College rankings don’t tell the whole story behind a university

If you enjoyed the college application process, there’s a likelihood that you also enjoy parallel parking and going to the dentist. No one I went to high school with found solace in the months-long expedition to find a college that’s the right fit for them. My classmates hoping to pursue degrees in STEM sweat over the essay portion of their applications while those going into the humanities furrowed their brows over SAT math prep.

Students who are applying to colleges face immense pressure to get into an institution with a sterling reputation – a school ranked toward the top of most lists, like Harvard University or the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. GW has recently moved up three spots in its U.S. News and World Report ranking, now standing at No. 63. For most prospective students, the higher an institution is ranked, the better – but rankings don’t tell the whole story about a university.

To try to understand why college rankings have significant weight, we have to look at what these rankings even mean. U.S. News and World Report ranks institutions based on factors including graduation and retention rates, social mobility and student selectivity. What’s missing from this list is other aspects of college life like students’ sense of community on campus, the institution’s location and the professional networks available to students. Even smaller things like nightlife and campus culture are not covered by a simple one-through-100 rank on a website.

Institutions seem to have the idea that academics are the absolute priority when people are looking into schools, and therefore perfect academics automatically make them the perfect fit. Look around GW and you’ll see that is clearly not the case – seeing people in business attire roving around campus on the way back from internships or students walking to the Lincoln Memorial with friends is all the evidence you need that classes aren’t the whole story. Even better, hop on social media – my TikTok feed all of orientation week was different girls moving in, crying and dropping out of colleges across the country. All of those people went through the same process the rest of this year’s freshmen did. They saw all the statistics and made a decision that ultimately wasn’t right for them. Since the culture around applying to universities encourages people to go into the college experience thinking it will be perfect, anything short of that can send one spiraling.

College is all about learning. The main reason prospective students put themselves through all this is that they recognize they have an interest in something, and we’d like to learn more about that and hopefully turn that into a career. Students know they aren’t experts – our knowledge set isn’t perfect and we’d like to expand it. No school is perfect, even the ones ranked the highest, so aiming to get into the highest-ranked school possible isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Working toward a goal often makes people feel productive and fulfilled, but the idea that students need to strive to get in to a perfect college is extremely harmful, and the idea that colleges themselves need to strive for what U.S. News and World Report may consider perfection to be is unnecessary. Students and administrators putting this weight on college rankings pulls them away from more positive things they could be focused on. Going to college should be an enjoyable and intellectually stimulating experience. Students should get excited about going to their local community college, or to a trade school or to GW. The privilege of getting to expand your knowledge on a subject you love is enough. You should be allowed to do that wherever you would like to, free of judgment.

Bridget Bushey, a freshman majoring in journalism and mass communications, is an opinions writer.

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