The Ideal College Experience: Inimitable Opportunities

U.S. News today published a piece on colleges that were found to have falsified admissions data: They conclude with an optimistic projection that such abuses are not widespread, but I wonder, in today’s climate where lots of attention is paid to rankings (with little awareness in many cases of what they actually mean), and where competition for students is intense.

A few days back a NYT blog by Frank Bruni made a convincing case for bypassing the usual rankings and ratings in favor of some atypical indicators that may reveal more meaningful realities – among them, the number of international students attending a given college, and the number of students who participate in study abroad: Bruni is an elegant and thoughtful correspondent. Here is a taste, as he frets over his high school junior niece’s college planning process:

…. as surely as my niece swims in numbers, she drowns in advice. But much of it strikes me as shortsighted and incomplete, and I worry that she’ll be coaxed to make her choice in a way that disregards the inimitable opportunity that college presents, the full bounty and splendor of those potentially transformative years. I have the same worry about other secondary-school students who, like her, possess the economic and intellectual good fortune — and the hard-won transcripts — to entertain a wealth of alternatives, because I think we let them get too distracted by rankings, ratings, brands. We don’t point them toward assessments and dynamics that are arguably more meaningful.

My goal in my consulting practice is to help students find that ideal college that routinely provides those “inimitable opportunities” (often a set of colleges, actually), but it’s hard going sometimes. Thanks Mr. Bruni for framing the issues in such elegant prose!

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