"Tweeting from 10 Campus Drive" by Director of College Counseling Kate Boyle Ramsdell
Big news: We have joined the Twitter revolution – eagerly and with quiet nightly prayers for more followers. We are sharing both practical information (upcoming deadlines and events) and more philosophical musings (links to articles we think are worth your consideration). Follow us @Nobles_CC.
In other news, the U.S. News and World Report rankings were released, and with them a flurry of responses. The University of Chicago, now at #3, presented their latest bump up the rankings ladder by humbly asking families to consider the various methodologies used, “Prospective students and parents should consider rankings in that context, and look beyond them to the university’s academic program, culture and opportunities for enrichment. A successful education depends more on finding an institution that best fits a student’s needs and goals than upon any statistical formula.” I try hard to suppress my characteristic cynicism in these moments, but I would imagine that the tied-with-Yale #3 ranking has someone on campus doing a happy dance followed by a “How do we get to #1?” discussion.
Juniata College’s president wrote in a letter to alumni, “Are our students ready for the world? Do they gain value while here, and are they seeing that value in their lives after Juniata? The answer, more and more, is a resounding yes…. We held relatively steady at 108 on the list of national liberal arts colleges. I know we have to work toward making our reputation (which is really what U.S. News measures) match our results.” I imagine many colleges ranked in the 70s, 80s, 90s and 100s are having similar conversations. Then, there was Frank Bruni who penned an Op-Ed entitled, “Why College Rankings are a Joke.” It is vintage Frank Bruni and worth a read. In fact, @Nobles_CC retweeted it.
To me, rankings are not the devil. Nor are they the sole guideposts by which one should navigate a smart, holistic, and realistic college process. They offer a data point, albeit a potentially flawed one, that can occasionally help a student move forward in meaningful ways. I had a counselee a few years ago who was devastated to learn that he would likely not be able to gain admission to Bowdoin College. We had determined that it was a “Far Reach” using our office’s expectation methodology. I urged Chris (not his real name) to consider other possibilities for a smart early decision strategy. Chris had loved his visit to Trinity College (a “Possible”) but was reticent to, in his words, “spend my ED on a school I know I can get into!” It was a sentiment I’d heard many times before.
Chris and I had been looking at rankings together earlier in his process, and so I pulled up the U.S. News website. Bowdoin ranked in the top 10, and Trinity hovered around 30. I printed the rankings, and we reexamined them using his key criteria. By the time we’d crossed out the women’s colleges, military academies, schools further than a 5-hour drive, and places that simply weren’t a good “school culture” fit for him, Bowdoin was right next to Trinity. I’ll admit that it was utter luck that the exercise ended so perfectly, but it certainly proved the point.
Indeed, we all fall prey to “talking out of both sides of our mouths” when it comes to selective college admission. Even the most practiced and objective among us can see why a college might lean heavily on rankings when promoting itself, or a family of a college applicant might lean heavily on rankings when navigating a process that is totally unfamiliar or seems to become more complicated every year.
When the Nobles’ college counseling team presents our students to colleges, we use a number of different methods for advocacy, the central pieces being our individualized letters of recommendation and the Nobles Profile, a public document that colleges use to understand the context of our school. In the profile we look for ways to highlight just how selective and interesting we are. A 17% admit rate, our curriculum overview, standardized testing results and 5-year matriculation list all send that message. We aim to clearly define the Nobles experience to our students’ advantage, and we want every student to be seen as a highly qualified applicant.
Perhaps most of all, we want colleges understand that we develop students of the highest character. We want them to see how diverse our community is, how devoted to service our students are, and how deeply we care about nurturing leaders whose eventual aim will be the betterment of the public good. Though I would like to think a ranking could capture all of that, it cannot, and that is what makes our work so challenging and gratifying.