There are so many ways to gather information about going to college—websites, magazines, books, high school counselors, and even paid advisors. The question is, how can you know who is giving you the best information?
A magazine 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 and accept advertising from it also. In fact, there are rules that are supposed to keep the two sides of the journalism business separate. Not that bias never happens, though.
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. The publication will probably reveal some its methods in compiling the rankings, but, really, the proof is in the pudding. If you look carefully, you should 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. When you start looking at colleges you need to know all kinds of things, so every new piece of information is valuable. 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 because 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, there could be spam and trolls and all the hijinks that come from opening the door to the general public. You might even find yourself reading overly positive paid reviews or supernegative prank reviews from students at rival schools. Even so, it’s a good idea to 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 in navigating the maze of applying for college. And it can be so helpful to have a voice of authority to cut through the noise of so many other opinions. Just keep in mind that relying on any one person’s opinion on which college to choose is probably not sufficient. Be sure to do plenty of your own research. The upside of dealing with someone face to face, however, is that you get to have a dialogue. They can give you a recommendation, and you can ask follow up questions—which you definitely should do!
The key to avoiding bias when you’re relying on other people’s opinions 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. Finally, choose based on the factors that matter most to you. College choice is very personal and individual. The opinion that matters most is yours.