Each year, high school students and their parents eagerly peruse the U.S. News & World Report college rankings to learn which school is “best” and to determine which school is worth their hard-earned money.
But a recent Politico story pointed out a dark truth: These rankings might be contributing to the rising cost of college — and the growing class divide — in our country.
Here’s a look behind the rankings as well as seven alternative factors to consider when choosing a college.
How U.S. News college rankings might affect college costs
The U.S. News rankings, which started in 1983, analyze a variety of factors to choose the “best” schools in the country.
The problem, as Politico revealed, is colleges can influence their rankings in two main ways: by admitting more rich students and by spending more money.
Not only does it decrease educational opportunities for lower-income students, but it also increases the cost of tuition across the board.
Spending more on faculty salaries and more per student, for example, could increase a university’s ranking, reported Politico. But to afford this increased spending, it must, in turn, hike up prices for students.
If you find it hard to believe a single magazine could wield such force, look at Baylor University. In 2002, it declared a goal of breaking into the top 50 within 10 years, according to Politico. In the years since, Baylor has only risen from No. 82 to No. 71, but its tuition has skyrocketed from $17,214 to $44,040.
In comparison, reported CNBC, tuition at four-year public colleges increased an average of 87 percent between 2000 and 2013 — a crazy amount but nowhere near the jump at Baylor.
How to stop the runaway rankings train
While it’s upsetting to think of the role these rankings play in the rising cost of college and the stratification of our country, you can’t just tell colleges to stop catering to them.
But as someone who’s choosing a college — the exact consumer the rankings are targeting — you do have some power. You can ignore them.
If students stop placing so much importance on the rankings, colleges might care about them less too. If parents stop buying the magazine’s college rankings issue, U.S. News might devote fewer resources to it.
U.S. News and colleges are businesses; their aim is to give customers what they want. So, if you stop wanting the rankings, change could follow.
7 other factors to consider when choosing a college
Wondering what to consider when choosing a college — instead of rankings? Here are some ideas.
One of the most important things to consider is the cost of the college.
Today’s average graduate has $37,172 in student loan debt, which, according to our student loan payment calculator, means you’ll be on the hook for $384 per month after you graduate (assuming a 4.45% interest rate).
2. Retention and graduation rates
You want to attend a school that supports its students — and where students want to remain.
So, check out each school’s retention rate, which is the percentage of freshmen who return for their sophomore year, and graduation rate, which is the percentage of students who graduate within six years.
The national average rates are 61 percent retention and 59 percent graduation, according to College Raptor.
Of course, you can’t overlook the location of the school: its distance from your home, the weather, and its proximity to job opportunities.
But you also should consider how the campus makes you feel. Are you happy? Relaxed?
“Given that education is mostly self-determined, the final choice among comparable colleges is to some degree an aesthetic one,” Chad Orzel, a physics professor at Union College, wrote for Forbes. “That is, you want to choose the place where you will feel most comfortable and most able to make use of the resources provided to you.”
You’re in school to learn, so make sure your school offers the subjects you want to study. Visit different departments and speak to professors. Look at the research and work they’re producing. Check out all the facilities.
Also consider class size and other statistics; don’t put all your stock in which schools U.S. News says are best.
As Orzel pointed out, colleges provide resources such as classes, labs, and events — but you shape your education.
“In the end they’re all just tools that students will use to fashion their future selves,” he wrote. “And once you’re above a minimum threshold of viability, you can find the necessary resources to get a quality education just about anywhere.”
If you’re a “nontraditional student” (which is pretty likely these days), then it’s vital you find a university that caters to you.
Whatever your needs might be, ask about them.
If you have to work during the day, find out if the school offers courses at night. If you have children, see if the school provides child care. If you live near the poverty line, determine what types of scholarships or programs are available to you.
6. Student body
One of the best parts of college is exposure to new ideas, which you’ll experience when you meet people who aren’t like you. So, a student body that’s economically and ethnically diverse is a huge bonus.
Additionally, you should consider the size of the school and the general vibe of the students. (For example, I chose the University of Michigan, a laid-back public school, over Vanderbilt, a fancy Southern school, because I prefer sweatpants to dresses.)
7. Career support
The whole point of attending college — besides making lifelong friends and learning — is to enhance your post-graduation career prospects.
So, in addition to visiting the admissions office, it might be worth checking out career services. Ask what kind of support you can get for internships, jobs, and career development. If you see students hanging around there, that’s a good sign; it probably means they like the resources being offered.
Figuring out where you’re going to spend the next four years of your life is a personal choice, so don’t let a publication tell you where to go. Look at these other factors and pursue the opportunity that’s best for you.
Need a student loan?Here are our top student loan lenders of 2018!
|1 Important Disclosures for CollegeAve.
College Ave Student Loans products are made available through either Firstrust Bank, member FDIC or Nationwide Bank, member FDIC. All loans are subject to individual approval and adherence to underwriting guidelines. Program restrictions, other terms, and conditions apply.
Information advertised valid as of 11/1/2018. Variable interest rates may increase after consummation.
2 Important Disclosures for Discover.
3 Important Disclosures for Ascent.
Before taking out private student loans, you should explore and compare all financial aid alternatives, including grants, scholarships, and federal student loans and consider your future monthly payments and income. Applying with a cosigner may improve your chance of getting approved and could help you qualify for a lower interest rate. Ascent Student Loans may be funded by Richland State Bank (RSB). Ascent Student Loan products are subject to credit qualification, completion of a loan application, verification of application information and certification of loan amount by a participating school. Loan products may not be available in certain jurisdictions, and certain restrictions, limitations; and terms and conditions may apply. Ascent is a federally registered trademark of Turnstile Capital Management (TCM) and may be used by RSB under limited license. Richland State Bank is a federally registered service mark of Richland State Bank.
* Application times vary depending on the applicants ability to supply the necessary information for submission.
* The Sallie Mae partner referenced is not the creditor for these loans and is compensated by Sallie Mae for the referral of Smart Option Student Loan customers.
4 = Sallie Mae Disclaimer: Click here for important information. Terms, conditions and limitations apply.
5 Important Disclosures for PNC.
PNC Bank is one of the nation’s largest education loan providers. For over 40 years, PNC has been committed to helping students and their families make possible the adventure of college.
6 Important Disclosures for SunTrust.
Before applying for a private student loan, SunTrust recommends comparing all financial aid alternatives including grants, scholarships, and both federal and private student loans. To view and compare the available features of SunTrust private student loans, visit https://www.suntrust.com/loans/student-loans/private.
Certain restrictions and limitations may apply. SunTrust Bank reserves the right to change or discontinue this loan program without notice. Availability of all loan programs is subject to approval under the SunTrust credit policy and other criteria and may not be available in certain jurisdictions.
SunTrust Bank, Member FDIC. ©2018 SunTrust Banks, Inc. SUNTRUST, the SunTrust logo and Custom Choice Loan are trademarks of SunTrust Banks, Inc. All rights reserved.
7 Important Disclosures for LendKey.
Additional terms and conditions apply. For more details see LendKey
8 Important Disclosures for CommonBond.
A government loan is made according to rules set by the U.S. Department of Education. Government loans have fixed interest rates, meaning that the interest rate on a government loan will never go up or down.
Government loans also permit borrowers in financial trouble to use certain options, such as income-based repayment, which may help some borrowers. Depending on the type of loan that you have, the government may discharge your loan if you die or become permanently disabled.
Depending on what type of government loan that you have, you may be eligible for loan forgiveness in exchange for performing certain types of public service. If you are an active-duty service member and you obtained your government loan before you were called to active duty, you are entitled to interest rate and repayment benefits for your loan.
A private student loan is not a government loan and is not regulated by the Department of Education. A private student loan is instead regulated like other consumer loans under both state and federal law and by the terms of the promissory note with your lender.
If your private student loan has a fixed interest rate, then that rate will never go up or down. If your private student loan has a variable interest rate, then that rate will vary depending on an index rate disclosed in your application. If the interest rate on the new private student loan is less than the interest rate on your government loans, your payments will be less if you refinance.
If you don’t pay a private student loan as agreed, the lender can refer your loan to a collection agency or sue you for the unpaid amount.
Remember also that like government loans, most private loans cannot be discharged if you file bankruptcy unless you can demonstrate that repayment of the loan would cause you an undue hardship. In most bankruptcy courts, proving undue hardship is very difficult for most borrowers.
9 Important Disclosures for Citizens Bank.
Citizens Bank Disclosures
|3.94% – 12.78%1||Undergraduate, Graduate, and Parents|
|4.04% – 13.04%3||Undergraduate and Graduate|
|4.34% – 12.99%2||Undergraduate and Graduate|
|4.25% – 11.10%*,4||Undergraduate and Graduate|
|5.03% – 11.23%5||Undergraduate and Graduate|
|4.12% – 13.13%6||Undergraduate and Graduate|
|4.92% – 10.01%7||Undergraduate and Graduate|
|3.72% – 9.68%8||Undergraduate, Graduate, and Parents|
|4.26% – 12.13%9||Undergraduate, Graduate, and Parents|