Wednesday’s Parent: 7 great ways to use college ranking lists

Rank college ranking lists. Photo by Wendy David-Gaines

Rank college ranking lists. Photo by Wendy David-Gaines

“Ranking colleges has become a cottage industry with a proliferation of different criteria yielding different college ranking lists. There are plenty of proponents and critics but ultimately the college-bound, stranded in a sea of mixed reviews, must fend for themselves.”

I wrote this back in January of 2012. The controversy over the use and reliability of college ranking lists continues because of the varying criteria the makers use and the mix of fact and opinion. The fact that there are college ranking lists based on the academic to the absurd, from the best in the world universities to the most clean-shaven campuses, adds to the confusion. But there are ways to salvage some useful info to help the college-bound.

I still believe the best list is the one students and parents create but sometimes I catch myself rubbernecking like a driver on a highway. Curiosity takes over and I take a peek. Since many parents and students will, like me, be looking anyway, I’m listing these seven pros for using college ranking lists.

  1. College ranking lists are fun to read and interesting conversation starters between parents and students.
  2. College ranking lists may include important statistics like graduation rate, freshman retention rate, and alumni donations. They may also include important facts about the college selectivity level via current student prior test scores and class standing.
  3. College ranking lists may include schools families have not yet thought about but are worth considering.
  4. College ranking lists show how schools are portrayed and measured up by the list sponsor according to their criteria. If they give great weight to a factor students care about, the school may be worth looking into.
  5. College ranking lists often emphasize brand names and popular colleges which can inspire a search for lesser known or lower rated but better fit schools. These may offer greater chances for admission and more financial aid because they receive much fewer applications.
  6. College ranking lists can serve as tools to hone student critical thinking skills to separate perception from reality.
  7. College ranking lists can be a blueprint for students to create their own personal college ranking list.

Read Suzanne’s post5 Reasons You Should Not Rely on College Ranking Lists

READ MORE: 

4 steps to create a personal college ranking list

The right college fit test

Wednesday’s Parent: The prime relationship between college list and college fit

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Wednesday’s child may be full of woe but Wednesday’s Parent can substitute action for anxiety. Each Wednesday Suzanne Shaffer and I will provide parent tips to get and keep your student on the college track. It’s never too late or too early to start!

The bonus is on the fourth Wednesday of each month when Suzanne and I will host Twitter chat #CampusChat at 9pm ET/6pm PT. We will feature an expert on a topic of interest for parents of the college-bound.

Wednesday’s Parent will give twice the info and double the blog posts on critical parenting issues by clicking on the link at the end of the article from www.pocsmom.com to http://www.parentscountdowntocollegecoach.com/ and vice versa.

Why You Need To Diversify Your College List

Steve Palley, co-founder and CEO of ApplyMap

Steve Palley, co-founder and CEO of ApplyMap

If you and your student are having trouble forming a college list, read this guest post! Steve Palley CEO/co-founder of ApplyMap aims to simplify the college search process by employing advanced statistics and social science. He shows us the statistician approach to use math and statistical thinking to find colleges with the best chance of student success. Take it away Steve.

Practically every parent has explained to their child why putting all of one’s eggs in a single basket is a bad idea. Most parents who are active on the stock market know not to put their money into just a few big-name stocks, too. But too many forget the power of diversification when helping their teenaged son or daughter with their college lists — even though it may be the single most important step in the whole college application process.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: sure, the college list is important, but more important than grades, test scores, the essay, and even financial aid?! Absolutely yes. Let me explain.

Picking the right colleges to apply to is the most important step because it’s the first step. Everything else you and your teen will do during the college application process — and beyond — depends on it.

As a statistician who specializes in analyzing college admissions, I think about the problem like this. When all is said and done (and assuming they don’t transfer), your teen will attend exactly one college or university. What’s the absolute best-case scenario? He or she will be:

  1. Graduated in four years or less;

  2. Happy, healthy, and with great job prospects;

  3. Bearing little to no debt.

Those are our goals. Now, working backwards from there, what combination of steps should we take to maximize the likelihood of this outcome? We live in an uncertain world so there are no guarantees, but we can certainly do things to make it more probable given the information we have today.

Well, if you want your teen to get his or her degree on time and debt-free, with a great idea of what they want to do next AND the skills and connections to make it happen, they should go to the school where they’ll do the best. Duh. End of article.

Just kidding. How do we know where your son or daughter will have the best overall college experience (or as many parents and the Obama Administration now think about it, the best college experience given the cost)? Again, we can’t know for sure, because a young person maturing into an adult is a very complex system. Neither they nor we have a clear idea of what is best for them to begin with, and it’s a moving target anyway given how much young people change in college.

So, we need to make some educated guesses based on what little we do know. Graduates from Top 10 schools tend to be very well connected, but it’s hard to gain admission. Flagship public universities can deliver tremendous bang for the buck, but on-time graduation rates are lower. Smaller liberal arts colleges can deliver a totally unique educational experience, but they can also cost a pretty penny.

The bad news is that with all of this in mind, it’s effectively impossible to identify the single best school for your teen to attend. The good news is that trying to do that is a waste of time anyway, because applying to a single school is a very poor strategy. If you apply to a single selective school, you might not get in; if you apply to a single non-selective school, you could almost certainly do better.

Your teen should apply to at least eight schools that make sense both individually (meaning that your teen would do well there) and collectively (meaning that each school fits together into a larger strategy). This, finally, is where college list diversification comes into play. A properly balanced list can virtually guarantee that your teen will have a solid college experience, but building one isn’t easy.

Suppose your teen got sick of all this college talk and simply applied to all eight Ivies, Stanford and MIT. That’s not an optimal strategy for two reasons. First, there’s a real chance they won’t get into any of those schools (about 15% with a 4.0 unweighted GPA and a 2200 on the SATs). Second, those are all fantastic schools, but would one randomly-selected school from that list be better for your teen than every other school outside of it? Probably not.

OK, so why not expand that list of top schools to 20 or even 30? Now you have two more issues. First, the more schools they apply to, the more choices they’ll have, but that’s a problem in itself. In fact, having too many choices is often more stressful than having too few, and you’ll still be flying blind as far as college fit goes. Second, nobody wants to apply to that many schools. There’s no better way to make your teen hate your guts.

Mathematically, the perfect college list looks something like this: two dream schools, four reach schools, four match schools, and two safety schools (the classic bell curve shape) — and every school on the list, regardless of selectivity, is a good fit for your teen. If you’ve done it right, your son or daughter will have three to five great options to choose from, and they will fall in love with one of them after visiting.

Now you see how a little statistical thinking can go a long way in the college applications game!

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Steve Palley is an entrepreneur, academic, and educator. He is the co-founder and CEO of ApplyMap, a new website that builds statistically balanced college lists, as well as a graduate student at UCLA.

Wednesday’s Parent: 5 fantastic tips to refine a college list Part 2

Finalizing a college list. Photo by Wendy David-Gaines

Finalizing a college list. Photo by Wendy David-Gaines

The hard part of forming a college list is whittling it down to those schools that offer a student the best chance for success. Last week had tips about information gathering to jump start the process in 2 phases, 3 points for forming a college list.

Here is Part 2 with five tips for analyzing and refining the choices.

!. Define the student’s definition of success The definition of student success varies with each student. Wednesday’s Parent: Hunting and gathering a college list Part 2 explained this and gave five ways parents may help their child find their college matches.

2. Judge the college. How good a job a will the school do to help a student achieve his vision? Use the parent-student team approach to have frank discussions about college, career and future lifestyle goals. Write them down. Go back to the college list and eliminate those that are least likely to help the student attain her dreams.

3. Take a closer look. Go over the list again twice. The first time think emotionally. How did the campus make the student feel from the college visit? Sometimes it’s an unexplainable positive or negative gut reaction. The second time think logically about the school’s academic and extracurricular offerings. If there is a wide divide between the two impressions, it’s probably not a good choice. Students have to be vested in their college attendance for best chance of thriving.

4. Get selfish. Though they may be considered part of fact gathering, brand names, recommendations and what others are doing do not determine the final college list. The focus is on what will work best for a particular student based on his talents, skills, goals and qualifications. Colleges use the admission process to find students they want. Students should use the process to find schools that will help the student get what he wants.

5. Put in the time. The more time spent on making a good college list, the better the chance for student success. Find the places where the student is most likely to get a great education that:

  • Fits her abilities and stretches her opportunities
  • Provides the tools to graduate (or go on to grad school) on time
  • Prepares him for a future with manageable debt and the ability to be self-supporting at the life-style desired

Read Suzanne’s post: Making the Illogical Logical-The Final College List

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Suzanne and I will share more insights into making a great college list on Wednesday’s Parent night (the fourth Wednesday of each month) on #CampusChat, Wednesday, July 23, 9pm ET/6pm PT. We will talk about the many factors to consider, how to finalize the list and the parent role in the process. Join us and bring your questions and comments.

UPDATE: If you missed the chat or participated and want to review the great information and links shared, check out the recap.

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Wednesday’s child may be full of woe but Wednesday’s Parent can substitute action for anxiety. Each Wednesday Suzanne Shaffer and I will provide parent tips to get and keep your student on the college track. It’s never too late or too early to start!

Wednesday’s Parent will give twice the info and double the blog posts on critical parenting issues by clicking on the link at the end of the article from www.pocsmom.com to http://www.parentscountdowntocollegecoach.com/ and vice versa.

Wednesday’s Parent: 2 phases, 3 points of the forming a college list Part 1

Creating a college list. Photo by Wendy David-Gaines

Creating a college list. Photo by Wendy David-Gaines

College lists hold the key to college success. Your student will be applying to schools off the final list and attending one accepting him or her.

There are two parts to completing the task of creating a great college list. The first is about information gathering (here in Part 1) and the second has to do with refining and analyzing the choices (Part 2 will follow next week).

To underscore the importance of a good college list, here is a review of three important points contained in former posts to help you help your student complete phase one of the college list formation process:

!. Hunting and gathering a college list Part 1 Form a parent-student team that is all about helping the student find and realize his goals, his options, his interests.

2. Pose this question: Is college a love match or a consumer purchase? Get organized by knowing what to look for. Check out the college consumer variables, campus personality and school quirks to answer this question.

3.  Picking a college by its flavor It takes strategy to form a good college list of well-suited schools that will help students stay on track and graduate. Start classifying schools that meet similar student needs.

 Read Suzanne’s post: Illogical College Choices—Part 1

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Wednesday’s child may be full of woe but Wednesday’s Parent can substitute action for anxiety. Each Wednesday Suzanne Shaffer and I will provide parent tips to get and keep your student on the college track. It’s never too late or too early to start!

The bonus is on the fourth Wednesday of each month when Suzanne and I will host Twitter chat #CampusChat at 9pm ET/6pm PT. We will feature an expert on a topic of interest for parents of the college-bound.

Wednesday’s Parent will give twice the info and double the blog posts on critical parenting issues by clicking on the link at the end of the article from www.pocsmom.com to http://www.parentscountdowntocollegecoach.com/ and vice versa.

Wednesday’s Parent: Hunting and gathering a college list Part 2

Creating a college list. Photo by Wendy David-Gaines

Creating a college list. Photo by Wendy David-Gaines

A lot is riding on making a good college list. Your student will be applying to the schools on the final list so they better offer the best chance for student success. It’s so important that Suzanne and I are giving our tips in two parts. Last week’s Part 1 was about general criteria and today’s Part 2 is about refining the list.

Thinking of the college list process as that of gathering and hunting means discovering how well suited each college is to the student and determining where he is most likely to thrive. From over 4,000 schools, many may be ruled out by location, school requirements and college stats. The next step is to find those eight institutions of higher learning most likely leading to student success. These are the ones the student will apply to and be happy to attend.

The definition of student success varies with each student. The key is what each school will do to keep the student on track to graduate and obtain the academic/extracurricular experiences she desires. They should include:

  • set time to graduate
  • short term goals
  • long term goals

Could there be more or less than eight final schools on the list? Yes, but be mindful there are hefty application fees that do not go towards paying the college tuition bill. There should be enough schools to provide the student with options. Once those admission offers are extended, he will be reevaluating based on his own student growth and the college’s financial aid awards.

Here are five ways parents may help their child find their college matches:

  1. Visit A visit to a college campus accomplishes two major things. It judges the fit of a good on paper school and provides that intangible and very personal sixth sense gut reaction of yea or nay. (Warning – parents may have a totally opposite gut reaction.) Parents may help their students with a “collegecation.”
  2. Categorize Parents may help their students organize their college list. Counselors often advise placing schools into three groups: safety, target and reach. These categories are based on school requirements and student credentials to determine likelihood of admission. By going further, students will focus on nuances to pick a school based on its own unique flavor.
  3. Connect Social media provides a multitude of ways for students and parents to learn more (pros and cons) about the college, other prospective students, current students, alumni, and professors. For parents, many schools have social media and website information devoted to parents and families as well as a parent association. Sometimes parents of college students serve as college promoters so it is helpful to consider the source of all info.
  4. Rank The amount of information acquired from college research is staggering. Parents may help their students create spread sheets to organize the info according to what is most important to their child. This is about creating a personal college rating system based on pros and cons for your student to attend.
  5. Support The parent role here is to support your child because if she is not vested in the college experience, she won’t do her best. This may lead to a waste of time, money and energy. Listen more than speak to encourage your student to analyze the facts, understand his emotions, and make good decisions.

Read Suzannes’s blog Finding the Best Fits–A College List Part 2

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Wednesday’s child may be full of woe but Wednesday’s Parent can substitute action for anxiety. Each Wednesday Suzanne Shaffer and I will provide parent tips to get and keep your student on the college track. It’s never too late or too early to start!

Wednesday’s Parent will give twice the info and double the blog posts on critical parenting issues by clicking on the link at the end of the article from www.pocsmom.com to http://www.parentscountdowntocollegecoach.com/ and vice versa.

The truth behind college ranking lists

Cliché: Pull rank.    
POCS Reality: Pick a criteria, there’s probably a college ranking for that.

 

Ranking colleges has become a cottage industry with a proliferation of different criteria yielding different college ranking lists. There are plenty of proponents and critics but ultimately the college-bound, stranded in a sea of mixed reviews, must fend for themselves.

You can find college ranking lists based on the academic to the absurd. From the best in the world universities to the most clean-shaven campuses.

How do counseling professionals and colleges feel about all this?

Counseling professionals disagree with the ranking systems according to a recent survey.

Colleges are split on the issue wanting positive publicity and bragging rights unless the ranking generates a negative buzz. According to a Washington Post Local article,

One of the best-known lists is the U.S. News and World Report ranking of top schools, which has a a complex methodology that takes 2,250 words to explain. Many university presidents slam U.S. News for measuring the wrong things — while quietly taking steps to help their schools climb higher.

Some colleges took an additional step, according to another Washington Post Local article, and took this pledge:

Not to mention U.S. News or similar rankings in any of our new publications, since such lists mislead the public into thinking that the complexities of American higher education can be reduced to one number.’

Read more about making your own College Rankings.

POCSmom’s College Prep DIY Insight: When reading college ranking lists, consider the source and method used, and separate fact from opinion. Then write your own successful college ranking list based on the programs, activities and location you want.

*POCSmom’s DIY Insight: College-Bound Advice

Cliché: Expert Advice.   
POCS Reality: The college process is complicated, costly, and constantly changing so get current info that is from a knowledgeable source.

 

Which is the college-bound truth:

  1. The financial aid process starts after the admission process.
  2. The more colleges students apply to the greater their chances for getting in.
  3. College costs are rising higher than the rate of inflation.
  4. None of the above.
  5. All of the above.

If your answer is “3” you aced this college knowledge test. The annual U.S. Inflation Rate for the 12 months ending in July, 2011 was 3.63% but tuition and fees at private nonprofit institutions are increasing an average 4.6% for the 2011-12 school year and over 5.6% for state public schools.

Colleges decide which financial aid forms they require and about 400 of them want the CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE®, a form that is available for filing starting October 1st, months before students usually submit college admission applications.

It’s not a numbers game when it comes to chances for college acceptance but it can deplete the bank account with application fees averaging $60 a pop. To increase chances for getting in, create a strategic successful college list filled with 6-8 colleges that have the programs, activities, and location the student wants and colleges that want what the student has to offer. And don’t forget to include the Affordability Factor.

POCSmom’s DIY Insight: Consider the source, the expertise, and how current the info is when considering who to rely on and by how much. For more college-bound facts, truths, and insights, go to www.pocsmom.com.

College-bound stress-buster POCSmom provides DIY (do-it-yourself) tips from forming a college list to attending college graduation. POCSmom Wendy is also the College Insights Expert for CollegeExpertPanel.com.  

New schedule for POCSmom’s blogs:

When parents and their college-bound students have the knowledge to plan and make college affordable, they can kick out the stress and enjoy the college years ahead. POCSmom and CollegeExpertPanel.com will show you how.

*POCS: Parent Of a College Student

*POCSmom’s DIY Insight: College Perks

Cliché: Perk up.    
POCS Reality: Colleges compete to attract students.      

What’s free at your college?  Laundry service, concerts, or may be a laptop? These are some perks being offered at campuses across the country.

Business Insider describes “9 Awesome College Perks.”

Combine increasing tuition and fees with growing competition to attract students and you have fertile ground for eye-catching campus bonuses.

POCSmom’s DIY Insight: Don’t let a school’s perks distract you from focusing on what you want from a college education: quality academics and career opportunities.

Which do you want your college dollars to pay for: knowledgeable professors teaching in state-of-the-art classrooms or an indoor lazy river in the gym?

*POCS: Parent Of a College Student

*POCSmom’s DIY Insight: Global College Ranking List

Cliché: Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.    
POCS Reality: There are dozens of college ranking lists but your own one is the most important for you.      

 

This college ranking list is not out of this world but it comes close- it’s out of the country. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development compares higher education degree completion by 25-34 year-olds around the world and found the U.S. has slipped to #16 out of 37 developed nations:

http://www.oecd.org/dataoecd/32/42/48666179.xls  

To read for it yourself, select your country and the source of comparison, then choose “Comparative” at the bottom.

Why has slippage occurred?

http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/us-falls-in-global-ranking-of-young-adults-who-finish-college/2011/08/22/gIQAAsU3OK_story.html :

“The stagnant U.S.performance on this key international benchmark reflects at least two trends: the rapid expansion of college attendance in Asia and Europe, and the continuing emphasis on four-year degrees in the United States while other nations focus far more on one- and two-year professional credentials.”

College Prep Expert Suzanne Shaffer puts the domestic ranking craze into perspective with a U.S.-China infographic comparison created by OnlineUniversityRankings.com:

http://networkedblogs.com/n9FRm

While U.S.student degree attainment may have dropped, U.S.universities continue to rank high as some of the world’s best schools (find the list under Comments):

http://s323096433.onlinehome.us/2011/08/22/pocsmom%e2%80%99s-insight-7-college-rankings-lists/

POCSmom’s DIY Insight: Ranking? Enough already. The most important ranking list is your own college list.

*POCS: Parent Of a College Student

*POCSmom’s Insight: A Successful College List: The Plan (Part 1 of 3)

Cliché: Choose wisely.  
POCS Reality: A successful college list is the foundation of the college process.     

Finding Your College PAL

Did you ever find a needle in a 4,000 straw haystack? That’s the challenge for prospective college students forming a college list from over 4,000 schools.

The goal is to form a college list with 6-8 affordable schools that have the Programs, Activities, and Location for best chance of student future success. So how do you pick your lucky seven? Answer pocsmom’s 3 category questions and you’ll be able to pick your college needles from the college haystack by finding your college PAL:

Programs

What courses are offered in your field of study? How often are they offered? How large/important is the department and can it go on if a professor or two leaves or is on sabbatical?

Activities

What extracurricular clubs, sports, and events are offered? Are they seasonal? What is the level of participation?

Location 

What is the ease/cost of student and parent visitation. What is the availability of internships in your field of study? If offered a job, would you be happy to relocate?

POCSmom’s Insight: I’ll keep sharing my DIY tips and expert insights through my blog, website, social media, and other events. Please join me!

Read more: My 5 Steps to a Successful College List by joining a FREE college prep virtual blog conference Pursuing Greatness 2011 August 22 – 27, 2011. This conference will feature experts who will provide tips and tools for future college students and their families:

http://pursuinggreatness2011.eventbrite.com

POCSmom is on the radio! Listen to a half-hour show about music, stress, and college prep. Today, Tuesday August 23, 2011 at 2:00 PM and Friday August 26, 2011 at 11:30. Live streaming-WHPC Radio:

http://www.ncc.edu/studentlife/whpcradiostation/

If you miss it live, it will go archive:

http://www.musictherapyradio.com/Radio_Show_List.html

Stay tuned for A Successful College List-The Strategy (Part 2 of 3): College Admission Requirements, Student Qualifications, and the Affordability Factor

*POCS: Parent Of a College Student