Source of selecting and ranking colleges

Question to both parents and high school students. How do you compile the list of colleges to apply?

Our twins are rising seniors and we are near finish stretch on college selection. Our problem is that neither my wife nor I went to college in US. The majors our twins are pursuing (one wants to study BME, another finance) are different from mine or my wife’s field. Our primary source of college search has been so far US News college ranking by major. I don’t know how reliable it is and if it truly ranks colleges without any bias. I read few article recently and found that nowadays college ranking is heavy influenced by “social index”, minority index, etc. the factors that do not really matter from college and education perspective and we do not care about.

What other source of objective data can we use? There are gazillion of colleges and sifting through limited public data for each of them and trying to compare it side-by-side on objective manner is really beyond our capability.

I don’t think there is any truly objective ranking. Use rankings as a rough guide.

The reality is that there are hundreds of good schools in the US so thinking about what’s important to you and your family is probably the best way to start. What is your budget? Do the twins want public or private? Rural/suburban or city campus? LAC vs research institution? Geographic preference? Campus size?

Starting there can help you narrow it down quickly.

US News rankings are designed by magazine editors to make money for them, producing a ranking that people expect.

Barron’s, the Fiske Guide to Colleges, Peterson’s, Colleges That Change Lives, and the Princeton Review do a better job of describing college experience, student culture, and academic environment.

We are in NJ so our preference is East or Midwest though some colleges in the West coast can also be considered.

We have very pragmatic approach to colleges. Both us, parents and our children consider college as the place to get good education and necessary fundamentals to get a job and successful career. The cost is important but only related to job and career prospects. If college A is 100K more expensive than college B but graduates from college A earn an average $500K more over life time vs college B we can consider paying $100K more for college B. The problem is where to get this data to objectively compare two colleges. The only info I got so far is median starting salary by major for different colleges using US News paid subscription to.

Other factors like geographical location, rural/city, college culture, etc. are way less important. We being Jewish do not consider colleges with strong religious affiliation and openly anti-Semitic like Berkeley.

The US News and World Report is one of many rankings. It’s a decent “rough guide”.

Some good guides to tell you about the specific schools:

Fisk Guide to Colleges
Princeton Review best 384 Colleges.
Colleges That Change Lives (these are for smaller, liberal arts colleges that deliver an excellent education and are often under the radar). They also have a website.

So, one wants to study Finance (Economics? Business?) the other Biomedical Engineering? Do either of them want to go to graduate school (MBA, or Medical School)? The reason I ask is that in the US, your undergraduate education is not always heavily geared to pre-professional studies with a guaranteed job after graduation. There are certain fields, however, that lend themselves to good offers with a bachelor’s degree: Computer Science, Environmental Engineering, Geology, Chemistry. Increasingly, people go to graduate schools for specialization.

A bachelor’s degree in Econ/Finance can lead to a job in an investment bank or asset management firm.

I don’t know much about Biomedical Engineering except people often work in Labs or go to med school.

You are looking to maximize career prospects. Some of that has to do with the program of the college (does it emphasize research and internships?) some of it has to do with prestige (big name schools get attention), some of it has to do with the strength and loyalty of the alumni network. Another factor is will they enjoy the school and make friends? Social Capital developed in an undergraduate education is very valuable.

Start with schools that offer the majors they want. (Finance is tricky, since it is often a subset of Economics).

Do your twins favor small vs. medium vs. large schools? Do they learn best in lecture hall with 500 students or smaller class with 25?

What about cost? Is that completely irrelevant?

What about their grades, ACT/SAT scores, extra-curricular activities? Determining where they have a chance to get in also important - it won’t matter if University X or Y are the best-rated and get the best salaries upon graduation if they are not accepted.

This data does not exist. Generally, lifetime earnings are more correlated with major than school and/or selectivity of the school. Look at career center sites at each school for summary reports, job placement outcomes, and grad school enrollment info.

A BME major from any ABET accredited school can be successful…therefore, some will say the less you spend on the education the better. You will find BME grads from schools like Johns Hopkins, U Alabama and Illinois Institute of Technology working in similar jobs, sometimes at the same company in the same department, earning similar salaries.

Finance/business/economics outcomes can be different by level of school, but not necessarily. If the student wants investment banking that might drive applications to certain schools. Many east coast LACs send econ majors to great banking jobs, while a school like SMU has great business outcomes, especially locally/regionally. Schools, of all levels of selectivity and ‘rankings’, that offer accounting and finance degrees can have very good career outcomes as well.

We don’t know if you have financial constraints, but that could drive school choices for your twins, along with the other considerations and preferences that posters have mentioned above.

You can look at first destination reports for each school on the list considering. There can be more detailed information there in terms of % of students finding employment, going to grad school, where and what companies students are going to, etc…

And to muddy the water even more - Here’s another ranking for the top 50 colleges that “pay off” the most. 25 private and 25 publics:

There are many ranking systems. There are many methodologies that determine the rankings. Some more objective (Admissions stats, test scores, salaries both early and mid term career, etc.) and others more subjective (surveys of students, alumni, college presidents, etc.) Event he objective ones need to be taken with a grain of salt as it’s easy to misinterpret or “under analyse” the numbers. As an example, the early career salaries of school X vs school y don’t get to the specific major or location. So if a school graduates a lot of Bankers / Consultants but they also graduate a lot of education majors (i.e. large state school), their numbers will be skewed compared to a smaller school with a heavy concentration in stem / quant, etc. Or if one school sends a lot of kids to NYC vs another to Chicago.

That said, you kind of get a sense of the overall quality of a school when it’s highly ranked in many of the varied ranking services. There are some schools that are highly ranked by virtually every major system for many, many yrs. Think UVA in the top public schools category (been that way since the rankings started). That doesn’t mean there is lesser quality education/ results/ outcomes at lesser known schools.

But if you’re building a list, why not start with the ones you know are strong and then research to find others that share similar qualities. @privatebanker started a thread a short time ago featuring “Hidden Gems”. So you might want to look at the standard list of great schools measured by whatever and then consider some of those hidden gems.

Generally speaking, more merit aid at the lesser known schools as they want to attract top students.

Both twins are very good students. One that wants to study BME has super stellar record. She is a Gold Honor Roll student and is probably in top 3% of her class if not %1. She took once SAT and got 1560, will be taking it one more time this summer. Subject SATs: Calculus BC - 800, Bio E - 800, Chem - 770. No sure her GPA, the lowest grade she has is A-. Seven AP classes: in 6 she got 5, one (CS) - 3. She has been on science Olympiad team since 8 or 9 grade, FBLA team, Rutgers Waksman program, NJ LSC program, president of few clubs.

Another twin who is eyeing Finance has a bit less stellar academic achievements: SAT - 1510, subject SATs: Calculus BC - 770, Bio E - 770, Chem - 740. She is a Silver Honor Roll Student, has few B+. Six AP classes: in three she got 5 and other three she got 4. She has been on FBLA team, NJ LSC program, Varsity track team (the only one Honor Roll student) .

They don’t know if they will go to grad school, if they prefer large or small school, etc.

We are very unlikely to get any need based aid anywhere. We are not very rich but probably can in theory afford almost any school, though paying sticker price of two private schools will eat more than half of our wealth. So we can only do this if expected return in form of our kids’ earning potential and career prospects will exceed the premium we will be paying for these schools.

My concern with general statistics like cnbc top 50 colleges that “pay off” the most is that is it generalized and not specific to major. Obviously, CS major will earn way more almost after any school than liberal arts major.

I saw that ranking yesterday and it makes no sense what they are measuring.

  1. U Washington 8900 net cost, 85k average salary, 60k starting salary
  2. Georgia Tech 12000 net cost, 101k average salary, 70k starting salary

Umm… I think 101k is a whole lot better than 85k… for only 3k more of educational costs. In fact the first year salary difference more than makes up for it.

The methodology says they took (netcost/avg salary) and ranked them… what measurement is that? Whoever came up with that should have their calculator taken away.

If my hypothetical college charged 1M for and education and the avg graduate received 2M in avg salary, my college would not even be listed. Furthermore, a person who works at Subway spent 0 in education cost and makes 15k per year would be ranked #1.

Are both students wanting to go to the same school?

FWIW, retaking a 1560 isn’t worth it. That score is 99th percentile. I would have your student focus on writing the college essays and other parts of her application.

Many schools will do first destination surveys based on major. If you can’t find the first destination information, look up the website for a school’s career center. Sometimes useful information can be found there.

You will need to run the Net Price Calculators for each school, which will give you an idea what they cost. Ivy League schools, for example, are very generous with need based aid, but don’t offer much, if any, merit scholarships (based on academic achievements) since they feel everyone is brilliant would deserve merit aid… On the other hand some excellent state and private schools offer generous merit aid for very bright students. The stats you share would guarantee some merit aid are various schools for both your daughters.

No, they don’t want to go to the same school.

Good afternoon.

The college application process is overwhelming and confusing to everyone. There are no easy answers, in part because the colleges themselves intentionally obfuscate the data.

The good news is that there are many, many schools where your kids will get a high-quality education. Choosing one over another because of a difference in ten spots in a ranking is meaningless. Some good schools, however, may draw mostly local students who then tend to stay in the area after graduation, and so may not have any reputation to speak of outside the state or region, which is important if you can figure that out. That is probably the case at many public schools that are not considered the “flagship” state school (and probably many that are).

Narrowing them down by size and location is an easy way to reduce the number of choices. There are schools that are like cities and others where there are just a few hundred students in each class. My daughter, for instance, has a preference for a small school that’s in a town or the outskirts of a major metro area–neither in a large city or in a rural area, and roughly north of Virginia and east of Ohio, and those simple parameters limited her choices drastically.

If you want to sort schools by the average SAT scores of incoming students, keep in mind that the reported numbers are often misleading, because they include students who are “hooked”, and thus have an edge on admissions–children of alumni and professors, athletes, under-represented minorities, etc. A rule of thumb I use is that I look for a match between my daughter’s scores and the 75th percentile of admitted students, NOT the midpoint–the 25th and 75th percentile scores are widely reported.

Regarding anti-semitism, Hillel publishes a list of colleges with the largest Jewish populations both by quantity and by percentage, and one school of thought is that those schools will likely have the least overt anti-semitism, or at least provide students with enough of a support group so they aren’t individually targeted in case it arises. Here is a recent list: They also have a page for each school, so you can see what Jewish life is there, and research schools that aren’t on their top-60 lists. For example, some of the schools my daughter is considering have Jewish populations of around 10%, which is significant but not high enough to get on Hillel’s top-60 list–but they have a page for those schools to tell me.

Cross-referencing the Hillel lists with, say, the generally perceived top-100 schools and narrowing them down by size and location may get you down to 20-30 schools to consider–and then you can look at each individually to see if they offer the programs your kids want.

Good luck!

OP, with your emphasis here on their stats, it seems you may be going about this backwards. looking for a list of “best” and missing what it actually takes to get an admit. You have to learn more about the colleges, themselves, than what some media throw in the blender to come up with rankings. You need to learn what those colleges like and look for, which is a lot more than stats, some clubs and programs, number of AP- and understand critical things like a 1510 being fine (assuming it’s not 800/710. For top schools you want 750 each, to be more comfortably in the running, initially.)

You need to learn about how fin aid works. If 600k is half your assets, well, monies in a “Qualified Retirement Plan” are excluded, the rest is tapped at about 6% for parents, income does matter, and more. Learn up.

How ARE you choosing, besides some media ranking? What does makes those target colleges want your kids, when they accept so few from the steller applicants? Do your kids understand enough to recognize what may be missing, fine tune anything missing now and know how to make their best self presentations on the actual app and supp, choose the right LoR writers, how to write an on-target essay, and more?

Plus so many top colleges have a Why Us? question, either outright or embedded in a supp question. That’s got to be better than, “You have my major” or “I’m a top student and want a top college.”

Plus, 500k more in earnings, over a 40 year career, is only $12.5k more, per year. Great students from good colleges, with the right drives, follow through, inspiration, savvy, etc, can acheve that.

When you “compare two colleges,” sure, part of that is to determine targets. But you need to get the admits to actually compare two or more opportunities. You choose the targets. But those adcoms chcoose the admits.

I don’t see how you say you’re approaching the finish, if there’s misunderstanding what matters, in toto. And it’s 6 months to 12/31. Many kids evolve even from Sept to December.

My original question was not about how to get to tops schools but rather how correctly identify and rank them. We visited few supposedly highly ranked schools (GT, UMich), will visit in few weeks JHU, MIT, UPenn. We understand admission is very subjective and top colleges look beyond grades and numbers.

Regarding FA, I ran few estimations and in all of them our EFC exceeded total cost of attendance for two private schools .

But how to choose top college to apply to is only half the equation. You need to get to a point where you can safely and wisely self-match. And that’s more than stats and usual hs activities. A successful app is more than a resume.

You may, eg, decide Stanford is a great choice, based on USNews, some info about the depts, your kids’ stats…and totally miss the sorts of drives their adcoms look for, the sorts of stretch and thinking. Those matter.

I don’t see it as “subjective,” which implies random. I know, from experience, that there are key variables a tippy top looks for and must find.

Glad to hear that you have started visits! What did your daughters think? Big difference in feel/vibe at U Michigan and JHU. I would think they would have a preference between one campus over the other.

At that level of school, ranking is meaningless. Students will have equal opportunities at all the schools you listed.

That said, all of those schools are reach schools, unless you are instate for one of the two publics you mentioned. Your girls need to be spending just as much time learning about which match and safety schools they like because even with the strongest stats, schools with under a 20% acceptance rate are not sure things for anyone. My D saw friends get shut out of all their reach schools with stats even higher than your one daughter.

“No, they don’t want to go to the same school.”

I meant that both of them qualify for merit scholarships, not necessarily from the same school.