Now that Williams’s #1 ranking by US News is official, and Forbes has concurred by putting Williams above all other liberal arts schools, I think a few caveats about these rankings are in order.

As has already been said, Forbes’s methodology is problematic in several ways. First, the weights of each of the components are rather arbitrary: it’s hard to say if debt levels are exactly 4 times as important as faculty awards, or how the other factors should relate. Second, some of the data sources are probably flawed: it’s probable that inclusion in Who’s who is based on variables beyond college quality, and that Payscale.com aren’t completely accurate. Third, as Dartmouth pointed out last year, data from sites like Rate my Professors is skewed because of the use of other sites like WSO’s Faktrak, and the idea that using these sites won’t encourage high ratings from students in order to boost their institution’s ranking.

US News’s data is also problematic in many ways, among them the idea that reported acceptance rates are accurate. Last year, in Morty and Will Dudley’s class on the Economics and Philosophy of Higher Education, I learned about a few tricks used by colleges, such as treating people who had half-applied as applicants, or waitlisting students who would have been accepted, then calling them up and offering admission solely to those planning to come. SAT scores are another kettle of fish, but you get my point.

Most important, though, is the false idea that Student X will have the best possible education at College #1, the second best at #2, and so on. While I am glad to have chosen Williams, my pleasure is affected strongly by qualitative factors such as the mountains, the relative isolation, and the small size. I knew I wanted those factors before I heard about Williams, but they are strong negatives for other Ephs.

Countless frosh arrive at Williams only to discover that they have trouble adjusting to our location, that they miss the city, and that Williams’s quality is irrelevant to its incompatibility. Some of my friends actively considered withdrawing for those exact reasons, going so far as to visit other schools. They’ve all decided to stay, but I don’t think attending a #1 ranked school is worth years of misery when happiness can be found somewhere else that’s almost as good. Put another ways, I’d much prefer to have a happy, mountains-loving classmate with a 1450 SAT than a unhappy, city-loving classmate with a 1550.

Do you agree?

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