time for me. Though it feels recent, I applied to college over three years ago (how is that possible?!). I remember dreading meetings with my college counselor, stressing over standardized test scores, reading my essays over and over, asking for recommendation letters, and that agonizing waiting period after applying. But then came the spring of 2019, and I was perfectly calm. Excited for the future, researching classes and clubs, planning out my dorm room decorations, and connecting with future classmates on social media. So much has changed for me since then! What hasn’t changed, however, is this truth: that, after the dust settles and the whirlwind of admission hype and headlines is behind you, what’s in front of you is an opportunity that’s yours to embrace. The keyword here is embrace. You may receive many admission decisions in the months ahead, ranging from exciting and surprising, to disappointing and… “you mean to tell me I have to send them more information?!”  The admission decisions themselves may not be yours to make, but choosing how you move forward, is. 

When I was a freshman in high school, I dreamed of going to a liberal arts college in the northeast. Perhaps Yale University, like Rory Gilmore (Gilmore Girls), or NYU, like Lara Jean Covey (To All The Boys I Loved Before). I thought, with my grades and extracurriculars, I’d be able to get in anywhere and everywhere, that I would live out the dark academia aesthetic of my dreams (a la Harry Potter). But by the time I was touring and applying to colleges, that fantasy seemed so far away. I had to face a reality check somewhere around junior year. I realized I wasn’t getting many scholarships at private, out-of-state schools. I also came to understand that I didn’t want to be all that far from my family. That I could always revisit the liberal arts school dream for graduate school. 

As colleges prepare to release decisions in the coming weeks and months, I hope you take away at least this message: it works out. Everything will be okay. Your admission decisions might not be the fairytale ending you first imagined, but that’s because they were never really an ending at all…just the opportunity to embrace a new storyline, whatever it may be. Don’t be discouraged if your fictional hero or heroine is accepted to every school they apply to, or if your best friend got a better scholarship than you. Remember that you are the protagonist of your own story on your own path. It might not be easy, but try your best, and believe me, #ItWorksOut.

Sarah Engel is a third-year LMC major from Dunwoody, Georgia. Her involvements have included the North Avenue Review Magazine, LMC CoLab, Excel Program, German National Honor Society, and FASET. Now, she works as the digital media assistant for the Office of Undergraduate Admission. 

Is That a Good School?

Listen to the podcast: Spreaker | Spotify | Apple Podcasts

On Sunday after lunch, I was watching college football highlights, when the back-and-forth battle in Happy Valley between the University of Illinois and Penn State came on. At the time, my 10-year-old daughter was stretching on the living room floor next to me (something I often see but rarely participate in).  

With her head literally touching the ground next to her foot, she asked, “Penn State? Is that a good school?”  

Without hesitation- “Yes.”  

Now standing with foot pulled behind her and toward her shoulder, “How about the University of Ilinois?” 

“Absolutely.” 

Over the next 15 minutes, we saw about six games recapped. Private colleges, land-grant public schools, military academies, and teams covering every geographic region of the country.   Each time the announcer moved on to a new game’s highlights, Elizabeth, after a few questions about mascots or comments on helmets, would ask the same question, “Is that a good school?” And each time (including one where my wife scrunched her nose and tightly closed her left eye), I’d respond definitively, “Yes!”  Ole Miss? Brown? University of New Mexico? Gonzaga? 

Yes is both accurate and appropriate to tell a double-jointed, 10-year-old who is too busy touching the bottom of her foot to the back of her head (what?!) to listen much beyond that anyway… but it is not a satisfactory or complete answer for you 

Is that a good school?  

Whether you are a parent, counselor, high school student, or an adult supporting a student, this is likely a question you’ve either heard or asked recently.    

While the question is simple, it is no longer acceptable to settle for simple answers (or make telling facial expressions) like “No,” “Yes,” “It’s ok,” “It didn’t used to be,” or “it is ranked X (variable not Roman numeral 10),” because doing so absolutely ruins the opportunity to learn, research, grow, continue the conversation, and promote exploration.  

Instead, the answer to, “Is that a good school?” is not an answer at all, but instead an invitation to ask many questions in return.  

Adult Warning: Asking a high school student, particularly one who is hungry, to pause, reflect, and ask some deep and weighty questions may initially be met with grimaces, grunts, or departures from the room.   

Student Warning: Not accepting one-word summaries of colleges or reducing schools to numerical rankings or admit rates will lead to a deeper understanding of yourself. Small print: People bold and thoughtful enough to take this route have experienced clarification of their goals, an underscoring of their values, and an enhanced sense of control, excitement, and purpose. Do not take this path if you are more concerned with the opinions of others than your authentic self, are scared to diverge from the status quo.  

 Is it good school… for you? 

Adding these two words changes everything. First, it invites the ever-important question, “Why do you want to go to college?” Too few students take the time to actually consider and write down at least a two-sentence answer to this question, but it is imperative to do so. Don’t skip this step. Crawl before you walk. Here are a few prompts to get you started.  

  • Who do I hope to meet, connect with, and learn from in college? 
  • What opportunities do I want this experience to provide in the future? 
  • What type of people and learning environments bring out my best? 
  • What do you want the time and space to do, discuss, explore? 

Defining why, and making decisions to surround it will quickly lead to other big questions, but let’s take it slowly. 

Once you have your why written, revised, and clear, take some time to list the aspects of a college that are necessities, desires, and bonuses, or as you can see in the grid below, your: needs, wants, and would- be- nices.  

NEEDS WANTS WOULD BE NICE

 

 

 

 

 

 

Is that a good school… for ME?  

Do you want to be able to get home quickly to celebrate holidays and birthdays, or access health care and other services?  

Do you know you would flourish by going to college with a few people you know from home? And conversely, when you are honest, do you know the best thing to do is break away from certain people or the image/reputation you have had in high school? 

Are you going to have to take loans beyond what you and your family are comfortable with? 

Asking the question this way, and checking it through your filters of WHY, as well as your Needs, Wants, Would-Be-Nices grid provides a valuable litmus test. And this is not just valuable for considering where you might visit or apply, but it will be essential to re-visit once you have been admitted and are weighing your options as a senior in the spring.  

Well, I see you listed “cold weather” and “mountains” in your want column. That place is known for heat and humidity, and most folks would not define 806 feet above sea level as a “mountain.” So, are those aspects really wants or are they needs? 

Is that a good school for me? You listed small, discussion-based classes as important. Let’s research if that is the norm there, specifically in the majors you are considering.  

Adding two additional words helps get past rankings. If you are someone who struggles with Seasonal Affect Disorder and would not be emotionally or mentally healthy when it gets dark around 4 p.m. for several months, then regardless of the world-class faculty, impressive list of alumni, and the fact that you look good in their colors, the clear answer is NO- that school is not good for you.  

Is that a GOOD school? 

I find it surprising and disconcerting that on average people talk about restaurants with more nuance than they do colleges.   

“Is that a good restaurant?” is almost never met with a simple Yes/No. Instead, people are far more apt to make statements like, “Well, their pizza is great, but I am not a big fan of their burgers.” OR “If you are in a hurry and don’t want to spend much, it’s a good spot. But don’t expect a five-course experience.” OR “It didn’t used to be, but they’re under new management now and things have changed.” I’m sure you can add a few others to this list. “Good” for certain things. “Good” at a certain price. “Good” depending on what you are looking for.  

As an aspiring college student, you should start acting like one when you seek to answer this question.   

Research: Check out the programs certain colleges are known for, rather than simply their overall ranking or historical stereotype.  

Explore: Look into the faculty who are teaching in the majors you are interested in studying. What are they curious about and researching currently? What have they published, and which companies/board/organizations do they consult with or advise? 

Run the Numbers: Plug in your family’s financial data to an online calculator to understand likely costs and gauge affordability. What is the likelihood you would need to take loans to attend a particular college? Check out their financial aid site to understand how students off-set costs, juggle jobs and school, and so on. 

Network: Who has graduated from that institution and what are they doing now? Don’t just Google famous alumni, but also read their online alumni magazine and look at profiles and the opportunities graduates are receiving.  

Value Your Values: Read their mission and vision statement or even their strategic plan (executive summary is fine). Does it resonate? Does what you fine align with who you are and what you want to be a part of? Ultimately, Do YOU CARE?  

Culture Check: Read the online student newspaper to understand what current students are excited about, mad about, pushing to change, or snarky about in general. Check out the social media accounts of clubs, academic majors, and others on campus. While it’s fine to look at the admission or main handle for the university, your goal is to get the unvarnished look at what’s really happening at each place you consider.  

Is that a good school? Is that a good school for you? Is that a GOOD school? 

My sincere hope is going forward you wont allow yourself or anyone around you to answer this question with one number, one word, or one facial expression. Are we good? GOOD! 

Launching Your College Application

This week we welcome the Director of Communications for Enrollment Management, Becky Tankersley, to the blog. 

In early September, you may have noticed a change in Georgia Tech’s Undergraduate Admission website. After (many!) months of talking, planning, building, and testing, the new admission website was ready for action!

From a user’s perspective, the new website simply appeared one day. But from a development perspective, the site came to fruition after more than a year of research, planning, testing, and development.

As the launch date approached, Rick noted, “You know, I bet there’s a blog you could write about that.” As I reflected on the process and the outcome, I can see the parallels between launching a website and launching a college application. Neither process happens quickly… yet each ultimately comes to life with a quick click of a button.

As you work to prepare to launch your college applications, here are a few tips on how to plan ahead for success.

Build your team.

Website creation involves a lot of communication, and a tight-knit team to make it happen. Our team includes a Web Developer (with knowledge in coding, servers, and security); a Marketing Specialist (who researched analytics and organized content based on user navigation and data); and a Graphic Designer (who creates imagery and ensures we’re in line with brand standards). My job was to keep us all organized, creating timelines and paving the path forward through conversations with all the other people invested in the project (including admission leadership, Institute Communications, and web hosting).

Each role is different, yet each is critical to the ultimate outcome of the project.

Your action item:

Who is on your team? This is likely your first (and perhaps only) time going through the college application process. It’s critical to have a close team around you to help along the way. Your team may include a parent/guardian, high school counselor, and another trusted adult like a teacher or coach.

Talk with your team, listen to their guidance, and lean on their experience as you go through the process. Most important, be sure this is a team you can trust. There will be moments when you can’t lean on your own knowledge to find a solution, so be sure you have a good team to support you through the process.

Do your research.

Building a website isn’t as simple as creating content and hitting “upload.” We first did our research. We talked with admission leadership about what they wanted in their new website. We talked with Tech’s web team to learn about differences in platforms and servers. We did a deep dive into data, using analytics to learn which pages were used often and which ones weren’t. This data also enabled us see user paths, revealing areas where users were getting lost when trying to navigate from one point on the site to another. We completed a competitor review to determine the best practices in our industry and see what else we could implement (imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, right?).

Your action item:

We’ve said it many times, but it’s worth saying again: do your research before submitting a college application! Here are a few places to begin:

  • Dive into data. Explore the Common Data Set (CDS) for the schools on your list. The CDS allows you to look at public historical information, providing insight, perspective, and trends by looking at multiple years. Check out our previous blog on how to analyze this data on your own.
  • Review mission statements. University mission statements aren’t just flowery verbiage to put on the “about us” page. Mission statements (and strategic plans), drive institutions toward their enrollment goals. Institutional missions matter, so review these statements to ensure your values align with the values of the colleges where you apply.
  • Understand application plans. Early action? Early decision? Regular decision? Rolling admission? Application plans vary from college to college. Check out our podcast for insight into how these plans work.
  • Know the outcomes. Some admission decisions are simply “admit” or “deny.” But in many cases, it isn’t that clear cut. Understand the variety of admission decisions you may receive from each school on your list. For example, Tech admits first-year students to both the fall and the summer terms, yet each year we talk to students are caught off guard. Doing your research now can save confusion down the road.

Create a plan.

When you’re on the cusp of a huge project, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and wonder how you’ll get from Point A to Point B (much less Points C, D, or E). Before starting the work, first create a plan—and begin with the end in mind.

We knew the admission site needed to launch the first week of September. Once we identified the completion date, we created deadlines for our tasks and goals. We then shared that timeline with other groups who would play a role in the site launch. Creating a plan made it simpler to stay on target and keep everyone on the same page.

Your action item:

Look at your research (you didn’t skip that step, right?) and write down all of your application deadlines and due dates. You may need to add in additional dates, such as when to take the SAT or ACT, or when a recommendation is due. Put these dates on your calendar, and just as important, make sure your team has those dates as well!

Don’t allow a lack of planning on your part to create stress and panic for someone else in your circle. Mistakes do happen, but if you fail to meet a deadline because you a) didn’t plan for it, or b) didn’t tell someone else about it, then that responsibility falls on you.

Check Your Progress

Once the plan was in motion, our team met on a weekly basis to check in on our progress. Each week we had new action items to complete in order to keep the project on track. Inevitably, we came across unexpected (and unplanned!) challenges. Weekly meetings enabled us to address problems and/or issues quickly, as well as keep each other accountable on our progress.

Your action item:

Schedule regular check-ins with your team to make sure you’re all on track. There may be times you need to meet more, or less, often, so adjust accordingly.

Inside tip: As you get ready to hit “submit,” be sure you aren’t doing so at the last possible minute! As application deadlines approach, we see a tremendous increase in website traffic along with phone call and email volume from panicked students. Even if you do everything right on your end, expect the unexpected! Real-life examples (that, yes, I have actually seen happen!) include power outages, Common App glitches, internet issues, natural disasters (e.g. hurricanes or wildfires), and unexpected sinus infections that keep you stuck in bed for a day or two.

Take our advice: don’t wait until the last minute!

Follow up.

The morning of the site launch, our web developer did some coding magic and poof! The new admission website was live. But, was the project really complete? No!

Once the site was live there was a list of follow up items to complete, such as addressing 404 errors, helping people find new links, updating email templates, and notifying our division, campus partners, and campus communicators that the site launched and to update their information accordingly.

When a project is nearing completion, I can hear the voice of one of my mentors in my head: “What does ‘done’ really mean, Becky?” It makes me think twice before declaring a project complete, as there are always a handful of follow up items to address.

Your action item:

“What does ‘done’ really mean, (insert your name here)?” Although you may have hit “submit,” you’re not really done!

Access your applicant portals once you have access to do so. Check your email for any messages regarding your application (and READ them)! Allow time for all of your documents to find their way to your application, and monitor your applicant portal for updates. In some cases, an application that is marked as “complete” is later marked “incomplete” if an application reviewer determines more information is needed. Check out my previous blog for tips on what to do while you wait for your admission decision.

Lastly, once you’ve hit submit, celebrate! It sounds cheesy, but take a moment to reflect upon the goal you just accomplished. Applying to college is no small feat—well done! And be sure you to let your team know you’ve submitted your applications, too. Better yet, let them know by saying THANK YOU.

After all, it’s a team effort!

How the Olympics Explain College Admission– Part 2

Listen to “How the Olympics Explain Admission – Rick Clark” on Spreaker.

In Part 1, we looked at the two fundamental ways American colleges make admission decisions. Now that you know how colleges review applications, it’s time to look at three important ways you should approach your college admission experience like an Olympian.   

1) Train For Event – Not The Result. 

Don’t get me wrong. I love watching the actual Olympic competitions: games, races, individual feats of strength, speed, and skill. But I am also a sucker for human-interest stories. It is incredible to see the athletes’ families, hometowns, the stringent training regimens, immense sacrifices, and longevity of focus which led to their Olympic moment. 

Whether it be in emails, phone calls, or during information sessions and presentations, students constantly ask “What do I need to do to get in?” Hey, it’s a valid question, and I understand where it comes from. Too often in our culture this is the mentality. What do I need to do to get: the grade? the date? the raise? the car? and so on. As Americans in particular, we are results oriented.  

However, I would assert Olympic athletes do not think this way. Sure. They want to win. They understand scores, times, or skills will come into play, but during the majority of training, their focus is on making the Olympic team and putting forth their best personal effort. In fact, sports psychologists constantly talk about envisioning actions, rather than obsessing about results. In other words, it’s not helpful to say, “picture yourself wearing a gold medal.” Instead, the message is, “Focus on executing. Imagine yourself running your best race or performing your best routine/dive/shot, etc. The results will take care of themselves.”  

And that is my hope for you. Your job is to “train” for being a successful college student. Don’t picture yourself being a student at a certain place, which you absolutely cannot control. Instead, “practice” what will make you great regardless of where you end up. Simply put- BE A GOOD HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT. 

Work hard each day in the classroom.  

Push and challenge yourself academically.  

Learn to create a functional base of knowledge– and be curious about what you don’t know.  

Contribute to your school, family, and community.  

College admission reps will use a lot of words – A LOT – to say all of this, but essentially a good college applicant is a good high school student. Colleges are looking for students who will be desperately missed by the people they leave behind in their school, community, neighborhood.  

Applying an Olympic mentality means worrying less about the medal, the podium, the anthem, and instead committing to your day- to-day training. YOU GOT THIS!  

2) Respect The Competition. TV coverage only brought us a fraction of the action. This year there were 33  sports, 46 disciplines, and 339 total medal events with over 11,500 athletes competing. In the Paralympic Games, which just started this week, another 4,400 athletes will take part. However, unless you had some super- secret Gold Combo #4 cable package you only saw a tiny percentage of those athletes or competitions.  

As a high school student, this is one of the biggest challenges in the college admission experience- understanding the skills, strength, and potential of other applicants you never get to see or know. Colleges do a good job (often in a pretentious and boasting fashion) of describing how many applicants they received in the prior year, or their overall admit rate.  

However, since you are not in the room where files are received and reviewed, it’s impossible to appreciate the talent of this set of students. If you are applying to a college or university with “Olympic” level admit rates, no GPA or test average will adequately convey the depth of their applicant pool. Sure, they will have some percentage of Eddie the Eagle applicants who are not competitive or “in profile,” but those are the outliers.  

Talk to most college admission deans or counselors and they will marvel at the ability of students (hundreds or thousands) who do not end up “on their podium.” If you choose to apply to schools who are denying more students than they admit (sometimes by a wide margin), there is no guarantee. Yes, you have great grades, test scores, letters of rec, essays, and all the things. But so too do the other Olympians showing up at the Games. Again, this is why you need to build a college list with a range of selectivity.  

I expound on the value of seeing or visualizing other applicants in Lessons and Hopes for High School Seniors, but if you are trying to decrease screen time or save your thumbs from scrolling, the take home message is basically covered in the conclusion of our last blog: “Before you ever submit an application to a college using holistic review, take the time to write down or say out loud that you are intentionally competing in gymnastics, rather than the high jump. You are choosing a nuanced, gray, and subjective competition and evaluation, and you are comfortable with the fact that numbers alone will not dictate your results. Promise yourself now that you will not waste time or energy (or precious weeks of your senior year) trying to predict the outcome. And, if you don’t end up on the “podium,” commit to handling your disappointment with class and grace.”     

3) Check Your Ego and Be Patient. Dang. Even writing this sounds like some sick combination of harsh and unrealistic. Welcome to the Olympics! Clearly, you cannot talk about the Tokyo Games without mentioning Simone Biles. The truth is an entire blog would not cover the lessons learned from the GOAT. But I think the 2021 Olympic experience of MyKayla Skinner and Jade Carey are more relevant to you anyway. Jade came to Tokyo as an individual, rather than part of the four-person team. MyKayla was literally about to fly back to the US when she got the text to come back to compete. Both left Tokyo with medals and unpredictable opportunities.  

Olympians are used to the emotional roller coaster. If you listened to many of the interviews from Tokyo, you heard athletes from every sport and nation relay stories of “almost quitting” or “wanting to walk away,” because of the physical or mental toll of competing.  

Good news- your admission experience is not going to be so physically taxing (unless you’re trying to type your essay while on the Peloton). However, you can expect some ups and downs, possible setbacks, and a timeline you will not dictate. You may get deferred, denied, or waitlisted. You may be an alternate for a scholarship or just miss being named valedictorian, NHS, Top 10%, or some other distinction you have been working for and focused on achieving. When this happens (and it will happen), remember Jade and MyKayla- get up, dust yourself off, and keep moving forward. There will always be another opportunity, an open door, or an expected route to your goals.  

Whether you are a senior about to apply to college or an underclassman just starting to explore possible options, I hope you will learn these critical lessons from the Olympics: Train for the event- not the result; respect the competition; and check your ego and be patient.  

The Top 1 Question to Ask in YOUR College Admission Experience

Listen to “The Top 1 Question to Ask In YOUR College Admission Experience – Rick Clark” on Spreaker.

A few years ago, I wrote That One Thing. This blog opens with an embarrassing personal travel story (returning readers will note a pattern) and goes on to suggest that the most important thing you can do in the college admission experience is to listen– to counselors, parents, older students, teachers, and admission representatives.  

Well… it’s taken me three years, but I believe I’ve been able to finally isolate the one question you should be asking in your college admission experience… “Do I care?” Note: This is supposed to be an internal question, rather than one asked audibly, especially if it’s with your right hand on your hip, your left eye scrunched down, and your head tilted to either side. 

Do I care? 

Let’s give it a shot.  

Faculty: student ratio, list of alumni who are now in the pro sports, year of founding, number of benches (insert other object or animal here) on campus, style of architecture, or percentage of faculty with a terminal degree.  

Whether it be on campus or in virtual programs, you can expect admission folks and student tour guides are going to run through a litany of stats, dates in their institution’s history, and a variety of other bragging points. As you are listening or walking around, you’ll inevitably see other students or parents nodding their head or raising their eyebrows and pursing their lips as if to say, “Hmmm…impressive!”  

And hey, maybe those things do matter to you. Maybe you don’t want to attend a school that was founded in an even year or are dead set on no more than a 11:1 squirrel to student ratio. Maybe Georgian architecture is fine with you, as long as it was all sourced within a 100 mile radius.  

The bottom line is you’re already receiving ad nauseum emails with these kinds of data points in them—and that onslaught of information is about to multiply infinitely as the school year starts and the real push for applications ramps up. So, with every page you turn or building on campus you reach, you need to keep just one question in mind– Do I care? Is this information really substantive and relevant to my college search and selection process?  

Rankings  

Recently, on his podcast, Revisionist History, Malcolm Gladwell has explored the advent, evolution, and implications of the US News college rankings.  This two part-series exposes their self-serving origin, highly subjective methodology, and the ability of colleges to manipulate their standing.  

As a student (or an invested adult) in the college admission experience, I highly encourage you to make time to listen to both The Lord of the Rankings and Project Dillard.    

Over the years, I’ve written extensively about the outsized place rankings can play in college search and selection. I won’t re-hash all of that, but if you are interested in digging in a bit more you can check out: The Rankings, Meh and Three Cheers for the Rankings.   

Ultimately, the choice to use commercial rankings (aka click bait, cash cow lifeline) is yours. But please, for the love of all things holy, take some time to understand the methodology on which these are based, and ask your one filter question—DO. I. CARE?  

  • If the President from one college looks favorably upon another…  
  • One school pays faculty on average $2,000 more annually ($244/month or $8/day) and therefore their ranking is inflated…  
  • One school is outside the Top 25 (50, 100) but has graduated lots of successful alumni in the field I’m interested in… 

As I’ve said, and will continue to reiterate, your college search and selection is just that–yours. Listen, I don’t hate the US News games makers per se. I just earnestly think you are smarter than they are. And I know with all confidence that you know you better than they ever could.  So is it crazy to suggest you should consider creating your own ranking system?

What do you value? What does really matter to you as you decide where to apply and attend?  (Yes. I’m really asking those questions to you.) If you were to create your own personal ranking system what are the first three to five factors you would use and how much weight would you put on them?  

I want to encourage you to take some time soon to actually write those down and consider using a Likert scale to rate the schools you are considering. I’m not going to prescribe this to you, so if you want to use 19 points or 100, go for it, but here would be an example on the 5-point scale.

5: Exactly what I am looking for

4: Pretty darn good

3: OK

2: Tolerable

1: This is a problem.  

Applying this to my family’s upcoming vacation this summer, here is that Likert scale applied: 

Factor:  

  • Distance from home (given cost, allotted time, arguing kids): 4 
  • Fun (mainly for kids but since I’m paying…): 4 
  • Hiking/Running nearby: 5 
  • Good food options: 2 (My opinion not theirs) 

What do you care about?  

Last week I had the opportunity to interview my friend Jeff Schiffman on The College Admission Brief podcast. He eloquently discussed how Covid was a rare pause that has allowed us to really stop and think about what we love, desire, and truly care about.  

I don’t know exactly how things are going to play out for you in the year ahead. I’m not going to try to “chance you” about where you are going to get in or try to predict if you’ll get a scholarship to your top choice. What I do know is that everyone is going to have an opinion about what you should pay attention to as you consider, apply to, and ultimately select a college. There will be incredible noise in your house, school, on social media, and in the darkest corners of the interwebs about how you should make your admission choices.  

So, yea, I still stand by my blog asserting the one thing you can do is listen. But that does not mean everything you hear has value or merit. The bottom line is that in the week, month, and continually through your college admission experience the one question you have to keep vigilantly asking and considering is… “Do I care?”