In search of the perfect college


I can’t explain precisely how I determined which college I would attend. The process was more art than science.

I graduated from Longwood High School, in Suffolk County, in 1985, two years after U.S. News & World Report began publishing its annual “America’s Best Colleges” report –– the first such national ranking of our institutions of higher education. I didn’t even know the guidebook existed when I was a senior in search of a school. I did my own research, and by research, I mean I talked to people –– my parents, teachers, friends.

I applied to three schools, all of which accepted me. I like to think I turned out OK, even without U.S. News’s guidance.

Today, it seems, applying to college is more science than art. There’s now a dizzying array of college rankings to aid students in picking the perfect school, with Money magazine jumping into the fray last week with a set of rankings based largely on ROI — return on investment. Money compared the cost of attending a college with students’ average earnings in their first five years after graduation. Schools with lower costs and greater post-graduation income potential ranked higher on the list. It wasn’t surprising that Babson College –– a small business school in a Boston suburb –– came out on top. Sorry, Harvard.

A chorus of critics bemoaned Money’s new ranking system. College is supposed to be about expanding your mind, not your bottom line, they groused.

I offer an alternative view, one that, as a parent of two (one in high school, one in middle school), I’ve been thinking deeply about lately. Ditch the prefabricated lists compiled by magazine editors and build your own, based on your own research.

Should I stay or should I go? That’s the very first question you should ask, to borrow a line from the Clash. Neither my friends nor I considered attending a Long Island school, even though the Island boasts a plethora of great universities. Going away was just what you did.

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