Greetings from New York!
College application season is in full swing. We are actually just a few weeks away from many of the early round deadlines!
Students in the final Write Your Way Into College cohort of the year are now in the "Elevate" stage of their writing process. It's exciting to see them polish drafts with some of the more advanced techniques from the course.
Here's what I want to share this week:
The Rankings Racket
The US News rankings are one of the best marketing stunts I've seen. In 1983 the struggling magazine struck gold with this invention. Since then, interest in the rankings—from consumers and the colleges—has skyrocketed (the 2022 version of the rankings were released in September).
While it is commonly acknowledged that the rankings are philosophically misguided, based on problematic methodology, and have harmed the educational experience of many students, interest in the rankings is not necessarily wrong. I know many people who, whether they admit it or not, are impressed when they learn someone attended an Ivy or another highly ranked college. That cultural and social cache is clearly worth something.
Additionally, there are some prestigious and lucrative industries that recruit much more heavily from the highest ranked schools. Investment banking and management consulting are two (while this is typically unspoken in the US, graduation from a college with a particular ranking can actually be a stated requirement for certain jobs in China).
What's unfortunate is that interest in rankings has created a vicious cycle to the point that many colleges specifically state moving up in the US News rankings as a top priority. Northeastern University is notorious for its strategy and monomaniacal focus on their the rankings.
As their ranking went up, more students applied. The more students applied, the lower their admit rate went. The lower the admit rate, the more desirable it appeared. The more desirable it appeared, the better it did in the "peer assessment" portion of the ranking methodology....and on it went.
In the last 20 years Northeastern has moved from well outside the top 100 National Universities to inside the top 50. This school that may have been a "Likely" a generation ago, is now typically a "Reach" or "Dream" for a similarly qualified applicant.
What happened reminds me of the old Groucho Marx joke where he proclaimed, "I don't want to be a member of any club that will have me." We tend to want what is exclusive and scarce. Every highly ranked college—and luxury brand—understands this.
This topic deserves more attention (part II), but savvy students understand that rankings are only surface level college research.
It's true that many of our students attend highly ranked colleges and universities, but they have all done their homework and looked under the hood to find the right match for them—academically, socially and financially.
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Visiting colleges is an important layer of college research. While the official info sessions and tours can quickly start to feel repetitive, even those of us who have visited hundreds of schools typically learn something we wouldn't have known if we hadn't gone.
The Vibe. When you sit in on classes, ask professors questions, and talk to other students in the dining hall, you start to get a pretty good sense if it's a place you would do well.
I don't recommend traveling to every campus on your list, but go to a minimum of 3. Try for a combination of size and location. Something like: Large Rural University, Medium Urban University, and Small Suburban College.
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A good college fit is one that you can afford without taking on an unmanageable amount of debt. This means something different for every student, but it needs to be talked about. We urge families have a frank discussion about finances upfront.
When thinking about the cost of college, recognize that almost nothing is a bigger lie than sticker prices. To have the conversation in a meaningful way, make sure you know the lingo and rules of the game (it's time to complete the new FAFSA for 2022-2023).
There are a few good books on maximizing financial aid and scholarships, but our colleague Kal Chany, author of the Princeton Review's "Paying For College", gave a very frank, very thorough, and up-to-date presentation the other day.
Whether the family earns 50K or 500K it's worth your hour. You can watch the recording here.
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3 Words, 2 Meanings
"Avoid boring people." I love this quote from James Watson (the scientist who helped discover DNA).
It means a) don't hang out with boring people and b) don't be boring yourself.
Selective colleges want smart students and interesting humans. So be bold. Explore what fascinates you and do what compels you!
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Knowing I'm a coffee fanatic, our tutoring partners at Arborbridge gave me this great mug a few years back. I usually keep it on the bookshelf, but I tend to use it this time of year. Good for coffee, great advice for students!