College Rankings: What Are They Worth?

College rankings and lists are not lacking–Forbes, US News & World Report, Washington Monthly, Newsweek–just to name a few.   And, for families already wondering about a kid’s chances of college acceptance, after 12 years of thinking and re-thinking every class, homework assignment and academic opportunity, not to mention the hours spent at sports practices, dance recitals, academic competitions, the miles driven/flown to tournaments etc around the state and country…whew…plus a lifetime of expecting to go to college, the various ranking lists seem like an easy way to match all that effort with the right college.  Right?

No AND Yes.  The foundational step to college applications and the most overlooked step is the college selection process.   Yes, families now pour hundreds (or thousands) of dollars into vacations/college tours as a way to preview colleges and get a “feel” for the campus.  However, college tours may not be the most effective information gathering tool.    Without an understanding of one’s values, expectations of a college experience and possibly new city, as well as the opportunities envisioned for the future, then all the college tours and rankings won’t further focus a student’s efforts to select colleges for application.

College rankings can be most effective, after a student (and their family) has begun articulating her/his values and expectations of a college experience and what they’re willing to pay to achieve that experience, as well as what s/he doesn’t value or want in a college experience.  Then, the lists and titles can suggest possible candidates.  Yet, students still need to do the legwork to investigate the college further.  (Are you seeing a pattern? :>  There’s no way to NOT do work, if you’re going to take the college selection process seriously.)   And, why wouldn’t you?  You’ve worked this hard to get here; why slow down now?


Jill Yoshikawa, Ed M, is a University of California and Harvard trained educator and Partner at Creative Marbles Consultancy. You can contact Jill at or, read her short biography.