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"Ivy Day" Bulletin: Why you should ignore rankings and seek quality and fit, redux

Updated: Apr 4, 2023

You may have heard lots of drama about Ivy Day-- this year, March 30, when the colleges in the Ivy League football conference, and some other selective schools, release their Regular Decision admission outcomes to applicants.


Our culture makes a bigger deal every year out of the outcomes at a a few universities that have a very limited number of spots (almost exactly 17,000 first year seats.) Meanwhile, there are thousands of institutions in the US, and, as I like to say, you can limit your search to about 300 4-year colleges that offer everything most students need, and still be able to feel exclusive-- that's fewer than 10% of all US 4 year higher ed institutions.


The colleges in the Ivy League group are very highly selective and tend to be highly ranked in the flawed US News rankings. The link between ranking and selectivity, and the cultural focus on both of those factors, are unfortunate realities. I've talked it about it before, and I am certain the topic will reappear in my posts.


My friend, college admission questioner, and surprise star of the Varsity Blues feature on Netflix, Akil Bello of Fairtest shared this graphic on Twitter the other day. It caught my attention, because it points to mindsets I encounter in discussions in my work and in the world of college admission. While the graphic contrasts opinions of those going into college and those coming out, neither group lists quality of education as a priority. Going to college is about getting an education for your next stages in life! So much of the frenzy over selectivity in the last 30 years, combined with an increased focus on the "lifestyle" aspects of "fit," has pulled our national conversation away from the fundamental question of quality of education and what really matters in a college education that will serve you in your working and personal life.



Where is quality of educational experience in all this? Small class sizes are a start, and there are important factors related to finding a feeling of belonging. Research tells us what elements matters in finding an educational home that will be truly transformative, and I encourage all students and families to keep these Big Six factors in sight as guiding values when researching and visiting colleges and universities! There is a somewhat ironic truth that the places that most often end up more highly ranked are not places that focus on providing the "Big Six" to undergraduates.


On a related note, there has been another round of commentary on the college rankings-- here's the latest:






The Problem with College Rankings The problem with the solution posed here is that the tool it includes draws from sources that are still somewhat biased towards the most selective colleges and places that are more regional (ie wouldn't make that list of 300), while missing the wide swath of terrific places with great resources and moderate to high selectivity. There is also more than meets the eye when you analyze career income statistics-- it might be a topic for another post, but it's not necessarily institution-related... that old causation and correlation fallacy again. The diagram of college priorities I shared at the top comes from this otherwise insightful piece.



Finally I'll leave you with this "Open Letter to US News and World Report," by Walter Kimbrough, Interim Executive Director of the Black Men’s Research Institute at HBCU Morehouse College. Walter, who goes by HipHopPrez on Twitter , drops some pearls and fire in this piece. For example,


"Simply stated, you rank wealth and privilege, nothing more.
The rankings are no more than a higher education version of “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” or “MTV Cribs.” Cardona makes this plain when he indicates “colleges spend enormous resources chasing rankings they feel carry prestige, but in practice, just Xerox privilege and drive-up costs” and “rankings discourage institutions with the largest endowments and greatest capacity to enroll and graduate more underserved students from doing so because it may hurt their selectivity.”
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