How to Help Your Child Choose a College, Part 1
Do ranking systems have any value?
In part because I’ve had so much fun starting this Substack newsletter, I haven’t made a lot of progress on the next book I want to write: a college guide for Christian families. So to help me make some forward progress on that project, I thought I’d dedicate a few newsletter issues to asking one of the most crucial questions we’ll try to answer in the book: how do you pick a college?
Or, to be more precise, how can the slightly older people who read The Pietist Schoolman help the teenagers in their lives to pick a college?1
The biggest challenge here is the sheer number and variety of options available. Even if your teen narrows down her choices by a factor like geography (I want to stay close to home, or I want to leave my small town to go to a big metro area), she’ll still find herself astonished by the array of options available. Within a single mile in downtown Minneapolis, for example, you can walk from tiny North Central University (a Pentecostal school with fewer than a thousand undergraduates) to Augsburg University (a slightly larger but much more liberal Lutheran institution), but if you turn north at any point, you’ll find yourself on the largest campus of the University of Minnesota, which enrolls tens of thousands of undergrad and grad students in about 150 different fields of study.
At the same time, it’s amazing how much similarity there is within the variety. The mere fact that we now tend to use the words college and university interchangeably — or how many of the former now, like Augsburg and North Central, call themselves the latter — suggests how much distinct institutions have come to imitate each other over time.
All of which is why it’s so tempting to use a ranking system. I mean, I use Consumer Reports when I buy cars and appliances. Why not use, say, U.S. News when choosing a college?
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