Forbes’ Top Colleges of 2016: What Makes a Top College?

National
Posted By Marisa Sanfilippo on October 25, 2016 at 9:02 am
Forbes’ Top Colleges of 2016: What Makes a Top College?

What makes a top college? It depends on who asks and what they deem important. In the case of Forbes, which recently released its list, the focus is a student’s return on investment. With that mind, it anoints Stanford University as the best.

Of course, top college lists abound, and the order differs – though Stanford typically does well on all of them – because of the different ranking criteria. Forbes did it this way:

  • Post-graduate success (32.5%)
  • Student debt (25%)
  • Student satisfaction (25%)
  • Graduation rate (7.5%)
  • Academic success (10%)

What makes them successful

Understanding the methodology behind a particular list is enlightening, but it doesn’t always tell the full story.

John Frank, founder and CEO of Admissionado, points out that schools traditionally considered the best schools have a built-in advantage. “They will attract the top talent. And that means they will then have dibs on the top talent, and therefore can be as selective as they want in assembling classes rich with talent, diversity, intelligence, future potential, etc.”

When schools have that great reputation, the top-flight students who attend them generally perform better in several of the Forbes metrics such as post-graduate success.

In part, the post-graduate success rate can be closely linked to the power of the school’s alumni network and its name recognition. The reputation that allows the schools to build an elite student population practically ensures continued academic and financial success. Potential employers see the university they attended and instantly link the applicant with the prestige afforded the university as a whole.

This further perpetuates the continued success of the university, and while that counts when it comes to student success, it might not be a true reflection of what the student actually learns at the institution.

World rankings and top college lists

When compared to universities around the world, none of the top colleges in the United States were selected as the absolute best. While this is troubling to some, it should be viewed as an opportunity to look at what else is highly valued in the field of education.

It can give students and parents a better insight into different academic options and ideas about additional components they may want to consider when choosing a school. The statistics forming the world ranking can be further broken down by type of degree. This gives students interested in a specific field a better overview of those colleges that are focused in their area of academic interest.

Students should make own criteria

What if the things that are most meaningful to a student are not what is being analyzed in the criteria selected for a specific ranking system? That is when it is time for individuals to conduct research on the aspects that are most important to them.

According to Vinay Bhaskara, a co-founder of CollegeVine, “The rankings are a useful shorthand for contextualizing the different school options out there, but they don’t present the complete picture by any means.” There are several ways to begin researching universities that will fit well within an individual’s preferences.

The first place to start is the College Scorecard, which looks at an immense data set to determine the areas specific universities excel at and those that they could improve. Other things will be more subjective and based entirely on personal preference.

Once one has looked at the statistics and hard data, it is important to take the time to consider factors of personal importance that are not included in statistical compilations, such as:

  • Geographic location – Near internship or work opportunities?
  • Academic environment – Complimentary to student learning style?
  • Professors – Interaction with students? Mentoring structure?
  • Student body – Beneficial clubs, organizations, student groups?

These are all important factors to consider before choosing a school. The factors that will directly impact one’s personal experience provide critical information that should be considered during the application and selection process.

Discovering what makes a top college is not as clearly defined as the list makers would have people believe. Even an objective analysis of available data becomes subjective because the data is chosen based on the preferences of the list maker.

While these types of lists are excellent starting points, they are not the most important ones. Students should take the time to map the future they want and use that future as a starting point for the type of educational experience they need to achieve their goals. That is how to begin making a personal list of top colleges.

Marisa Sanfilippo
Marisa is an award-winning marketing professional who loves to write. During the day, she wears her marketing hat in her marketing director role and at night she works as a freelance writer, ghost writing for clients and contributing to publications such as Huffington Post and Social Media Today.

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