What College Rankings Miss: The Teachers Who Hand You a Key

by Bob Schwartz

The 2018 U.S. News and World Report Best Colleges rankings are out, just one of many annual higher education lists that have flourished like flowers—or weeds.

Knowing where a college program ranks can be merely interesting or practically important, depending on why you’re looking.

If you’re a student you want to know where to get the best education. And if you’re looking to get a job or improve the one you have, where you got your degree can be important to prospective employers who may read these rankings too.

Regarding professional programs, I admit to a superficial interest in these rankings when I choose a professional, particularly in medicine, and particularly in specialties. But I also admit that the best general practitioner I’ve ever known came from a reputable but not top-tier medical school. Which is maybe what made him so great, because his education and years of practice never made him full of himself. It just made him full of good medicine and full of his patients, one by one, one to one.

As for law, every lawyer will admit, even if he or she went to one of “those” law schools, that there is far from a consistent correlation between attending one of “those” schools and being a good or great lawyer (or a good or great person). Which is not to say that every law school can do the job well, or at all. But the best lawyers, like the best doctors, don’t have to come from the top of these rankings.

Business may be the best case of this. Check out the educational background of the most successful CEOs and entrepreneurs. Sure there are your Harvard MBAs and the like among them. But there are also all kinds of undergraduate degrees from all kinds of colleges, not all of those even in business. (Some college dropouts too.)

More than ever, where resumes and CVs are first vetted by overburdened reviewers and even by machine “intelligence”, the right school apparently equals the right stuff—hiring-wise if not life-wise.

Experience says otherwise. Looking back on education, not just college or law school, but even back to high school and further, it was the teachers. And not just all of them, but the singular ones (the rare ones) who generously gave me a key. The possibilities are so many, as are the obstructions—educational, professional, personal—that the teachers who really and deeply help are the ones who make the difference. No matter what the school.

If you’re looking for that in the rankings, you may be looking in the wrong place.

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