Forget the U.S. News and World Report College Rankings — Why I Chose an Unranked School

Last week, the U.S. News and World Report 2014 college rankings came out, and high school seniors and their parents all over the country collectively freaked out. To nobody's surprise, the HarvardYaleColumbiaStanfordDukePrinceton smorgasbord topped the lists once again. And, once again, these college ranking publications blatantly disregarded tuition and costs of attendance in their analysis of what makes these schools the best, inevitably marginalizing large groups of people and catering to a very specific few.

On Monday, Matthew Segal of Salon discussed the issues that come with glamorizing selectivity and endorsing flashy amenities. He analyzes the first page of Harvard University's college admissions brochure and writes:

"Take a look at what Harvard University promotes on the first page of its college admissions brochure: “You can fit a football field in the clean room of the Laboratory for Integrated Science and Engineering.” While a school’s resources are important, the fact that Harvard University takes the time to detail the vast expanse of its amenities (70 individual libraries, a 3,000 acre forest research station, 12 teaching museums, a 265-acre arboretum making up just some of them, in case you were wondering) in the first few pages of its brochure shows just how significant they are to a college’s image. What brochures don’t tell you is that these extensive amenities are covered by the rising college tuition. This is especially true for public universities, where tuition covers nearly half of their revenue."

While I agree with Segal's analyses and conclusions in the article, I'd like to add a few points to the conversation. First of all, it's important to remember that Harvard, like other brand-name schools, has a reputation to uphold, which surely factors into its highly selective admissions process (which was at a low 5.8 percent for the 2014-2015 school year) including admissions based on legacy, family donor status, and absurdly high SAT and ACT scores, none of which necessarily have any sort of bearing on someone's capabilities as a student. While many schools take these factors into account to some degree, Ivy League and "Top Ten" universities and colleges often take it to the extreme in order to more easily weed out those who, for example, didn't score perfectly on every section of their SAT.

There is another, slightly more obscure reason for some people to disregard college lists which speaks to my personal experience with the college application process. I attended a competitive college-prep private high school in Seattle, Washington from my sophomore through my senior year so, unsurprisingly, a significant portion of my graduating class ended up attending some of the top ranked schools in the country. I applied to a handful of colleges and threw one of the "Top Ten" schools into my list. When I got accepted, I lied to my college counselor and parents and told them the school had denied me. There was a lot of pressure among my classmates to get into a brand-name school so that the years of private school education didn't go to waste and, depending on which parent you asked, so that their child came out on top and fit the pristine imagine of a wealthy, professional, highly educated person.

None of this is why I lied about my admission.

I lied because Ivy League colleges and top universities have a pretty standard set of majors and courses of studies they offer. Some of the top majors include Economics, Political Science, Biology, and Business, which means that these top colleges usually employ the best professors for these topics and let the less popular ones suffer a little more. My passion was to study Journalism and none of these top schools, including the one that accepted me, offered it. In fact, none of these colleges offered serious programs for any major that my current college offers and finds important, like Speech and Communication Disorders, Marketing, Performance Art, Visual and Media Art, or even general Communications.

There seems to be a very limited understanding of what fields of study are important, prestigious, or lucrative within the Ivy League and top ten college communities, and believe it or not, not everyone's passions align with PolySci or Econ. I chose an unranked college over a ranked college because that's where I was able to find a nuanced course of studies that will not only fulfill me but also give me a set of unique tools to make the differences I hope to make. While I'm not getting a Harvard education, I am getting an education Harvard doesn't offer. That's why, I think, college rankings shouldn't be the be-all-end-all of college admission. It's time to start looking deeper.