It's college application season, when those famous lists of college rankings really start to matter. But do they? Sure, the traditional lists can help you choose a strong academic program with national cachet. But what about all those 101 other things that determine whether you really love or hate your college experience?
"Just because a school is highly ranked by U.S. News & World Report doesn't mean it's the right college for you. You might need a place where you'll get more attention or receive a merit scholarship," says Steven Antonoff, who has made a name for himself compiling more than 700 lists that cover every imaginable aspect of campus life, from "the 10 largest college football stadiums" to "colleges for the clothes horse"--in the book "The College Finder" (Wintergreen Orchard House, 2008). The lists cover enrollment statistics, sports, disabilities, financial aid, campus life, dorms, libraries, Greek life, gay life, famous alums, costs, academic programs, and much more. "We found that you can look at top colleges from a lot of different vantage points," Antonoff says.
Take a peek at Antonoff's lists for free at Insidecollege.com, and you'll see what he means. It's a website created last year that is essentially an interactive version of Antonoff's book. On it, you can search a college to see what lists it made, or search for a list and see what schools made the cut. (Careful, it can be addictive.)
"You get an idea of the unique social aspects of a school," says Joe Moore, CEO of Alloy Education, the parent company that created the website and also publishes Antonoff's book. "That has become so critical to kids, and that's something that our website can offer them that they can't get anywhere else because the school websites all sound alike."
How do you measure the immeasurable? By mining databases, visiting campuses, surveying schools, interviewing counselors, and borrowing lists from other organizations. The more subjective lists come from the observations of Antonoff and others across the country, such as counselors and consultants. "East list has a Facts and Stats tab on the site, which tells where it came from," Moore says.
InsideCollege.com is not all subjective. Some lists are purely data-driven, such as faculty-to-student ratios, percentage of male and female students, degrees awarded to Hispanics, etc. Alloy Education owns a data company, which surveys colleges every year and provides the data, Moore says.
Users also have input on the site. They may suggest a new list, a correction, or request their school be added to a list. For example, when we launched we had nothing on marching bands and people immediately suggested it," Moore says. "Now it's there."
"Once you get on the site, it's a larger resource than just those lists," Moore adds.
Some lists from Insidecollege.com featuring Chicago-areas schools:
* "We have search engines for private high schools, both national and international, and even summer camps. There is also a lot of content related to financial aid and scholarships." (One popular list is "45 of the Weirdest College Scholarships.")
* "That's our business - to provide quality stats and fun lists as well," Moore says.
* "Click on the most popular lists of the day and see. It's a lot of fun."
* Hidden Gems of Illinois: Elmhurst College
* I Want to Be a Doctor But Wait, I Forgot to Take Science!: Loyola University (master of arts in medical sciences one-year program); Northwestern University (premedical professional health careers program); Dominican University (post-baccalaureate premedical program)
* Colleges With Strength in Figure Skating: Robert Morris University, Northwestern University
* Campuses Where Movies Were Filmed: Lake Forest College "Ordinary People" (1980); Northwestern University "Road to Perdition" (2002); University of Chicago "Proof" (2005); "When Harry Met Sally" (1989); University of Illinois at Chicago "Stranger Than Fiction" (2006)
* Schools for Those Interested in Computer and Video Game Development: Columbia College Chicago, DePaul University, Illinois Institute of Art (Chicago and Schaumburg), Northwestern University
* Fine Business Programs at Small/Medium Size Colleges: Benedictine University, Illinois Institute of Technology, Lake Forest College, Loyola University, North Central College, Roosevelt University, Wheaton College
* Colleges that Build Moral Character: Columbia College Chicago, DePaul University, Northeastern Illinois University, Northwestern University, St. Xavier University