Could you get into the same college today?
Would you want to?
The New York Times released a tool this week to build your own college rankings. As they put it, “Do you care most about making money after graduating? Low college costs? Diversity? Academics or athletics? Staying close to home? Use our tool’s sliders and filters to tell us what you value, and we’ll give you college rankings that fit.” In a world where prestige runs the show, it’s a refreshing data-driven approach to adding a few lesser-known schools to the Harvards and Dukes on your list.
This is doubly helpful because those blue bloods aren’t getting any less selective, and in fact, everyone else is becoming more so. According to U.S. News and World Report, the same publication that puts out the definitive, if flawed, annual college rankings, the Fall 2021 acceptance rate at Vanderbilt was 7%, Colby was 9%, and Tulane was 10%. Even with these ever lower chances of admission, high school grads continue to chase the dream of a name brand university.
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I get it. I also wanted validation for four years of hard work. I also wanted a badge of honor with some Latin on it for getting up early, staying up late, and jumping through the hoops required by these institutions. And I can admit that my college search was influenced by whether or not a school would seem impressive, whether or not it was on the aforementioned list.
It was a simple calculation. If I was accepted to one of these schools, I would have worldly experiences, I would gain access to a connected network, and I would be compensated generously. I’m not saying these things aren’t or can’t be true. I’m just saying that it takes more than a number on a list to find a fit, and our goals at 18 can often be nebulous beyond getting in and figuring it out.
With any starting point such as a tool like this, you have to remember that it’s based on other peoples’ experiences and you should still look under the hood, ask questions, and visit campus if at all possible. Because there’s a difference between seeing yourself there and being yourself there, even at a school that has it all. And what they don’t tell you when you’re making a decision like this is that you can be yourself in Plan A, Plan B, and Plan C.
At the time I was applying to college, my most important criteria included academic reputation, Division I athletics, and proximity to a major city (not to mention distance from the small town in which I grew up). If I was able to go back and do it again with a little intuition from the future (not enough to disrupt the time continuum), I’d still go for most of that, but I hope I’d be a little more open to places that were a little farther, a little weirder, and a little outside the halo of the darlings on that list. Mostly, I hope I’d figure out that it’s not where you get in, but what you do once you get there.