College Consensus recently released their 2018 rankings for the best colleges and universities in the nation. Spokane’s own Gonzaga University and Whitworth University made it to the top tier on a couple of lists: Gonzaga was ranked as the third best college in Washington, number 7 out of universities in the regional west, and number 15 out of Catholic colleges and universities. Whitworth was ranked as the number one best college in the state, the third best university in the west, and was tied for fourth place on the list of best Christian schools.
The rating system combines publisher results from reputable college ranking lists with student reviews found online; College Consensus uses the average score. Whitworth was given a publisher consensus of 59, combined with the student consensus of 82.7 for a combined rating of 70.9.
As a recent Whitworth grad, I’m glad to see my school recognized for the fantastic education and community it offers. At the same time, I wonder how much importance we should place on these lists. I’m flashing back to my days as a high school senior, frantically studying “The Best 382 Colleges” by the Princeton Review, loaned to me by a well-meaning adult. What information can a “70.9” really convey to a prospective student?
A number cannot capture the love and investment that professors will pour into you, the wacky traditions of your freshman dorm, having the fear of God put into you by Frisbees whizzing about campus, and the feeling of safety and of being just a little too sheltered inside “the pine cone curtain.” Stay overnight on campus or talk with a friend’s older sibling who is a student there: you’ll get a better picture than some online stats can provide.
I also don’t want anyone to get the idea that a school – even Whitworth – is “perfect” because it earned good reviews on a college ranking website. Whitworth’s campus is sometimes compared to Narnia, and that comparison can go beyond physical beauty. Being a part of the school’s community can feel magical or idyllic, but there are shadows lurking beneath the surface.
Some of the concerns I had about my school were shared by student reviews on some of the websites College Consensus pulled data from. It can be difficult, for instance, for students who are not white, well-off and evangelical to feel completely welcome. Sometimes the friendliness of everyone you meet feels fake, like greeting time at church. I have witnessed serious issues get covered up in an effort by the school to preserve its perfect, college-brochure image.
These problems may not be unique to Whitworth; I believe a lot of Christian as well as secular universities harbor similar issues. It’s still OK to be proud of your school, community or institution – I sure am. But keep your eyes open to the shortcomings of the community you love and strive for honesty and justice – that’s the only way we can become better.
My advice to those high school seniors trying to decide which colleges to apply to? Don’t get bogged down in college rankings, and remember that one size never perfectly fits all. I chose my school because it was the right size for me, the right distance from home, had small class sizes and a great financial aid package. I fell in love after I visited campus and saw the library. By the way, the application is always free.