Yale and Harvard Law schools announced in November that they would no longer participate in US News and World Report’s annual survey, thereby sacrificing their number 1 and 4 positions. This is huge news – and it highlights a well-known problem within the rankings at US News, that the rankings themselves are no true indication of quality of education.
US News changes their algorithm every year or two to determine the exact numerical list – however, the factors that make up the majority of the calculation are 20% based on “peer” assessment, 7% on selectivity, and 20% on faculty resources. Sounds nice? Well, many of the “peers” have reported that they do not know enough to truly rate another school, but they do anyway (Malcolm Gladwell has a great story about a university President sending hot sauce to every other university president, and his ranking went up astronomically!); selectivity can be impacted by sending emails and brochures to tons of students imploring them to apply, only to later reject them; and faculty resources are self-reported by the institutions (and highly questionable at best – this is why Columbia, Rutgers and USC got into trouble this year).
So, in summary, almost 50% of the data that determines a college’s ranking is highly problematic. And gaming this ranking system has become a high priority to many colleges, especially in the selectivity category.
All of this brings us to the question of how do we prejudge the education a student will receive at a college if we do not rely on a ranking? Or rather, how can you tell if the college will have the right collection of experiences and academics and outcomes that match what your student is looking for?
Jeff Selingo, a master of the college admissions world, who also worked at US News in the 1990’s when they created their college rankings, believes strongly that knowing WHAT you are looking for in a college matter most – what major, what location, what size, and what the student wants to do while in college. At Milestone, we call this “best fit” (and we are not alone in using this term). These factors determine which colleges will be RIGHT for a student – not the name, or the ranking, or the way a sticker looks on a car.
Knowing what you are looking for in a college, and then having a full list of possibilities to choose from that meet your needs that you can further research in-depth is how you find the right college with the right education that will meet your needs. Rankings might bring the name of a college to your attention, but it by no means is a guarantee that it is right for you.
Columbia, Georgetown, and Stanford Law Schools have collectively followed suit behind Yale and Harvard, with UPenn Law considering leaving as well.
Rankings might be a great way to purchase a car, but in considering a college or graduate school, there are far too many other factors to take into consideration.

Marjorie Licht, Milestone College Advisor