Gates: US News Rankings Do Not Deserve Attention

Matt Gates, Columnist

Northwestern students received devastating news earlier this month. No, the NU Administration has not implemented a UChicago-style core curriculum. The first snow has not fallen. And no, Dillo Day has not been canceled. NU has fallen one spot from 12th to 13th in the U.S. News annual college rankings.

But how should NU students respond to this news?

We should ignore it and carry on with our days. U.S. News relies on a flawed ranking methodology, creating results that are detrimental to both admissions counselors and students.

The emphasis placed on certain quantitative factors by the U.S. News rankings incentivizes college admissions boards to focus on certain aspects of a candidate’s profile that give a limited indication of his or her potential. “Student Selectivity,” which relies on SAT and ACT scores, percentage of student body that graduated in the top 10 or 25 percent of their high school classes and acceptance rate determines 12.5 percent of a U.S. News ranking. Standardized tests are designed to allow colleges to have a universal assessment with which to compare students who have completed very different coursework.

However, emphasizing standardized test scores may cause colleges to compare the scores of applicants from backgrounds that are anything but standardized. Class rank is also an unfair standard by which to compare students. Students at prestigious high schools, such as Bronx Science in New York City, which have a long histories of academic excellence and award-winning alumni, likely face tougher competition to make it into the top 10 than students at less competitive high schools. Balancing the weight among an applicant’s scores and opportunities as well as a student’s ranking and high school is not a science that can be quantified.

Additionally, because a lower acceptance rate will result in a higher ranking, schools may try to solicit students who stand little chance of admission to apply. While most top schools such as NU practice holistic admissions that look beyond grades and standardized test scores, it is rare that a student with an average SAT score and an average class ranking — despite receiving advertising mail from NU — will actually be admitted to a top school.

Although 12.5 percent seems like a low number, colleges may try to alter this area of interest because other categories are not as easily controllable. Ratings by academics at colleges and high school guidance counselors, retention rate, graduation rate and alumni giving rate cannot be easily altered by colleges to improve their rankings.

The U.S. News rankings likewise encourage students to make decisions that may be detrimental to their success and happiness. Campus culture, location and size are all crucial factors in determining where a student will be happiest and most successful. Many of us hope having NU on our resumes will help us when applying for jobs and grad schools. However, the name of our school is not everything. Applicants from an institution ranked lower than NU who maintain higher GPAs, receive higher standardized test scores and perform better in extracurricular activities, internships and interviews may be more successful. Likewise, we can earn post-college opportunities over students from Harvard or Yale who have weaker credentials than we do. The “prestige” of a school is not the end-all-be-all of how its graduates perform.

The U.S. rankings do not deserve the attention they are given, and the NU community should respond accordingly.

Matt Gates is a Weinberg sophomore. He can be reached at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a letter to the editor to [email protected].