Your Mom’s Guide to College Rankings

Last week, I spent a whole night refreshing my browser until the U.S News “Best Colleges” rankings were finally published.  It was an evening fraught with terror because — as we all know, the USN&WR rankings are the definitive arbiter of all that is good and worthwhile in a college education.  Also, if your kid doesn’t attend a top 10 school, you are a failure as a parent.

After reviewing the list, I came to the sad, sad conclusion that I’m likely going to be a failure as a parent.  Boo is only bothering to apply to one of the top 10 LACs and none of the top ten national universities. But to all you other failures out there, take heart.  Come cry your bitter tears with me.  I’m saving you a seat at the bad parent table.  We’ll be sullen and weird — just like the Ally Sheedy character in “The Breakfast Club.” Only old, possibly drunk, and definitely cranky.  And none of us will be dating Emilio Estevez at the end of the day.

But then I looked at the methodology USN&WR uses for determining the “Best Colleges” and felt much better.  More than a third of the ranking is based on “reputation” and “selectivity.”  If I were being judged by that criteria, I would perform poorly too.  My reputation is mediocre at best, and I am in no position to be highly selective.  In high school, I was a cross between Tracy Flick from “Election” and Urkel.  As an adult, little has changed.  So if I were a college, I would be well out of the top 10.

Because I think that popularity is a poor way to judge colleges, I have come up with my own methodology for ranking colleges.  I believe my criteria are a much better metric for ranking colleges.  You be the judge.

Your Mom’s Methodology for College Rankings

Affordability (40%) — I doubt that Warren Buffett, Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg is reading this blog (despite its obvious brilliance).  If they are reading it: a) Uh, Hi! Um . . . don’t you have more important things to do with your time?; and b) you can skip this part.  But for the rest of us mere mortals, let’s face it, affordability is really a threshold metric.  There is no point in looking at any other criteria unless you can pay the king’s ransom demanded by most colleges.  Running the net price calculators for Boo’s target colleges sends me into fits of rage, floods of tears, or Ocean’s Eleven style fantasies of robbing a casino.  With George Clooney.  So on second thought, I guess it’s not all bad.

Weather (5%) — I have told Boo that she should go to school in Southern California because of the weather.  In a completely unsurprising turn of events, she will not listen to me.  But I suspect I will have the last laugh on this one. Mwah ha ha!  I have started to practice saying “I told you so” every night in front of the mirror.  Can’t wait to break that out during her first winter vacation.

Beer (5%) — For the record, I hate beer.  Also, for the record, I drank beer in college.  Because college.  Maybe things will be different at Boo’s chosen hippie college.  But I doubt it.  They’ll probably just drink organic free range beer made by mute Tibetan monks instead of regular beer.

Peers (20%) — Yes, I know the purpose of going to college is to get an education.  But now, 30+ years after I graduated, I barely remember my classes.  I do remember my friends — despite the beer.  My college friends had (and continue to have) a far more profound effect on my life than any class I took.  So find your tribe of kind, smart, interesting and diverse people, and avoid the jerks, the mean kids and the phonies.  (CoughHarvardcough). And pray to God that your freshman roommate is not a ticking time bomb.

Professors/Class Size (15%) — This is one of many areas where Boo is showing that she is much smarter than I was at the same age.  She is not having huge lecture classes, inaccessible professors or classes taught by grad students.  Nope.  Not going to happen.  She wants small seminar style classes and lots of opportunities to interact with her professors.  In contrast, I did almost everything I could to avoid my professors — possibly because my freshman academic advisor may have been the single scariest person I have ever met.  Not serial killer style scary.  But scary in almost every other way.  Advantage Boo.

Food and Housing (10%) — Food and housing won’t make or break your college experience, but they can definitely have an effect.  For example, I went to a college where the main campus dining room was called “The Ratty” — with reason.  And during my freshman year, I lived in a cinder block dorm with built in furniture that was so far from campus, it might as well have been in Siberia.  In contrast, High Point University has its own steakhouse (on the meal plan) and its dorms include swimming pools, hot tubs, a first-run movie theater with free snacks, an arcade, a putting green and a free ice cream truck.  In my next life, I am so going to High Point.

Distractions (5%) — This is very much a “choose your own adventure” category.  There are schools that have amazing outdoor adventure clubs and climbing walls.  There are schools where the thrills and opportunities of big cities are right outside your door.  There’s the University of Missouri that has an indoor beach, a lazy river and a grotto based on the one at the Playboy mansion.  And then there was Providence in the ’80’s — a mafia haven with a cesspool of a river flowing through it.  Good times.

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Look for my Guides to the Hippie Colleges of America and the Ivy League here.