Aug 21, 2012

The Best of the Princeton Review

Sweet Briar College
This week, the granddaddy of college surveys hits newsstands across the country.  For 21 consecutive years, the Princeton Review has asked undergraduates to evaluate their college experiences and provide opinions on everything from campus grounds to career services.

And while Princeton Review gently tries to steer interest toward the Green Honor Roll and earnestly lauds the winners in “Fire Safety” or “Best Financial Aid,” most press inevitably flows toward schools with “Lots of Hard Liquor” or “Reefer Madness” because that’s what sells books.

And pity the school described as “purgatory” or the college where professors are considered inaccessible. While high school students might gravitate toward the party school list, parents understandably take a dim view of winners in many high profile categories.

Yet despite a bias toward the sensational, the Princeton Review guide offers interesting insights into campus culture and programming.  And while rankings within individual categories may be of little relative value, few would disagree with the entries on lists broadly describing undergrads as conservative or religious or supportive of intercollegiate sports.

“Each of our 377 best colleges offers outstanding academics,” said Robert Franek, the book’s author and Princeton Review senior VP/Publisher. “Our goal is not to crown one college ‘best’ overall, but to help applicants find and get in to the college best for them.”

But unfortunately, the urban legend spin-offs from these competitions tend to have a long half-life, and reputations aren’t easily rehabilitated.

Mention West Virginia University in this area and you’re guaranteed to get a response more in line with its party reputation than its standing among the few colleges offering the petroleum engineering major. And once again, WVU has taken up its position as Princeton Review's champion party school for 2013.

The moral of the story is that for some colleges, publicity—any publicity—is welcome. For others, these rankings produce an ongoing headache as administrators try to explain the unscientific nature of the study or to laugh away a survey presumably conducted in the spirit of good fun.

Among the more positive local outcomes, American University took first place in the “Most Politically Active” category, followed by Georgetown (2), George Washington (3), and the University of Maryland (10).  The University of Maryland (4), Loyola University Maryland (7), and the University ofRichmond were lauded for having the “Best Athletic Facilities,” while St. John’s College, Sweet Briar, and Richmond received high marks for classroom experience, good teaching, and accessible professors.

Once again, best campus food may be found at James Madison University and Virginia Tech, which was also acknowledged in the “Best Career Services” category along with Richmond (4) and American (10).

DC stood tall among “Great College Towns” with Georgetown (1), George Washington (3), American (7) earning spots among the top 20.  UVa was singled out for having a nice library and came in second only to Princeton for providing great financial aid.

Dorms are like palaces at Loyola of Maryland (3), Christopher Newport (11), George Washington (13), and Sweet Briar (19). And “Students Pack the Stadium” at Virginia Tech (18) and the University of Maryland (13).

Howard University still has a great radio station, and the University of Maryland gets high marks for its newspaper.

And in a category new this year, Virginia Tech scored high in overall student satisfaction—only Claremont McKenna and Rice received more love.

To view the complete list of rankings, you might have to open an account and risk an email box flooded with college spam. Or you can buy The Best 377 Colleges—2013 Edition from Princeton Review.

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