Like every year when these rankings from US News, Forbes, and Wall Street Journal come out, there is an incredible amount of controversy and opinion from journalists and the media about everything that is wrong with the rankings and how they “don’t matter.” The old saying goes that you should pick the college that is the best fit for you, and ignore the rankings because they’re meaningless indicators of how great a college experience should be.
And yet the same people who decry the rankings are the same people who, year after year, secretly and eagerly await the new rankings to come out and check where their school is on the list. Oh the irony.
As a college admissions consult, I feel that some of this outcry from the media is merited, but others are not. I don’t quite believe in picking a college that is “right for you.” In this day and age, when the Ivy Leagues, Stanford, UChicago, MIT and other top universities are making a strong push toward increasing diversity, I’m a strong believer that your high school child will eventually, albeit with some experimentation and networking, find his or her niche within the Ivy gates.
In any given class, you’ll have accomplished musicians, scientists, engineers, politicians, artists, and the like. From a capella groups to research teams to dance groups, the diversity at these schools is impressive and you will find a social peer group that you fit in with, even if it takes a little bit of trial and error.
Get in the the best school possible, then if anything you can decide which school is the right fit for you. In reality, who actually picks a college because of the experience these days?
These universities have evolved into emblems of societal hierarchy, though certainly not to diminish the incredible educational experience these universities offer. Students pick schools due to the name brand recognition – it’s no secret. Every year high school students and families anxiously compete at the highest echelons to get a coveted spot at one of these schools.
If data is any indicator, more often than not students will choose the university that is higher ranked, not one that is necessarily the right fit for them. So I guess these rankings do matter.
When employers screen for resumes, a name brand school sticks out like a sore thumb on the resumes. Whether it’s Goldman Sachs or Morgan Stanley looking for investment banking hire from Princeton or Harvard, or Google and Facebook looking to hire the next top product manager or engineer from Stanford or MIT, you can bet a degree from the Top 10 university will be put at the top of the list.
That’s also a big reason why I don’t believe in college lists. Why spend so much time crafting together a school list that is the right fit for the student? Instead, you should be apply to every university in the Top 10 if you have the academic and extracurriculars stats to back it up. Because if you don’t apply, you have a zero percent chance at getting in.
The common application allows you to apply to 20 universities. Apply to as many colleges as possible – you only get one shot at this. I’ve seen students who get into Yale but rejected from Rice, for example. It’s actually not uncommon. And imagine if that student never applied to Yale – he or she wouldn’t be attending there today.
So should you pay attention to the college rankings? I’ll leave it up for you to decide.
By the time you hit 10th grade and you just found out about many of these competitions, it may be too late as you’ll find yourself scrambling to prepare over summer and winter break in addition to all of your regular school work and summer reading list piled on top.
I can tell you these competitions are no joke – they require a fundamental understanding of the subject matter and doing lots and lots of practice problems to develop that nimble mindset able to solve these challenging questions.
These problems are many orders of magnitude more difficult than the SAT’s, for example, which many students already find challenging. You certainly aren’t going to get brilliant overnight. Qualifying for AIME and advancing to USAMO has been one of the highly touted exams that would drastically increase your probability of getting into MIT.
I’ve consulted with students as early as 5th-6th grade and provided them a long term roadmap to achieve this level of success. It requires the right study habits, hard work, persistence, and the right attitude to perform well.
It requires understanding what the opportunity set looks like out there in terms of regional and national competitions like the Scholastic Art & Writing Competition so you can be well prepared by the time you compete.
For my high school students, I lay out the foundation at our very first session – exactly what you need to do to prepare and the actionable items and goals you need to accomplish to get into these universities.
It’s certainly not an easy task, especially with acceptance rates dropping to all time lows.
That vague notion of “pursuing your passion” is sound and true, but the pathway to get there and the actionable items to achieve those goals to get you a high probability of getting into one of the HYPSM schools is possible.
But first, you need to know what you need to accomplish as a high achieving student to get there.