Aug 2, 2011

The 'Best' of the Princeton Review

In a precisely worded press release, the Princeton Review debuted results today of surveys conducted among 122,000 students attending 376 schools (up 3 from last year) designated the “best” colleges in America.

By early morning, the Princeton Review website became nearly impossible to navigate as thousands of interested parties raced to learn which schools earned distinctions in 62 published categories.

And this is big news. While Princeton Review gently tries to steer interest toward the 703 “Green Rated” schools 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.” And that’s what sells books.

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

“Each of our 376 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.”

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 a petroleum engineering major.

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, George Washington University took first place in the “Most Politically Active” category and the University of Maryland earned a second place for “Best Athletic Facilities.”

Best campus food may be found at Virginia Tech, James Madison University, and the University of Richmond, which was also acknowledged in the “Most Beautiful Campus” category.

DC stood tall among “Great College Towns” with George Washington, American, and Georgetown earning spots among the top 20. The most politically active campuses also included American, GW, and Georgetown, as well as George Mason.

Dorms are like palaces at Loyola of Maryland and George Washington. And “Students Pack the Stadium” at Virginia Tech and the University of Maryland.

The University of Virginia joined a number of Ivy League schools with “great financial aid.” And professors got high marks at the College of William & Mary, while Virginia Tech was listed among the schools that "Run Like Butter."

To view the complete list of rankings you might have to open an account and risk having an email box flooded with college spam. Or you can buy The Best 376 Colleges—2012 Edition from Princeton Review.

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