10 Dirty Secrets Behind the Big College Rankings

Each year, colleges and universities across the country are subject to being ranked. Whether it be “Top 100 Universities”, “Best Business Schools”, or  “Top 50 Programs In The Midwest”, prospective students often use this information in hopes of making an informed decision on where to apply and enroll. Additionally, professor’s and members of the university community take rankings seriously; not only as a sign of prestige, but also as a way to market their programs. With so much weight being placed on college rankings, just how justified are they? We’ve compiled a list of the top ten best kept secrets behind the big college rankings.

  1. Legacies Get it Twice: In a recent report by a Dartmouth staffer, a college is twice as likely to admit legacy applicants, or someone who has had a parent or other family member attend the college previously. George W. Bush and Harrison Frist aside, Dartmouth itself confessed to admitting 29.7 percent of all legacy applicants in comparison to only 12.7 percent of non-legacies. This truth has remained consistent for the five years previous to the report as well. It gets even worse, according to ABC News. Princeton is one of the worst offenders. They boast a legacy acceptance rate of 40 percent; a rate four times higher than the pool of non-legacy candidates.
  2. Your Application is Wanted More than Your Education: Daniel Golden is a reporter for “The Wall Street Journal” and author of the book “The Price of Admission: How America’s Ruling Class Buys Its Way into Elite Colleges–and Who Gets Left Outside the Gates” has many opinions on the big college rankings. Among them is “colleges do a lot of marketing to ensure that they bring in a huge number of applications, only to turn down most of them to make room for rich kids.” The preferred students? Those whose parents have made sizeable donations to the university and the few a year who are allowed into financial aid opportunities for low income families. He argues that the losers remain the middle class.
  3. Race Matters: At least it does according to the official blog of the Supreme Court of the United States. In an editorial it was stated, “the bad news is that the use of racial preferences remains too common. The good news is that such preferences are mostly concentrated in the three areas of contracting, employment, and higher education.” Previous cases are discussed, along with how to fix the system in the entry by Roger Clegg, president and general counsel of the Center for Equal Opportunity.
  4. But Which Race?: Depends where you go. In 2008, two white students were rejected admission into the University of Texas. They then filed suit, which is still being hammered out in courts. “The Wall Street Journal” has reported a representative for legal affairs for the university as saying “We think it (taking some account of race in admissions) is critical to being able to achieve the diverse institution that we think is important.” Read the article for more.
  5. Ivy’s Are the Whitest: Having a look at “U.S. News and World Report’s” rankings on the most student diversity, not a single Ivy League school is among them. Many state universities, such as Rutgers and California State University, ranked in the top ten. Joining them are the University of Houston, Polytechnic Institute of New York, Nova Southeastern, and more.
  6. And It Is Their Business: In the methodology of the same study, students who chose not to answer questions about race and marked “other” were regarded as whites. In a quote from the site, “students who did not identify themselves as members of any demographic group were classified as whites who are non-Hispanic for the purpose of this calculation.” It is unknown which, if any, universities adopt this practice and how much checking “other” will help or hurt you. Also, if you are a Hispanic of African-American or white origin, there isn’t a box for you to check.
  7. Ask Not What You Can do for Your College…: “U.S. News and World Report” ranks its schools by many factors, such as academic excellence, how many students pass exams and graduation rate. What if you’re interested in other criteria though? Washington Monthly, in addition to ranking traditionally, ranks schools by their ability to do what is beneficial to both students and society. They also argue that the big colleges are lagging in teaching effectively, as seen in this report.
  8. Must Be The Money: The very first stock market crash. The internet bubble. The housing market crisis. The higher education collapse. Does the last one not sound familiar?  Dave Ross reports that it just might. The average cost of a four year undergraduate degree has skyrocketed 440 percent, which is four times faster than the rate of inflation. Yet despite this spike, parents and future students still rush to get into an institution of higher education. He owes much of this rise to the availability of federal funds which may or may not have to be repaid. Eerily emulating the tactics that led to the housing market crisis, the loans are accused of tricking naïve students with teaser interest rates that will hugely increase upon graduation and will make it difficult if not impossible to be repaid. The credit/debt bubble, along with the green one, are also discussed.
  9. Fake it Till You Make It: Think it’s hard to get into Harvard? Ask Adam Wheeler of Milton, Delaware. In 2007 he allegedly made his way onto the prestigious campus as part of a hoax. In addition to the Ivy League education many students study, sweat, and suffer for, he also made off with $45,000 in financial aid, grants, and scholarships courtesy of tax payers, alumni, and fellow students. It was apparently so easy to fake his way into Harvard, Adam would apply for Rhodes and Fulbright scholarships on his phony credentials, which ended up in the undoing of his scheme. He was eventually indicted with 20 crimes which included identity fraud, pretending to hold a degree, and larceny.
  10. But Wait! There’s More!: From Fastweb, comes an interesting look behind the big college rankings. Key stats, the usual ranking system, and more are discussed. One of the best tips is for students and parents to do research in the area that interests them to ensure their education and dollars go where they are supposed to. An interesting explanation of the alumni giving rate and freshmen year retention rate are also given.

Remember that when choosing an institute of higher education, a rating system should not be the deciding or even leading factor in your decision. If you learn nothing else about the secrets behind the big college rankings, remember that. Only by researching, visiting, and applying to many colleges will you ensure that you get what you want, while paying what you want.

To check out the traditional ranking systems, have a look at these: U.S. News and World Report has been a leader in big college rankings. Visit them to have a look at top ranked schools in a variety of areas such as up and coming, best undergrad, specialty schools, and more. Another good place to look, especially for business students is America’s Best Colleges from the experts at “Forbes” magazine. A leading feature is the “Best College Buys” for the pocketbook minded. Additionally, you can check out The Princeton Review. They too have rankings based on demographics, politics, and other areas. Shop around, consider many factors when deciding where to enroll and you’ll be sure to be happy with your decision.