Sunday, 10 Dec 2023

Opinion | How to Pick the Right College for You

To the Editor:

Re “There’s Only One College Rankings List That Matters,” by Frank Bruni (Opinion guest essay, April 2):

Several years ago we took my grandson on a tour of Duke University as part of his college tours. The woman who greeted us talked about the school and gave us the best advice I have ever heard.

To paraphrase, she said if you apply and get into Duke, congratulations. You will have a fantastic educational experience that will set you up for whatever your career path may be.

If you apply and do not get into Duke and go elsewhere, congratulations. You will have a fantastic experience that will set you up for whatever your career path may be. It’s not about the school; it’s all about you.

Shirley Brizz
Chagrin Falls, Ohio

To the Editor:

It’s not where you get your degree from that matters, but what you major in. That’s particularly so if earnings after graduation are most important.

A degree in gender studies from, say, Harvard, is unlikely to result in higher income than a degree in computer science from, say, the University of Mississippi. It’s time that high school seniors get real.

Walt Gardner
Los Angeles
The writer taught for 28 years in the Los Angeles Unified School District and was a lecturer in the U.C.L.A. Graduate School of Education.

To the Editor:

There are more than 4,000 institutions of higher education in the United States. Contrary to what U.S. News & World Report would have us believe, each of them is a “top-ranked” place for somebody.

But even for those of us who agree that a sea change in how we assign value to schools is long overdue, we should take care to avoid moving to the other extreme. The notions that “college is what you make of it” or “you can be happy anywhere” are also anachronisms. They reflect the outdated mind-set that the student should adapt to the institution, when it should be the other way around.

For three-quarters of higher education students today, because of family obligations, job requirements or other personal responsibilities, the traditional four-year degree path simply will not work. Higher education leaders must recognize this new paradigm and create pathways to degrees and meaningful employment that reflect it.

What we teach our students is important. What our students teach us matters even more.

Anne Khademian
Rockville, Md.
The writer is executive director of the Universities at Shady Grove and associate vice chancellor for academic affairs for the University System of Maryland.

To the Editor:

Frank Bruni does a fine job defining college rankings and the criteria that future students should use to select the appropriate institution. In my 50-plus years in higher education, both as professor and dean, I found that two aspects of the instructional program are particularly important.

Some universities have a large portion of their undergraduate coursework taught by graduate students or adjuncts rather than by the esteemed faculty members who contribute heavily to the university’s reputation.

Furthermore, there are many well-regarded universities that have many of their introductory courses taught in large lectures rather than smaller classes where students play an active role.

These factors are very important to motivate students who enter college uncertain of their major area of interest.

Alfred S. Posamentier
River Vale, N.J.

To the Editor:

My Ivy League college experience developed my mind a great deal, but left my personal passions and my social needs largely starved, deficiencies that are not easily rectified in adult working life.

I’ve reflected on it for over 30 years now, and my observation of many people in many fields is that people succeed most when they are able to develop their full selves: their minds and their spirits, their intellectual, creative and social selves.

Great careers sometimes grow from quirky interests. And success in life is a function of joy, relationships, purpose and self-knowledge, at least as much as intellectual achievement.

Ron Meyers
New York

To the Editor:

Re “Build Your Own College Rankings” (, March 27):

As a high school teacher, I was pleased to see that you had devised a tool that students could use to make more personalized and informed college decisions. Too often I have seen students blindly defer to the criteria chosen by U.S. News & World Report.

That said, your tool could be improved by adding another criterion: intellectual diversity. Has the university adopted (and, more important, adhered to) the Chicago Statement on free speech? Does its faculty include a healthy number of conservatives as well as liberals? Does the administration prevent students from obstructing controversial guest speakers? Do students report that they engage in self-censorship?

Surely, there must still be a few students who consider intellectual diversity as important as the amount of money spent on the football program. They would benefit from the information.

Lawton Hawkins

To the Editor:

Flawed college rankings are fueling inequities in our country: The wealthy continue to flock to expensive colleges while others question whether to attend college at all. This is a dangerous trend.

Education remains the best way to improve social and economic mobility as well as build better understanding between communities. My hope is this new rankings tool The Times unveiled not only allows students to better weigh their options but also breaks the myth that public colleges aren’t good enough for the elite.

I was delighted but not surprised to see most of CUNY’s four-year colleges (Baruch, City College, Hunter, John Jay, Brooklyn College and Queens College) at the top of the lists when you select a combination of academics, affordability, diversity and economic mobility.

Public colleges across the country have been providing a quality education to students of all backgrounds at affordable prices for decades, and students who want degrees without the debt would be wise to consider them.

Félix V. Matos Rodríguez
Pelham, N.Y.
The writer is chancellor of City University of New York.

To the Editor:

Bravo! Would you pick your wife because she ranked No. 1 in U.S. News & World Report?

Nancy Goodman
Larchmont, N.Y.
The writer is executive director of College Money Matters.

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