Students: Choose by 'Fit,' Not Rank

Students are most likely to succeed if they engage in the undergraduate experience.

Students Choose By Fit thumbIt’s not always a good idea for students to choose a university because of its high position in the media rankings. In fact, they’re probably better off choosing a school that seems like a good “fit,” according to a white paper written by scholars at the Stanford Graduate School of Education (GSE) in California and released in October by Challenge Success, an initiative affiliated with the school. The researchers reviewed dozens of studies on U.S. undergraduate education to determine what college rankings say about student success and what determines the right fit.

“Research tells us that the most successful students, both in college and beyond, are the ones who engage in the undergraduate experience regardless of how selective a school may be,” says the paper’s co-author Denise Pope in an article on the school’s website. Pope is a senior lecturer at the GSE and co-founder of Challenge Success, which seeks to redefine success in student learning and achievement. “This is almost always the case whether a student attends the top-ranked or 200th-ranked college.”

While data indicate that students who attend elite schools often enjoy financial benefits, the biggest disparities in earnings show up in graduates from the same school. At the same time, some students attend college not to make more money, but to improve their well-being or attain more rewarding careers. Research shows that for those students, the colleges they attend matter less than how much they engage in the undergraduate experience.

The report concludes by encouraging students to discount the rankings and instead look for programs that fit their needs in academics, financial aid, location, or extracurricular opportunities.

Download “A ‘Fit’ Over Rankings."