Today is the deadline when most high school seniors who applied to college send in their acceptances. Of the 20 or so students I worked with this year, helping them with their college lists and essays, all seem to be excited about their final choice. Their schools of choice range from public universities to liberal arts schools, a women’s college and Ivy League universities. I believe these students could have been happy with several different possibilities—yet I hope they have all made the best match possible.
How does one decide which school or schools provides not only a good education but also good value? How important is prestige or rank? These are questions many high school juniors and their families may be considering as they visit campuses and college fairs and the student begins to narrow his or her list.
Recently, I’ve read a number of articles that address the conundrum of the “best” colleges to apply to or the schools that provide the most “value.” As Joseph Priesto points out in a column titled, “What does ‘value’ mean to you?” the terms “value” and “best” are subjective and rely on criteria that might be misleading. For instance looking at the 4-year graduation rate of institutions doesn’t take into account co-op programs or internships that may lengthen the time to graduate but also better prepare students for careers afterwards.
Also publications that rank colleges and universities such as U.S. News and World Report serve to feed “status anxiety” as much as create any meaningful comparisons among colleges according to New York Times columnist Joe Nocera.
Instead of relying on subjective rankings of “value” or rank, you might start researching your college list by doing a search on Naviance (the college and career platform used by many public high schools). I also recommend two other reliable, unbiased college search tools:
This is a US government institute that has added important indicators such as financial aid statistics, default rates on student loans and estimated total annual expenses for each school you search. It’s also a good tool for devising a college list.
This site also contains helpful articles and checklists including “Financial Aid 101,” and “Applying 101.”