So that is kind of like the Hamlet’s “To be or not to be?” But it does not have to be the question in terms of what Hamlet was contemplating – to live or die. Yet, there are times when it feels, based on conversations I have had with students and their parents that when it comes to school lists – boarding or college, To rank is to “Be,” to not rank is to “Die.” Over the last couple of years, writing for this Blog it should be apparent that, from my perspective ranking in no way represents the quality or education found at a school, in a classroom and the impact a particular professor may have on an individual student. That last sentence, if taken apart should lead the reader to understand or at least think about all the variations that go into education but it only touches on the surface.

First of all, why this article, now about ranking and college lists. First off, if you’re the parent of a Senior or looking at boarding schools or the student in this mix, it is time to get your list in order if not already. And your list MUST have a good order to it – Reach, Core and Foundation. And hopefully you have done more than enough research to be able to understand how you fit those schools. Just an aside, if you are looking at ranking, most probably you are not placing the correct emphasis on ranking in your school search i.e. too much rather than looking at other factors.

I raise this point for a couple of reasons. I recently had to rank some schools for a group of students. First I was asked how the students fared in The Times ranking. Knowing that The Times is particularly British, I also added in U.S. News ranking thinking that the Brits, love them dearly, would be looking at different criteria that Americans. It was interesting to see the differences – some narrow, some vast. Then the query came, “How about QS Rankings?” Wow, a completely different set of numbers came up. But since QS breaks down to World, Region and Country it was very difficult to ascertain what was being asked. My point is this – what are you talking about when the word ranking is used? There are so many different ways of slicing the pie that it is really much easier to look at what a school actually does.

Interestingly and the other reason for this post is the recent article in The New York Times – Why College Rankings Are a Joke by Frank Bruni. Read the article and see what conclusions you come to afterward. By the way, Mr. Bruni wrote a fantastic book Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be. Highly recommend it, if it is not too late. But the point comes back to a number of things a student needs to consider in the creation of a list.

Often perplexed when students say certain things are important in their education and their lives and yet through them all away for the sake of name brand. I recently had an email from a student of mine who now attends a prestigious business school. When he was applying, he was all about international relations and business. So we talked about interesting schools like NYU Abu Dhabi, Yale/NUS as possible schools. But somehow he got on this track of wanting to be an entrepreneur. He is finding at his current school most students are interested in working in banking or finance, very few share his interest. So, his email was about transferring. Makes sense but he seems to feel that Stanford/Silicon Valley is where he wants to go. I remember a previous conversation where the sole reason he was thinking about this was because there were more entrepreneurs in SV than anywhere else. So I pointed out that SV is now ranked #8 for entrepreneurial endeavors. Sometimes, ranking does have its fine points. I am not sure what my boy is going to do, but I told him to sit tight and get the most out of his education where he is now.

What I am trying to say is this. Ranking should not be the sole reason for a school to be on your list. Using ranking should be a tool, like a screwdriver when building a car engine. Read the manual first i.e. research the schools understand what, why, and how they teach and think if that is what you want. Know that most likely you will change your major – most students change majors 5/6 times before they graduate and many do not pursue careers in their specific majors. Allow for change, growth and new challenges for after all that is what education should be about.

So while Hamlet contemplated living or dying, choose a school is not to that magnitude. Where you go is an important decision but perhaps not to the degree that you may think.