This past week, I had a thoughtful conversation with an employee from a new college search website in the development stages. We discussed the site’s strengths and my concerns about its emphasis on ranking colleges. As I perused the lists of ranked colleges, I wondered how the top-ranked school on a list could be the top-ranked school for every student looking at that list. And the answer is, it can’t be.

Only one factor should be ranked #1 when evaluating colleges, and that is the degree to which that school is a good fit for the student considering it. Does the school have an environment that will support the student’s goals? Are there academic opportunities that will serve the student’s interests? Is the campus community one that a prospective student would feel comfortable joining? What resources (learning support, mental health, career and internship advising, etc.) are available at the college to provide assistance to students? Is the college an affordable option based on a family’s financial circumstances? These are some of the questions that prospective students should be asking, and based on the answers, it will be easier to determine if a college will be a good fit.

One student’s #1 ranked college could be another student’s #20 ranked school. If students are honest with themselves about what makes them comfortable and what they need to be successful in college, the application process will be smoother and will yield results that offer exciting options. Prospective students should not lose sight of what really matters- them and their happiness. Students are most successful in college environments when they feel happy. The prestige of a college’s name will not be enough to get a student through the day for 4 years if that school offers little to the student beyond a bumper sticker that gets a lot of fanfare.

Focus on what matters: focus on the qualities that a school should have in order for a student’s needs and goals to be fulfilled. Rank this priority #1, and you will open the door for a rewarding college application process.

One Factor That Matters When Ranking Colleges


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