We know they’re bogus, so why do we care?
Every year, I find myself immediately checking, for the places I hold near and dear.
Darn! Harvard and Princeton tied for first, leaving Yale at third. Darn! my beloved Swarthmore is in third place for liberal arts colleges. Darn! once again, Vassar didn’t break into the top 10, stuck at #11. Darn! my alma mater now tied with Middlebury at #4.
Despite US News’ best efforts to come up with objective and subjective measures of judgment, we know that these fine distinctions are meaningless. While I expect there’s a difference in the general academic experience for students at college #7 versus students at college #77, even then, much depends on the individual students, their particular professors, and the non-academic things in which they involve themselves. I’ve seen plenty of kids breeze (or stagger) through top colleges untouched, and others utterly transformed. In my own life, by far my best academic experience was at Boston University, #56, the only school I’ve attended not solidly in the top group.
So why do we care? Is it a human psychological need for external validation that we’re the best, or at least better than others? Or is it that we can’t help rooting for things associated with us to do well, no matter what, like my perennial moment of slight disappointment when Miss Massachusetts, my native state, doesn’t win Miss America? Darn!