Rankings matter. To those who scoff at the Princeton Review Rankings or the Forbes‘ list, saying they are inaccurate because of x, y, or z, please come down from your high horse. Of course they’re inaccurate! It’s like rating people for heaven’s sake. Have you ever wondered why the results change each year? I’ll give you a hint: it’s not because colleges actually change that much. Forbes, Princeton Review, and U.S. News and World Report all want to sell copies, and if they were virtually the same every year that wouldn’t be good for profits.
It’s not important, then, to be at the top of the list. Since we know that the top name will change every year, any students gloating about attending the top school will, the following year be crying in their drink, bemoaning the new methodology. Instead, students should be happy just to see their school appear on those “top 20″ lists or near the top in the national rankings. The fact that Claremont McKenna College dropped from 9th to 12th on Forbes‘ list doesn’t really matter; nor does CMC’s shift from 5th to 3rd on Princeton Review’s list for colleges that drink the most beer mean that Keystone Light sales at Liquorland are up. With rankings, what’s most important is whether the college appears on the list at all, not necessarily its placement.
Let me say it again: Rankings matter. In April 2010, the Daily Beast ranked CMC the #1 college with the “Happiest Students.” Later that summer, CMC ranked between Harvard and Yale on Forbes’ 2010 list. Then what happened? Claremont McKenna received more applicants and the admission rate dropped 3.4 percentage points, from 17.2% in 2010 to 13.8% in 2011.
Don’t kid yourself into believing that these lists and rankings don’t matter. The bottom line is that when thousands of high school juniors and seniors sit down with their parents or college counselors and create the list of schools to which they will apply, most of them open up the massive Princeton Review Guide, or look to College Prowler for help. So when CMC falls off one of Princeton Review’s Top-20 lists, or out of the top 25 or 50 of a national list, it could mean that Jane Doe and her college counselor decide not to put it on their list. Whether or not you care about little Jane, you should care about whether she applies. More applications lead to lower acceptance rates, which lead to higher rankings, etc. It’s a cycle that results in higher caliber students choosing to come to CMC, which draws more esteemed professors, more notoriety for the school, leading to more applicants, which continues to drive the cycle.
Where CMC ranks in each list is not what matters — it’s getting on the list that is essential. Do you think President Gann sits down with her staff and discusses how to move up on College Prowler’s “Most Athletic Guys” (CMC is #8) or Global Scholar’s “Magnificent Meals” (CMC gets a 5/5)? I doubt it. Although, I am fairly certain that she, and the rest of the administration, look at multiple rankings as informative sources that show how outside observers perceive the college’s strengths and weaknesses.
Yes, rankings are inaccurate, ever-changing, and biased, but they matter. Accept when your school is praised, and take it as constructive criticism when the following year yields a different result. Do not, however, be naive and assign great meaning to these slight shifts in the polls. They’re your college years; rank them as you see fit.