“’You can love us or hate us, but we’re not going away,’ says U.S. News editor Brian Kelly. ’University officials realized we’re much more valuable to them than not.’ He deflects criticism, saying, ’It’s not up to us to solve problems. We’re just putting data out there.’ He does, however, admit that the rankings system can be gamed.” - Boston Magazine, How To Game The College Rankings

Colleges care about rankings. A lot.

In fact, they care so much for those seemingly innocuous rankings that stream through the pages of the likes of U.S. NewsForbes, and The Princeton Review (to name but a few) as though gathering storm clouds on the horizon, that they will stop at virtually nothing to move up a notch or two.

Invite more applicants to increase the number of denials, thus demonstrably lowering acceptance rates. CHECK.

Accept students who score well on the ACT or SAT, notwithstanding otherwise weak credentials. CHECK.

Promote income inequality by denying admission to low-income students (because, you know...). CHECK.

Extend application deadlines to increase the number of applicants who shall later be denied (SEE, lowering the acceptance rate, above). CHECK.

Squeeze more money out of alumni. CHECK.

Increase reputation by mailing more glossy brochures. CHECK.

Institutionalize rankings by formalizing same as part of the strategic plan. CHECK.

Skew the numbers to emphasize research expenditures rather than actual scientific accomplishments. CHECK.

Manipulate data in any possible way (not that any college would ever do that) to game the system. CHECK.

Allow rankings to drive goals, policies, and admissions considerations. CHECK.

Okay. You get the gist. Certain this list could be expanded, ad nauseum, but the point, I trust, has been made. Colleges are obsessed with rankings.

And, if colleges care so much about how they are ranked, shouldn’t rankings be of concern to you, as well? Absolutely! Just not their rankings. YOURS!

Every school wants to get on a “Best” list. Which is precisely why, when considering which colleges to apply to, let alone attend, you should be creating a “Best” list -- a college ranking -- of your very own.

Which college would be the “Best” fit for you? Where do the academics, campus setting, social attributes, food court amenities, dorm room aesthetics, and, of course, costs and expenses, (and the list should go on to cover every aspect of college life), best suit YOU?

Yes, scour those glossy brochures, invite letters, emails by the dozen -- particularly from colleges you never heard of or might not otherwise have thought about. [There may well be a hidden gem beyond the 25 or so colleges that everyone else at your high school is applying to. Or perhaps a fee waiver, that prompts you to say, “Why not?”]

Take those virtual college tours. Visit college websites, and look far beyond the home page for that which may pique your interest.

Match colleges to your personality, your goals, your mindset (which, hopefully, is ever-expanding), and rank them as to your preferences (by whatever methodology you may devise, short of eeny, meeny, miny, moe - though that may work, push comes to shove).

And once you find and rank, say, your top ten -- any one of which could be your first choice (because you should never apply to a school that you really have no desire to go to) -- the opportunities are boundless, the application process, seamless (as opposed to, unseemly), and your ultimate decision, simple.

Popular (and, keep in mind, most of those rankings are little more than popularity contests), is not always right -- at least for you. Think outside the box, or, if you prefer, the bracket, choosing colleges that give you a win-win. That “Best” fit, not only for the school, but, at least of equal import in this silly little game they call college admissions, for YOU!
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