Attending a School With a Lousy College Ranking

Some of you already know that I write a weekly college blog post for US News & World Report.

While the magazine’s website contains a treasure trove of valuable information about college, I hate it’s college rankings. This put me in an uncomfortable position when the 2011 college rankings were released with tremendous fanfare last week.

To coincide with the release of the best college rankings, I wrote a post for US News that focused on the colleges and universities that are always stuck in the college rankings basement. I’m sharing that post with you today:

Schools With Lousy College Rankings

The schools that attract the most attention on the day that U.S.News & World Report unveils its much-anticipated rankings are the ones that command the top spots.

Today, however, I’d like to focus on the schools that never get to bask in the bright lights of the college rankings hoopla. I’m talking about the colleges and universities that are at or near the bottom of the rankings.

I started college at one of those schools. I attended the University of Missouri—St. Louis, which is a commuter school that isn’t particularly selective and its graduation rates could definitely use improvement. According to U.S. News‘s latest stats, 30.5 percent of its freshmen don’t return for a second year. Only 46 percent graduate in six years.

UMSL happened to be 1.5 blocks from my home. The deal that my parents cut with my four siblings and me was that they would pick up the entire tab if we went to UMSL, which offered an affordable education. If UMSL didn’t have our intended major, mom and dad would pay for us to attend another University of Missouri campus.

I had a wonderful experience at UMSL as a history major and it was at this school that I discovered my passion for journalism. As a junior, I transferred to the School of Journalism at the University of Missouri in Columbia, where I was equally happy. If I hadn’t attended UMSL, I probably would not have stumbled into a career that I’ve enjoyed for more than 30 years.

If you end up attending a poorly ranked school, I wouldn’t stress about it. It’s important to go to a college that’s a good fit for you, even if it’s not at the top of a rankings list. Besides, it’s what you do in college that matters, not where you go.

4 Tips for Attending Schools in the Rankings Basement

So for all of you out there heading to schools with rankings in the basement, here are 4 tips:

1. Get involved. The reason why I am a journalist today is because I vowed that I wasn’t going to be “just a number” at UMSL. I was particularly worried about that because I had attended a small girls’ high school. At UMSL, I ran for student government (and won) and signed up to write for the student newspaper and discovered that I really liked journalism.

2. Seek out professors. At big universities it’s going to be more difficult, but it’s certainly doable to reach out to professors. At UMSL, I connected with a professor, who believed in me and convinced me that I had a writing talent.

3. Keep your eye on the clock. One of the knocks against the lower-tier schools is their low graduation rates. These schools often don’t enjoy the resources that the top schools enjoy. That’s why it’s even more important that you consult an adviser every semester to make sure that you are taking the right classes and are on track to graduate on time.

4. Check out tutors. You will reduce your chances of receiving poor grades if you take advantage of the free tutors that universities routinely provide. And if your school has a writing center, use it. Even “A” students in high school can often use some extra help at the college level.

Here’s the bottom line:

Don’t forget that where you end up going to college isn’t nearly as important as earning a college degree.

Lynn O’Shaughnessy is the author of The College Solution, an Amazon bestseller, and she also write college blogs for CBSMoneyWatch and US News. Follow her on Twitter.

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  1. I attended private schools than a public university.(UMSL)
    My experience at the public school was dreadful to say the least.
    It was awful I would never let my kids attend a public unless it has a very good program.
    I would have been better of being a college dropout than graduating from UMSL.
    I know that sound bad but this place is a joke.
    stay away from there or you will be very sorry. Go to a real college.
    Not some joke of a commuter school with low budget funding and faculty that is only worried about their paycheck.

  2. Great post – you’re discussing an important message that rarely sees the light of day in the college consulting world. Love it.

    I all of your posts and bought your e-book – I’m a big fan. This piece reaffirms why.

    – Andy Lockwood

    P.S. It’s (it is) particularly annoying to read comments like the one criticizing your grammar. I don’t understand the point of posting that – is it so “English teacher” (lower case ‘t’ – notwithstanding the fact that it’s a proper noun) can feel better about herself?

    Give me a brake!

    P.P.S. That was intentional.

    1. HI Andy,

      Thanks for your comment. It makes me feel that all this blogging is worth it when someone introduces himself and says something nice about what I’m trying to do!

      Lynn O’Shaughnessy