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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Ranking Rankings

Published: February 14, 2013
Section: Opinions

People like to look at college rankings. Whether out of competitive spirit or inquisitive nature, the U.S. News’ top 100 rankings of national universities and liberal arts colleges is widely followed by students and administrators alike. U.S. News ranks Brandeis at 33 out of all national universities with a 40 percent acceptance rate. This placement is lower than previous years, and behind nearby Boston College. While the accuracy of these rankings is hotly contested, I do not feel that the experience at Brandeis can be captured in the ranking system. I believe that Brandeis should continue to focus on serving the student rather than cater to a ranking system or to increased selectivity.

Love them or hate them, the rankings are around to stay, and many schools attempt to increase their ranking scores in an effort to pull in more prospective students. In previous years, several colleges have been accused of manipulating rankings by fabricating SAT scores.

It’s crazy how much importance people assign their own rankings, but then again, it’s unlikely these standards would exist if parents and high schoolers didn’t pay such close attention to them. While many downplay the importance of rankings, all are equally responsible for their significance in the selection process.

It’s no surprise that Brandeis is a selective university with a strong academic reputation that places it in the top 50 national universities. Students pride themselves on the academic standards upheld at this university. But can we do better? The question is, in a school that strives for social justice and diversity, should we aim to be even more selective and achieve a better ranking?

Having gone through the application process and looked at rankings myself, I don’t see them representative of what a school is really like. Cliché, I know, but true; what you put in once you arrive is what you will get out of any top school.

Students strive to get into schools with the most elite reputations, yes, but I really feel that the whole ranking system should be taken with a grain of salt. Many college-hunting high school students come into the hunt looking to see where schools stack up, but this does not necessarily give the best view of what the school is like.

Schools ranked just one and two places ahead of Brandeis on the U.S. News scale accept much closer to 30 percent of students. Emory University, which caps off the top 20 schools, accepts just around 26 percent of applicants. So clearly the correlation between exclusivity and ranking is weak at best.

The ranking is not what gives Brandeis its unique and tight knit community feeling. This, more than anything, is what fosters student involvement and learning within the student body. We will have the small class sizes, good class discussions and top professors we are known for, whether we are 33rd on the rankings or 25th. To me, rankings don’t seem to make much of a difference.

If Brandeis only focused on rankings and accepted students only to enhance rankings, then the student body would be specifically chosen to match the formula U.S. News uses in its rankings. Selecting applicants based on a super limited set of SAT scores will not make a college classroom experience all that it is.

We learn much from the diversity of Brandeis and gain worldly experience. We have a wide variety of students from all over the world with different backgrounds. While we have taken larger first-year classes during the years, this has allowed us to bring in a wider variety of students.

Brandeis is by no means uncompetitive today. All of us are familiar with the hard work it took to be accepted (and perhaps even a bit of luck). While 40 percent may not seem impressive initially, think of the approximately 60 percent of applicants who were declined. You have to be a top student and show admissions officers you would succeed and contribute on campus. So by keeping the rate at 40 percent, rather than limiting the rate to the confines of smaller percentages, we are still taking in top students. I think this is something Brandeis students are aware of as they see the intelligence level of peers and professors.

The idea of the importance of social justice and diversity that remains at Brandeis’ core are what really impressed me about the university. I think the more focus one places on selectivity, the more one loses sight of these values. The key in maintaining the balance, where our admissions officers seem to excel, is looking at the overall student not just the test scores. Just as students can’t judge Brandeis based on a number, we can’t entirely judge high school students on their stats. After all, I love the Brandeis experience and would not consider transferring to a different school merely for the sake of rankings, and I think the majority of students on campus would agree.