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College Rankings: The Exceptional & The Train Wrecks

It's that time of year again. College rankings come out. Of course, the Big Daddy of college rankings is the highly controversial U.S. News edition, which debuts late summer every year. This year, though, there may be a new contender for controversy: the rankings. Why so controversial? Well, how about this statement about one of U.S. News' perennial top liberal arts colleges, Amherst College, in Massachusetts:

One teacher says, “The most impressive part of Amherst is the intellectual caliber of the faculty and student body. The most disappointing things about Amherst are its cultural degeneration (as shown by its 'Orgasm Workshops'), arrogance, elitism, and stifling political correctness." Leftist clubs abound, but if there are any conservative groups on campus, they are meeting in catacombs. Crime is rare. Admissions are need-blind and Amherst meets the need of most students.

That should attract some attention. But as "they" say, there may be no such thing as bad publicity.

One of the first things people in the know want to know about a rankings list is methodology. In other words, what criteria were used to allocate the rankings. College Guide explains its methodology here, including this statement:

"How extensive and serious are the general education (core) requirements of a school? Must students cover American history and the classics of Western literature and thought—or can they avoid them in favor of courses on recent history, popular culture, and multicultural grievances?" (I was always a fan of the latter. :-) ).

Anyway, here are the list and associated data. You can make your own call.

Top Ten Exceptional Schools

  1. Princeton University (Princeton, NJ)
  2. University of Chicago (Chicago, IL)
  3. The University of the South (Sewanee, TN)
  4. The United States Military Academy (West Point, NY)
  5. Pepperdine University (Malibu, CA)
  6. Baylor University (Waco, TX)
  7. Providence College (Providence, RI)
  8. Texas A&M (College Station, TX)
  9. Gordon College (Wenham, MA)
  10. Christendom College (Front Royal, VA)

Top Ten Train Wreck Schools

  1. Wesleyan University (Middletown, CT)
  2. Bard College (Annandale-on-Hudson, NY)
  3. College of the Holy Cross (Worcester, MA)
  4. Amherst College (Amherst, MA)
  5. Barnard College (New York, NY)
  6. University of California at Santa Cruz (Santa Cruz, CA)
  7. Duke University (Durham, NC)
  8. Bryn Mawr College (Bryn Mawr, PA)
  9. Occidental College (Los Angeles, CA)
  10. Macalester College (St. Paul, MN)

Click any link and go to College Guide's rationale for each ranking. You may be surprised to find out some things you didn't know about your favorite school. I know that I did.


Be sure to check out all my admissions-related articles and book reviews at College Confidential.