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Ryan DeVito

The college ranking system fails to take into account the intangibles of a university. Photo from Ryan DeVito

By Ryan DeVito

A certain manufactured meritocracy exists in the United States. Success has become indelibly connected to elite college education in the minds of parents and students. Consequently, a student’s potential is dictated by his or her triumphs in the college arena. The logic goes like this: the higher an institution is ranked by U.S. News & World Report, the better a student is and the better their life will be.

College ranking systems are psychological demons. Thousands of data points tell a story that, year after year, paints a skewed picture of higher education. These ranking systems use algorithms to transform a host of statistics about one school into a single score. Students often use this score to make college decisions.

The existing ranking systems are silly, though. They attempt to compare completely disparate institutions on one inflexible scale. As a result, The Ohio State University can be compared to Pepperdine University. The former is an enormous public university in the middle of a large city; the latter is a small private Christian college perched above the Pacific Ocean, surrounded by mountains. Essentially opposites, U.S. News & World Report tells us that these schools are the same.

Ohio State and Pepperdine scored the same in the rankings algorithm. But these institutions are impossible to compare. Ohio State dominates downtown Columbus with nearly 60,000 students and another 20,000 staff members — all spread across dozens of various colleges, schools and departments. How could you possibly reduce the complexity that is The Ohio State University down to one solitary number?

College ranking systems fail to take into account the intangibles that make a college great. Academic reputation — among leadership at peer institutions — and faculty resources are the two variables given the greatest weight in the U.S. News ranking algorithm. The weight on these variables creates an obvious skew toward the well-endowed private universities that consistently grace the top of the rankings list. Rankings drive reputation and funding, and so a glass ceiling forms that keeps lower-ranked schools from every establishing their brands. But these variables tell us nothing about the ability of the institution and its faculty to inform and inspire students.

It’s the intangibles that enable success in students — regardless of whether they attend a top-ranked institution or not.

Students who are engaged and encouraged in their learning are better off. So the ability of professors to get their students excited about learning is much more important than how much research funding they have. The extent to which professors care about their students as people and are willing to act as mentors has a major bearing on the student’s potential for engagement. These are the intangibles that college rankings system could never take into account.

Of course, top-ranked institutions can offer these intangibles. My point, though, is that you can be engaged and encouraged anywhere. There are obvious flaws in the college ranking systems that we all too often rely on when making college decisions. A great college experience is not limited to the top of any ranking’s list. Success after college is not dictated by the ranking of the college you attend.

Rather than depending on any murky ranking system, search for the college that has the greatest potential to inform, inspire and challenge you personally. Your success after college depends most on your ability to find that engaging environment. Four years of engaged learning are more valuable than any ranking on its own. And it’s the engaged student, not necessarily the elite student, who has the potential to achieve the greatest success after graduation.

Ryan DeVito is a Miller Place native who started a college advising company, ScholarScope, to help Long Island students. Learn more at www.ScholarScope.org.

Where you choose to learn and intern can have a significant effect on your success. Photo from Ryan DeVito

Ryan DeVito

The adage “location, location, location” should be applied beyond the real estate market. Where you choose to learn and intern can have a significant effect on your success. Like it or not, urban environments trump sleepy suburbia every time.

I’m not a sociologist, but it’s hard not to notice certain trends in my peer groups. Those who attended college in urban areas seem to have found post-graduate employment more easily. Their networks tend to be large and diverse, too. On the other hand, those who ventured out into the hinterlands for college seem to have had decidedly less luck when it came to immediate post-graduate employment.

What’s the difference-maker for urban students? It boils down to a few key elements.

First, urban environments multiply the network effect. Students attending urban colleges have more opportunity to network with diverse audiences who, in turn, refer those students to their own networks. This is a big deal when it comes to landing an internship or job. Having someone recognize your name —  or, better yet, offer a personal recommendation — goes a long way in the hiring process.

Second, so-called hybrid professors are more likely to reside and teach in urban areas. These are the professors who have vast experience outside of academia. They are the movers and shakers who, for one reason or another, choose to impart their wisdom on a new generation of students.

Third, colleges and companies are connected to their cities. Urban colleges often encourage their students to engage with their city community, whether it be through service or some other outlet. Companies that are invested in the socioeconomic development of their community tend to prefer to hire those who are already a part of that community. Therefore, someone studying at New York University is likely going to have a much easier time landing a position in New York than would someone studying at Indiana University, a cultural world away.

There’s a reason why New York University spent enormous amounts of money to build housing for students in the village. Prior to the late 1980s, NYU had a reputation as a commuter school in the shadow of Columbia University and Fordham University. Giving students the opportunity to live in the city and become a part of its social fabric quickly changed the university’s reputation in the region.

Now, there are always those rising stars who are able to transcend geographic factors. Going to college in the middle of nowhere isn’t a success-killer. Far from it. Some of the most renowned colleges in the world, including Cornell University and Dartmouth College, feature isolated locations.

Location matters. As you plot you future, consider how an urban environment could help you take your education and career to the next level. Urban environments are professional accelerators. Still, it’s up to you to make the most of that grand opportunity.

Ryan DeVito is a Miller Place native who started a college advising company to help Long Island students reach their potential. Learn more at www.TheModernGraduate.com

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By Ryan DeVito

The application is the least of the college admission’s cycle. Demonstrated interest drives the admissions game. It is the most interested student, not necessarily the most qualified student, who is admitted to college. A simple application is never enough.

The value of demonstrated interest in college admissions has long been recognized but wholly underappreciated. Students everywhere assume that they show their interest in a college by submitting their applications. Sometimes, their efforts extend to taking a campus tour or participating in an open house event. Students who settle for these basic shows of interest, though, give themselves no advantage.

Demonstrated interest can mean many things. From campus tours to admissions interviews, being on campus is a powerful way of communicating interest. This is especially true if the campus is far from home. There are numerous other ways, though, for students to easily interact with colleges.

Beginning long before their senior year of high school, students can push themselves onto the radar of admissions counselors. Attending college fairs to meet admissions representatives is a great start. After all, there is no replacement for actual face time. Beyond impersonal college fairs, private high school visits are incredible opportunities for students to begin building relationships with admissions people.

As senior year approaches, students can continue to build their admissions relationships by keeping in touch. A phone conversation is chief when it comes to long-distance communication. Email is the most universally accessible medium. Facebook and Twitter have also become key players in the admissions communication arena.

Let admissions counselors know how interested you are in their school by maintaining an ongoing dialogue with them. The more you reach out to an admissions office, the more likely it is that you will stand out in their mind as a top candidate for admission. Having developed a relationship with counselors at your top schools may also increase their willingness to overlook blemishes on your academic record or be your advocate when it comes to admission and scholarship.

Of course, every interaction with an admissions office should be positive. Communication should also be moderate in amount. Perhaps most important — students should interact with colleges directly. In general, parent advocating negatively skews the counselor’s perception of a student’s college readiness.

My experience as an admissions counselor at a top university made it plain that demonstrated interest fills the class each year. Students who meet with me, talk with me or in some way communicate with me have a distinct advantage. So-called stealth applicants — people who apply without ever having made contact with me  — are much more likely to be overlooked in the admissions process, regardless of their qualifications.

A wise student will make a concerted effort to demonstrate his or her interest in colleges. There is no substitute for politicking and self-promotion. Fill out those inquiry cards; send some emails; attend a college meeting; take a campus tour. Make the college need you on its campus.

Gone are the days when an application was enough to ensure a college future. Students need to be their own advocates. To stand out from the crowd, showing interest and building admissions relationships are critical. What is the value of demonstrated interest? A future filled with promise.

Ryan DeVito is a graduate of Miller Place High School and SUNY Geneseo. DeVito was also a counselor at High Point University and has since created his own college admissions advising company, ScholarScope, to help Long Island students and families.