There are so many outlets from which to gather information about going to college—websites, magazines, books, high school counselors, and even paid advisors—but how can you know who’s giving you the best information?
Some magazines may rank colleges while also running advertisements from those same schools. Does that mean the ranking is slanted? Not necessarily; it is common for publications to write about a business while also accepting advertising from it. In fact, there are common rules of practice meant to keep the two sides of the journalism business separate.
That isn’t to say that bias never happens, so it’s important to approach college rankings with caution. The key to cracking the code of any publication’s ranking system is to read all the information provided, not just a number on a list. Each publication will probably reveal some its methods in compiling the rankings, but in reality, it can be easy to pick out decision factors that are not so objective. If you look carefully, you might be able to see some patterns in their choices; they might favor big schools over small ones, small towns over cities, or Ivy League schools over newer ones.
Of course, a little slant doesn’t mean that rankings aren’t valuable. Any viewpoint or perspective you find about a college can help you piece together your own opinion. Just remember: though these rankings are often based on statistics, the formulas are written by human beings, which means they’re neither perfect nor absolute.
Websites are different from print publications in that they often include crowdsourcing, which can provide up-to-the-minute information about a school directly from current students. Look for online reviews, starred rankings, and even comment threads to give you that valuable insider perspective. Of course, any time a site allows reviews and comments, you can naturally expect there to be spam, trolls, and all the hijinks that come with an open door to the general public. You might even find yourself reading paid reviews that are written to be overly positive or super negative prank reviews written by students at rival schools. Even so, it’s a good idea to weed through the spam and look around for those “average Joe or Jane” points of view.
High school guidance counselors and paid college advisors—if you can afford them—provide invaluable assistance to help you navigate the maze of college applications, and it can be so helpful to have a professional voice of authority cut through the noise of so many other opinions. One of the best things about working with someone face-to-face is that you get to have a productive dialogue. They can give personally catered recommendations and guidance, and you can ask follow-up questions. Just keep in mind that relying on any one person’s opinion on which college to choose is probably not sufficient.
The key to avoiding bias in your college research is to gather as much information as possible from as many sources as you can find. Never let any one source of information make your decision for you; instead, consider multiple perspectives to help construct your conclusion. And finally, choose schools based on the factors that matter most to you. Choosing a college is very personal and highly individual. No matter how many sources you read, the opinion that ultimately matters most is your own.