Why you should look at a college outside the top 25
By Rod Bugarin, former Ivy League Admissions and Financial Aid officer, advisor to ApplyWise.com
For students looking to attend a prestigious college, the month of August can be a shock to the system. Not only do you realize that the demands of the school year are around the corner, but you and your parents wake up to the stressful reality of finding and applying to the right colleges.
What adds even more fuel to this frenzy? National publications announce their annual college rankings just before Labor Day. These savvy publishers take advantage of the back-to-school euphoria to tell you which colleges are ‘better’ than others. And all of your hard work visiting college Web sites and campuses this summer can be thrown out the window if you realize your favorite school is not highly ranked.
At ApplyWise.com, we encourage students to create their own rankings. They should use the criteria that are important to them to determine their top choices—and a student’s own list may have two or three ‘number one’ schools. Although the U.S. News & World Report rankings have branded the idea that you should only look at colleges in the top 25, students should look beyond these published rankings at other schools, especially if:
- You want a school that meets a specific intellectual or social philosophy
Rankings do not evaluate the different type of academic philosophies or campus lifestyles that make each college community unique. For example, if you are interested in attending a school with an open curriculum, with a particular religious affiliation, or one where faculty members are engaged in research in a particular discipline, college rankings will not help you find your best match.
- You are looking to compare merit-based scholarships
According to the College Board, the average yearly tuition of a private four-year college is $25,143. But many top 25 colleges cost over $40,000 per year. If you want to compete for merit scholarships to defray the cost, you’ll have more options if you look at schools outside the top 25 of the published rankings.
- You want to be involved in a particular niche extracurricular activity
You may want to play a sport at the varsity level, or participate in a certain study abroad program, or do an internship in a particular city. You’ll find more opportunities to get involved in a particular niche activity if you expand your list beyond the rankings. In-depth research where you explore specific opportunities available to you will create a list of prospective schools that fit your needs. Don’t be surprised if you find that a few colleges in the top 25 may not have everything that you want in your college experience.
Colleges at the top of these rankings reach that pinnacle mainly due to their resources. For example, these institutions have the financial resources to support large libraries, laboratories and other facilities. As a result, they can recruit top faculty who use these facilities to pursue their research interests. Finally, these colleges eventually become popular among students and parents where they send admissions officers all over the world to recruit students at receptions in fancy hotel ballrooms.
Remember, college rankings do not assess the quality of teaching that happens in the classroom, the quality of academic advising, or the transformative experience of a certain campus culture. If these qualities are important to you, then you’ll easily find a college that is right for you, regardless of how a magazine ranks it.
How to Best Prepare for Your Standardized Tests
February 1, 2013 – Dr. Kat and Victoria, a former student and now a freshman at Dartmouth, use Session 1 as a guide to discuss how best to prepare for the standardized tests students take junior year.
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