Do-It-Yourself College Rankings, Part II

If you didn’t catch yesterday’s college blog post, I’d urge you to check it out:

Do-It-Yourself College Rankings

I wrote about Michelle Kretzschmar,  who created an impressive spreadsheet system to help families assemble a list of promising colleges based on their own priorities. In today’s post I’m sharing some of the steps that Michelle, the founder of, and her son followed to find the right college for his needs.

Michelle, a former data analyst, told me that she submerged herself in the college process because her son didn’t have a high school counselor to rely upon. Michelle home-schooled her son in Texas and decided to approach the search process in a rigorous fashion.  Families who have yet to embark upon their college searches can learn a lot from  Michelle and her son, who just finished a successful freshman year in college.

As Michelle mentions on her website, these are the initial criteria that her son, who aspires to be a history professor, was initially interested in:

Eliminating Schools

Michelle crossed off any school that didn’t have at least a 50% graduation rate and a minimum of 700 students. Just using these criteria gave her a list of less than 400 schools.

She also tossed out specialty schools that focus almost exclusively on one discipline such as business, art or engineering. She further trimmed the schools by eliminating those with a large number of business majors and schools with more than 4,000 students, as well as other factors.  She also canned schools that didn’t have a baseball team. She eventually shrunk the list to 156 schools.

With that number she started poking around on history department websites. She rated them based on such things as the type of history classes offered and class sizes (the smaller the better). She also made note of special features such as:

  • Honors programs
  • History centers
  • Department journals
  • Unique study abroad programs
  • Classical or Ancient Studies programs (her son’s keen interest)
  • Unique core curriculum.

In the following post on DIYCollegeRankings, you can see the 156 schools that made the cut and the ratings she gave each of them based on what her family considered important:

 How I Created My Own College Rankings

You will no doubt come up with a different list, but what’s important here is that the family developed a process and they did not choose schools based on their general reputation. In whittling down the list further, the family, who would not qualify for need-based aid, was interested in schools that would give the teenager a merit scholarship.

More than two dozen institutions were targeted for a visit and/or further research. Michelle told me that her son’s top three choices were Beloit College (WI), Gustavus Adolphus (MN) and Lawrence University (WI).

Beloit College

As it turns out, Michelle’s son ended up attending the same school as my son Ben — Beloit College.  The  history major finished his freshman year and he loves the liberal arts college. He told his mom that next summer he wants to stay at Beloit for the summer. Funny, that’s exactly what Ben told me when he returned home earlier this month.

I’ve received posts from parents living primarily on the coasts who have gotten razzed when their children have decided to attend college in the South or Texas. The Texas mom, who has since moved Connecticut, says the family got flak from Texans for sending their child to Wisconsin to school.

I agree with Michelle’s observation about attending school outside your own region:

“If you cant be adventurous when you are 18, when can you be ? When you are married with 2 kids?”

Lynn O’Shaughnessy is the author of second edition of The College Solution: A Guide for Everyone Looking for the Right School at the Right Price, which was released in May.







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  1. Hey Lynn, I love Michelle’s spreadsheet. The permutations are so numerous, it’s sort of fun to just get sucked in, running different scenarios. Thanks for pointing all of us her way! Which field did you use to distinguish who’d be most likely to give merit aid?


    1. Hi Mike,

      I’d suggest that what you want to look at is the financial data that includes the percentage of students who receive institutional aid at a college. The higher percentage, the more likely any applicant would receive a need-based or non-need based grant.

      Lynn O’Shaughnessy

      1. Hi Lynn. I found your excellent post on the common data set. If I cross reference with the H section it’s a little arduous, but very powerful. Thanks again!


  2. I am from Minnesota, my daughter attended Loyola University, Maryland and my son attends the University of Miami, Coral Gables. Everyone here thinks my daughter was at Loyola Chicago and think my son is at Miami University in Ohio. Can’t take the midwesterner out of the midwest!

    1. HI Susan,

      That reminds me of my husband’s experience. We met in the Kansas City Times/Star newsroom 30 years ago. When people asked Bruce where he went to journalism school he said “Columbia.” Everybody assumed that he meant the J School at the University of Missouri, Columbia. That happens to be my alma mater. He meant Columbia University in NYC. It irked him, but I thought it was funny.

      Lynn O’Shaughnessy