What's the Latest College Review/Rating Resource?
February 5, 2021 6:46 PM   Subscribe

my kid is done with her gap year and has been accepted to three colleges. she's been asking for my thoughts and i want to be informed. Thanks!
posted by j_curiouser to Education (17 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I know (and admire) the folks who helped build College Scorecard.
posted by lorimt at 7:03 PM on February 5 [2 favorites]

It's definitely not the "latest" but U.S. News and World Report has been publishing an annual college ranking guide for years and years that seems to have become it's calling card to an extent.
posted by defmute at 7:49 PM on February 5 [1 favorite]

For an alternative perspective, check out Washington Monthly's college ratings, which are designed as an alternative to US News. "...we rate schools based on what they do for the country. It’s our answer to U.S. News & World Report, which relies on crude and easily manipulated measures of wealth, exclusivity, and prestige."
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 8:09 PM on February 5 [6 favorites]

Does she know what she plans to study (it's ok if she doesn't know yet) but it might be helpful for us to know if she's studying fine arts vs medicine vs sociology vs business, etc as school rankings might vary based on subjects.
posted by NotTheRedBaron at 8:21 PM on February 5 [1 favorite]

College Confidential has message boards on most colleges and also a parent forum.
posted by mogget at 8:36 PM on February 5 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Does she know what she plans to study

i think not. waiting for it to reveal itself. however, she's curious about something that could lead to entrepreneurship - her mom owns a small business.
posted by j_curiouser at 9:09 PM on February 5

I've learned a ton about my kid's school from lurking on its Reddit sub. It leans toward complaining, of course, but the conversations are a lot more nuanced than I thought they'd be and you can definitely pick up patterns of what the university does well and what it doesn't, what the students like and what they don't. They got lots of questions from HS students trying to decide between schools and a lot of the responses are genuine and thoughtful.
posted by Sweetie Darling at 5:23 AM on February 6 [2 favorites]

I work at a .edu and I never once looked at the US res rankings when my kids are looking for a college.

My brother is a big fan of College Confidential, but I hate the What Are My Chances posts that look like bragging. Still, many have fresh discussions.

Subreddits can be useful but many are dead and very few have anything positive to say. FB parent groups are worse! :7)
posted by wenestvedt at 6:00 AM on February 6 [2 favorites]

Better to think in terms of a match or complement to your daughter than about rankings or ratings. Rankings for what? Schools are good at different things. A stereotypical Big State U is going to provide a vast array of opportunities, but will also not really care if she's somehow lost. Most schools will be good enough and provide enough opportunities that any limits on her life that she faces afterwards will be more-or-less because of her and not because of the school.

Ultimately a lot of how well she does is going to have more to do with how happy and content she is where she's going to school, so that the "school" part is a more tolerable trudge than it would be if she were already miserable about the school and its setting. With the caveat that there is such a thing as being too happy and content with your school and its surroundings so that you just never do any work and just spend a few years enjoying Greenwich Village or whatever.

A lot will also have to do with how well she meshes with what the school offers. Big State U is good for people who are likely to seek out those opportunities on their own, and for people whose futures depend more on networking. It's also a place where many students without a specific goal just get lost. Directional State U probably won't have the entomology department and lab that Big State U does or other narrow opportunities, and there will be fewer elite-family kids there to network with, but it'll probably do a better job of shepherding an uncertain student through to some reasonable endpoint without letting her flounder on her own as much. Life as an academic-scholarship kid at a less selective liberal arts school, where to a limited extent you're being paid to be smart around lunkheads from rich families, is a different experience than either of those.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 7:39 AM on February 6 [5 favorites]

So the thing about undergraduate education is that it's all pretty much the same. It's not like she'll be reading Shakespeare if she goes to an Ivy League school and Dr. Seuss if she goes to a second-tier public school. (If anything, given current academic trends, it's probably more likely to be vice versa.) All undergraduate English programs teach Shakespeare. All undergraduate economics programs teach something besides pure classical economics these days. She's going to be reading the same basic textbooks regardless of where she goes. The differentiation between colleges is the "other stuff", which is nebulous and highly subjective depending on where she wants to live and what she wants to do after graduation (which she probably doesn't even know!).

Here's a fairly useful rule of thumb guide to picking a college: Had you ever heard of that college before your daughter applied? If so, it's probably a decent school with a good enough reputation. If not, it's obscure. That's not to say it's bad; just that the people she meets after graduation will not know whether or not it's good or bad. And that's really what you're paying for with undergraduate education. People respect Ivy League schools, of course, but it's not just Ivy League. Except for the northeast, people respect the giant public school in your home state, or maybe a neighboring state. Everybody respects the school they went to, so schools with larger alumni bases are generally more likely to open doors. Being able to say "I went to Harvard" impresses people nearly everywhere. Being able to say "I went to Ohio State" impresses people in Ohio, but doesn't have as much sway in Texas. Being able to say "I went to Saint Louis University" impresses people in the city of St. Louis, but nowhere else. And being able to say "I went to University of the Middle of Nowhere that No One Has Ever Heard Of" impresses the 25 alumni of that school. For example, I used to work with a lot of clients in the Upper Midwest, and a bunch of them (or their children) went to school at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota. It's pretty well-known and highly regarded among people in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Iowa, and almost completely unknown in the other 47 states. If she's interested in living in one of those three states, it's a good choice, but if she's moving to Boston or LA after graduation, maybe not the best.

So my general advice is for her to decide whom she wants to impress after graduation, and which of those three schools is more likely to impress them.

My more specific advice, given that she doesn't know what she wants to study yet, is to pick a school that gives her the most options. I'm revealing my bias here as an alumnus of a large state school, but one of the best things about a big school is the sheer variety of classes you can take. Nearly every school requires you to take science classes as part of your core curriculum, and at small schools that might just be Bio 101 and Chem 101/Physics 101. At my big school, I instead took Botany and Astronomy. There was a pretty popular course for the world literature requirement through the East European Studies department called Vampires in Literature. And so many electives. She can take a bunch of different classes, see what she likes, and decide on a course of study from there.
posted by kevinbelt at 8:12 AM on February 6 [8 favorites]

Congratulations for your daughter! You have not mentioned financial aid, but I'm sure that's a huge consideration in any family's decision on where to attend school. Have you already had a discussion about your total out-of-pocket costs for the family, and what she is expected to contribute to this?

Resources that really help compare apples to apples: The previously mentioned College Scorecard, run by the U.S. government.

Most schools are not hosting in-person visits, which is usually tremendously helpful. Have you had an opportunity, as a supporter, to attend the virtual information sessions of these three colleges? Virtual class visits can also be great - schools are ideally showcasing the learning environment for a first year student.

What communities does she want to join outside of the classroom (clubs / orgs / service clubs / XYZ in the surrounding community)? Can you be virtually connected to some current students from those schools who can speak to that?

Is she in contact with her old high school counselor? Can that person put her in contact with recent HS grads from her school that attended that institution?
posted by WedgedPiano at 8:44 AM on February 6 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Better to think in terms of a match or complement to your daughter than about rankings or ratings.

word. this is more what I'm thinking of. mainly, i want her to have decent undergrad ed and to not waste her resources at a shitshow.
posted by j_curiouser at 9:16 AM on February 6 [2 favorites]

I'm a professor, and kevinbelt is correct in that it matters less than most people seem to think. The global academic job market cratered in 2009 (it wasn't great before that either), which means that it's been a buyers market in terms of getting good faculty. So I wouldn't worry so much about the quality of your kid's education, as it will likely be pretty good wherever they go.

I'm sorta surprised nobody has mentioned cost- I believe deeply in higher-ed, yet I don't think any school is worth going into massive debt.

That said, some basic points:

1. Check the school's financials. A school with a big endowment has all sorts of money pots undergrads benefit from, like grants to do research in another country or money to do an unpaid internship over the summer, etc. Better funded schools can provide much more perks that can lead to real material benefits for your kid.

2. Big v. Small: what motivates your kid? For me, going to a small undergrad was critical for my success, because the individual attention from smart professors that small classes enabled really motivated me. Some people don't need that though, and can be motivated in a large lecture hall. I did my PhD at a huge state school, and some students really thrived with all the different opportunities, but I know I wouldn't have done well- and I saw some kids get "lost" in the shuffle. I was at a really small school, but never felt like I lacked interesting options for classes.

3. Location- as has been pointed out, while everyone knows Harvard or Oxford, there are a number of schools that are well respected but don't have a much geographic reach. So it's worth consider where your kid thinks she may want to live long-term, even if in just broad regional terms (like, the East Coast, etc.)

4. Who is the faculty? This is changing pretty radically, again post-2009. Some places are leaning more and more on contingent faculty, i.e. adjuncts, lecturers, visiting professors - there are different labels, they are all basically the same. Most of these people are truly wonderful and talented, but the system exploits them, making them teach 4-6 classes per semester, and no matter how great they are, this impacts their ability to do their job. You can get a sense of the ration of contingent to tenure track by looking at some department faculty pages, and seeing what their titles are.
posted by coffeecat at 10:57 AM on February 6 [7 favorites]

Something that you can investigate as the parent is a) what policies have schools implemented due to the coronavirus b) what is the financial situation of the schools and c) what is the coronavirus situation in the town/ state of the schools?

Also if you haven't already, consider doing an online search for "school name" + "common data set."

I think as a parent you can also help your daughter take a step back and look at the big picture. I would start by asking your daughter what she envisions the college experience to look like and what she wants to get out of her college experience. For instance, if she doesn't know what she wants to do when she grows up, perhaps she'd find the liberal arts college a better fit over the national university that on day one assigns students to different colleges on campus. If she envisions playing ultimate Frisbee with friends on the quad, perhaps the school located in a concrete jungle may not be the best fit. You can also contextualize retention rates and cost. School x has a freshman retention rate of 80% so in a group of 5 friends, about one of them may not return for sophomore year. If she goes to school a she will have student loans, but if she goes to school b or c she won't.

Has you daughter checked out social media about the schools? Not just "official ones," but student accounts as well.
posted by oceano at 11:27 AM on February 6 [3 favorites]

I would look at Niche.com, Reddit, and College Confidential to get a general picture, and definitely have in mind whether you think it would suit your daughter. On the off chance it's a California public university, the website PrepScholar has a guide to both the UCs and the CSUs that provides a good compare and contrast. It's worth knowing the general ranking of the three colleges in US News, (as in, which group are they are, and are they tippy-top or not) in case there is a real difference between them.

Ultimately, she is looking for the best fit college that you can afford to pay for, so do make sure you look carefully at any financial aid offers - better to say now that you can't afford something, than realise it's too big a stretch in 6 or 7 months time. Other practical considerations include things like how easy it is to get to, and what kind of living arrangements there are.
posted by plonkee at 3:39 PM on February 6 [1 favorite]

The two biggest things don't start with the schools, they start at your house.

1. Your student needs to know what she wants. That's a big ask for most 18 year olds, but it's time to grow a bit. Contrary to what a lot of kids initially think, the goal is to narrow your choices, not keep piling them on. There are thousands of schools out there, so this can take some effort. I used to say go take a couple practice tours to learn what's common on most campuses and what's special about each one before you go see the places you care about, but with covid it's a much trickier problem. Maybe these days have her really dig into a few schools that are somewhat unique so she can contrast the campus options, traditions and student experiences. The goal is to determine her priorities when it comes to weighing big vs small, urban vs rural, affluent vs public, watching big school sports vs playing small school sports, or just considering Greek, ROTC, religious, LGBT and a host of other options that can change a school's environment. A sport or major or geographic preference can help narrow the field quite a bit.

2. Unless you're quite wealthy you're going to want to get very familiar with the costs of college and how financial aid works. Grab your tax forms and start filling out NPCs (Net Price Calculator) at a variety of schools to get a feel for what this is going to cost you. It can literally be the cost of one or two new cars per year, so don't just hand-wave this away with a confident "We've saved." Kids end up leaving schools every year after some reversal at home pushes the affordability out of reach, so you'll want some breathing room in case your fiscal life changes.

Good luck! This can be a lot of fun if you make that a goal. Just don't let it get to be a prestige race against peers, as that always leads to stress and tears.

I guess I didn't answer your actual question. PrincetonReview.com is good, Niche.com has a lot of student reviews, CollegeConfidential.com has some of everything (but take it all with a large grain of salt and do stay away from the Chance Me morass.)
posted by Cris E at 7:46 PM on February 6 [1 favorite]

Many schools have similar offerings, so we made a spreadsheet: size, setting, price, URL, and other facts. It's handy when you forget a factoid, and also ensures that you ask the same questions about all the schools so you're judging on consistent criteria.

Also, set aside your own impressions, to some extent: as parents we have impressions based on alums we know and on our own college search that are a generation old. Colleges have changed a lot in the past decade!
posted by wenestvedt at 5:23 AM on February 7

« Older How do I learn to sound less angry?   |   Flickering LED light causes a headache Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments