Debunking the U.S. News College Rankings
Given the recent headline “US News and Stupid Farts Report: Wes Plummets to #17,” I’m guessing the writers at Wesleying were not pleased with the latest outcome of the U.S. News and World Report. In this year’s summary, U.S. News and World demoted Wesleyan from #12 in 2011 to #17. Quick, everyone panic! No one will apply for the Class of 2017! Our tour guides have nothing to brag about!
Obviously, these lists don’t cause that level of hysteria over in Admissions, but I think that U.S. News and World Report or Forbes have much to offer. First, they are a source of pride for the schools that rank at the top of the list. (But really, I think Harvard is becoming the Michael Phelps of universities. They don’t need any more medals.) Secondly, they are a point of reference for similar schools to see where they are nationally ranked. If national publications think one school is better than another, these lists may motivate some colleges to improve their weaker areas in order to rank higher than their peer institutions.
Finally, these rankings are a quick and easy guide for prospective students to figure out which schools they are interested in. They are a good source of information about the rigor and quality of colleges, and may compel students to look into a school with which they are unfamiliar. Additionally, less conventional rankings, such as the lists published by The Daily Beast and Unigo, can help prospective students get a feel for the campus culture. It’s okay, freshmen—you can admit that you applied to Wesleyan because The Daily Beast called us the horniest school in the nation.
However, speaking from personal experience, I believe that college rankings play an important role in the college search, but not in the college decision; they matter initially, but they don’t necessarily impact the final outcome. By April of 2011, the end of my senior year, I had narrowed my choices down to two schools: I could either be a cardinal at Wesleyan or a purple cow at Williams. Though the choice seems obvious simply from the mascots (because nothing says “fierce” quite like a purple cow), the U.S. News and World Report had to go and complicate my decision. Williams was ranked as the best liberal arts school in the country. It still is. I turned them down.
Honestly, most people look at me like I’m crazy on the rare occasions when I disclose that I could have gone to Williams. However, Williams is a similar institution to Wesleyan in size and in rigor, but not in character. That’s what made the difference. When I did my overnight at Wesleyan, I was amazed by the vibrancy of the campus. It seemed like there was always something going on—the students were engaged, dynamic, and friendly. I am very interested in music, theater, activism, and literature, and Wesleyan was clearly a place where I could explore these passions.
I didn’t get that sense at Williams. The campus was more subdued, with an emphasis on outdoor activities (midnight hiking, anyone?) and athletics. That wasn’t exactly what I was looking for. I wanted to go to a school where I could meet like-minded people, and I’m not sure Williams was the place for me. In the end, my personal experience was the determining factor in my college decision. Numbers didn’t matter. I have never felt shortchanged at Wesleyan. I certainly don’t believe that I have gotten an inferior education because I didn’t attend what the U.S. News and World Report considers to be the best liberal arts school in the country.
With the new lists published, I think this is an excellent time for Wesleyan to consider why we have dropped in the rankings, and what needs to be improved at our institution. I certainly don’t believe Wesleyan should be a clone of Williams, but I do think we can strive to become a better version of ourselves. As long as we retain our unique culture, we will continue to enroll some of the brightest applicants in the country regardless of rankings.