Forget College Rankings: Seek a College that Will Engage Your Unique Attributes - Kingswood Oxford

Big Thinkers Blog

March 28, 2019

Forget College Rankings: Seek a College that Will Engage Your Unique Attributes

Jami Silver, Director of College Advising


In 2014, the Gallup-Purdue Index Report asked over 1,000 graduates of a wide range of colleges whether they were thriving in five dimensions of their lives – purpose, social, financial, community and physical. To the surprise of many educators, the survey revealed no correlation between the quality of life experienced in each category and the selectivity of the colleges the graduates had attended.


Instead, the study revealed that the greatest predictor of overall success was the level of the student’s engagement in the academic and extracurricular life of the college and in inspiring relationships with professors and mentors.  


These findings were recently summarized and validated in a white paper published by the Stanford University Graduate School of Education. This report, titled “A ‘Fit’ over Rankings: Why College Engagement Matters More Than Selectivity,” concluded, “Students who benefit the most from college are those who are most engaged in their academics and campus communities, taking advantage of the opportunities and resources their particular institution provides.”     


Such deep engagement occurs, the study states, when a student:


  • takes courses with professors who make learning exciting and who care about the student personally
  • finds a trusted mentor who encourages the student to pursue personal goals
  • works on a project across several semesters
  • completes an internship that applies classroom learning
  • participates in meaningful extracurricular activities

The revelation that engagement lies at the heart of the college experience has significant implications for students approaching the college admission process. For them, the question is no longer “How can I gain admittance to the most selective college?” but instead “How can I identify a college that will provide opportunities best suited to my unique passions, preferences, and goals?”

With this priority in mind, here are two productive approaches for students and their families:


Know Thyself

Rather than assembling lists of colleges, students should instead gather insight into themselves by asking:– Who am I and what do I like to do?– In what types of environments do I thrive?– What have been the best experiences I’ve ever had?– Why did I enjoy these experiences so much?– What does success in life look like to me?


This self-reflection shifts the focus from the college to the student and empowers students to take control of their own college admission process, transforming it into a journey of self-fulfillment and self-exploration.


Extracurricular and summer activities offer especially rich opportunities for such self-discovery. Students can ask themselves:– Why do I like this – or not like it?– Is this something I could see myself doing as a career?– What did I learn about myself by doing this?


Personal Qualities Matter

Aware of the importance of engagement, colleges are seeking students who are passionate about learning and who will immerse themselves fully in campus life. Is the student, for instance, curious, creative, courageous, or fervent about social justice, or mountain climbing, or model trains? These potentials are most evident in the recommendations written by teachers, advisors, and coaches, as well as in students’ personal essays – subjective measures that reveal who a student truly is.
Because engagement in college is such an important key to a happy, successful life, students should initiate the admission process by pursuing a variety of strategies to explore themselves as evolving young adults and then seek colleges that will fully engage their unique interests, talents, and attributes.    

Main News