Many graduating high school students apply to colleges and universities. Many turn to rankings to find out what college or university would be best to apply to, given whatever interests the graduating high school students may have. US News and World Report’s Best Colleges list, for instance, relies on ranking factors that are based on statistics and data surveyed from many schools. US News even offers subscribers to make their own rankings based on the data.
Students would tend to apply to the schools they see on the top of the rankings. They then would visit the schools to check out the facilities and assess the costs. Some colleges would hold orientations for applicants to promote their schools as an attractive place to study.
Applicants also ask people they know who had graduated from colleges and universities. What do they think about the alma maters they graduated from; would they recommend the schools? Applicants would sometimes put a lot of weight on the word-of-mouth testimonies of people they know than with the rankings of schools, never mind how thorough the statistical computations that led to the rankings.
It can be kind of ironic that applicants would decide based on word-of-mouth testimonies than the statistics of surveys and rankings. Colleges and universities, being institutions of higher education, are where we supposedly would find the best methodologies for research and instruction. Decisions based on word-of-mouth would seem to go against the rationale of scientific studies which underlie much of what college students learn especially if they are enrolling in majors that require a lot of math.
Word-of-mouth is indeed subjective but it becomes the deciding factor because, for whatever their worth, rankings don’t satisfy all applicants’ expectations.
When it comes down to appraising how good a college education is, it is the student who decides. It is the student who evaluates based on criteria the student defines and sets. Rankings can’t cover all the criteria of all students. Students have varying expectations which no survey can fully satisfy.
The same applies for the everyday decisions we make. We as individuals have our own sets of criteria and expectations. Statistical surveys such as polls, lists, and market research may be available and comprehensive but they can never sway everybody towards whom to vote for, what to say is best in style, and what products to buy. We don’t rely solely on data and ratings; we also consider the opinions of other people, especially from those we trust.
People more than ever rely on what others say, especially as social media technologies dominate inter-personal communications in just about everywhere. Opinions and unsolicited advice abound, together with accusations of fake news and prejudicial news reporting. We live in a world where we have so much data such that we don’t know what’s accurate or not, or what’s right or wrong. Everything can be questioned and we are left on our own to decide what to accept. (Sometimes, we are even forced to accept information from the pressures of so-called authorities).
Education is not only about learning how the world works but it’s also about training ourselves how to adapt to it, if not change it. We need education to learn how to assess what information to accept, analyse, and draw conclusions from. We educate ourselves to form our own values, principles, and expectations. We educate ourselves in learning to experiment and formulate our own pathways in line with society’s standards while at the same time, introducing changes which we feel would benefit ourselves and others.
Rankings and the science behind them help us in the decisions we make, such as for what colleges to apply to. But there’s a lot more in the form of word-of-mouth and testimonies that also matter, never mind how subjective they may be. To make sense of science, word-of-mouth, and the avalanche of social media information, we need to be educated in not only knowing how things work but also in building our own expectations and criteria.