MALIK: University rankings make us forget what truly matters
Column: On the Good Life
Choosing the college you are going to attend can feel like a life-or-death decision. It has been made to feel like the end of the world as you know it. But time always moves on, and just like that, another year has come for millions of high school students to decide where to go the following year to pursue higher education.
That decision is not the end of the world, as most of us have figured out, but the current state of how universities market themselves makes it feel more significant than it actually is. A factor that contributes to this growing stress is the great big focus on numbers.
The increasingly lower acceptance rates, difficulty securing on-campus housing, and increased college applications signal an interesting predicament. The uncertainty of college education has led to increased anxiety which ultimately adds to more confusion.
The problem is that this focus on numbers itself is not just a problem of applicants' anxiety but rather something that is perpetuated by many colleges and universities.
Colleges consistently note their low acceptance rates in a celebratory fashion. Perhaps information like this should not be discussed in such a manner, though — especially when those numbers could be called into question. For example, the yield rate of a university, the percentage of students admitted who actually enroll, is often not properly reported.
Northeastern University is notorious for playing the numbers game of lowering its admission rate, which it has consistently done to achieve an acceptance rate of 6.7 percent in 2022. Jensyn Ford, a student at Northeastern University, notes that she feels "it's almost negatively affecting the school because they're just gaming the system and being unfair to applicants."
A greater number of students are getting tired of this numbers game, but it is currently a machine that feeds itself. Growing uncertainty, as I said before, leads to more applications, fewer acceptances and consequently, more uncertainty.
It is a dangerous cycle that makes us forget that many applicants are just teenagers and should not have to worry about their whole future based on money-making institutions' love for more selective numbers.
Do not lose hope just yet! Recently, many universities and colleges have been dropping out of these ranking systems — specifically that of the U.S. News & World Report. For the most part, this is happening to medical schools and law schools.
Heather Gerken, dean of Yale Law School, stated that "this heavily weighted metric imposes tremendous pressure on schools to overlook promising students, especially those who cannot afford expensive test preparation courses. It also pushes schools to use financial aid to recruit high-scoring students."
This statement demonstrates that students who may have fewer funds and resources, and therefore, possibly worse scores, should still have the opportunity to participate in prestigious programs and should still be recognized for their worth rather than immediately discounted from contention.
It also suggests that, in a way, what the U.S. News and World Report continually uses to measure the competency and prestige of institutions focuses on aid given to those who scored the highest, not those with the greatest need, ultimately limiting the financial aid offered to those who need it the most and may not be able to attend without it.
Typically high-ranked institutions are the ones that have begun to leave this ranking. For example, Harvard Medical School, Stanford Law School and Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine all removed themselves from these rankings reports.
While, for now, this is not as much of a trend in undergraduate schools, I believe it should become one. With a focus on numbers, we fail to acknowledge that all schools are not the same regarding what departments are offered and how they are funded.
It is also important to consider the programs a school can offer, its core curriculum and the clubs and student life. These aspects should be advertised more readily so that when students research or visit a school, they see all that it has to offer.
Numbers limit discussions, move the focus away from actual learning and fixate on how to jump ahead in rankings — which is destructive.
It is time to take education back and give it the consideration it deserves, and it starts with us. Rutgers University—New Brunswick proudly advertises its spot in the Top 20 Public Universities, according to the U.S. News and World Report.
But when our school is being discussed, let us discuss how much it offers regarding its research opportunities, more than 150 majors and various study abroad programs. When we discuss our schools, let us discuss what we can learn and what we can do rather than who we can beat.
Sehar Malik is a first-year in the School of Arts and Sciences, majoring in molecular biology and biochemistry and minoring in French. Her column, "On the Good Life," runs alternate Thursdays.
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