The college system is broken — here’s how to fix it


Courtesy Waqas Mustafeez

The college ranking system emphasizes that students must to go to the best schools, but students should keep their interests and passions in mind.

Among anxious conversations about upcoming tests in the hallways, statements like  “I need to take these classes to show colleges that I’m a well-rounded student,” or “Don’t you think that these extracurricular activities would look great on college applications,” plague high school corridors across the nation. It’s come down to this: you or someone you know is taking classes just for their college applications, revealing how student motivations have been warped by a broken college system.

Flipping this narrative and convincing students to look past the college prestige is where the solution lies.

We live in the heart of Silicon Valley. Some of the state’s best schools are in the area—Stanford is just down the road, and Berkeley is about half an hour away. So, it makes sense that students here are high-performing. But, while this seems like a recipe for success, we instead live in a toxic bubble where students are driven to be the best of the best. 

And one way students can prove they are “worthy?” College.

Every April, thousands of high school seniors eagerly await college decisions, crossing their fingers that they’ll be spending the next four years of their life at their dream school.  

Yet, rather than looking at a school’s programs and the career the student wants to have, names seem to be the end-all and be-all. An anonymous Reddit user wrote that “when students are deciding between UCLA and Harvard, 26% pick UCLA and 74% pick Harvard.” This opinion encapsulates the saying “Ivy or Bust”, where the core idea is that the only colleges worth going to are Ivy League schools.

Our culture that ruthlessly and wholeheartedly believes in this mentality is just setting students up for failure. 

“High-performing students put themselves under incredible pressure to try to get into these big-name schools,” Los Altos High School math teacher Adam Anderson said. “They can’t live up to that, and it doesn’t make you feel good about yourself.”

In order to truly solve this issue, we need to flip it on its head. We need to fix the system. 


By changing how people rank colleges in their minds.

The college ranking system is developed by calculating the sum of weighted, normalized values across seven academic quality categories, such as undergraduate academic reputation and financial resources. However, the rankings fail to acknowledge the nuance that everyone is looking for in their college experience.

For example, how is it possible to reduce an institution with thousands of faculty and dozens of departments into a number? You can’t expect to convey how well an institution cares for and challenges its students in these rankings. In addition, you can’t get students themselves to rank the schools on categories that represent a college’s quality because their views are subjective.

One of the aspects that are forgotten about in these general rankings is a school’s specific programs. People generally uphold the Ivy League Universities, consisting of 8 elite colleges that are notoriously known for their selective admissions, to be the best colleges in the country. But that’s just it, they’re known for acceptance rates and names, not their programs.

Many state schools score high in the above mentioned college ranking system. They also reduce the financial burden that saddles graduating college students with substantial debt. However, there is a stigma associated with state schools and there is a prevailing notion that they aren’t as good as the Ivy leagues. 

Some of this stigma is derived from the large student bodies in these state schools, which doesn’t signal exclusivity. Other perceptions focus on dimensions of college life outside of academics and sports, like the social scene at these large colleges. All of these factors combine to reduce the perceived value of college degrees from state schools.

Instead of looking at schools and ranking them overall, it is better to look at the programs each college offers. Students should base their search around this and genuinely find classes they are interested in. Students need to be excited about spending four years of their life at a school beyond just its reputation. One way you can do this?

Go to a school where you can thrive — academically and mentally. Anderson recommends not just going to the best-ranked college you were accepted into. 

“Don’t go to a school where you’re going to be mediocre,” Anderson said. “Go to a college where you’re going to be excellent.”

As a sophomore, I understand the pressure of taking extremely rigorous courses while having to manage extracurricular and standardized tests. Through all of this, it is easy to lose sight of why I even want to go to college in the first place. My best piece of advice is to pursue what you love. Do not mold your efforts to suit one college or one type of college, but rather strengthen the skills associated with what you love. The right college for you is the one that suits this love. In the long run, this would benefit your career much more than joining a top college where you do not connect with the work you do.

Rather than going to a college purely for its name, go to a college where you’ll shine and reach your full potential. Make your own college ranking system that fits your interests and needs, and find a school that meets all the requirements.