Kenneth Terrell ’93’s essay (On the Campus, February issue) asserts that comparative rankings and associated information on schools is valuable for prospective students and families navigating the college application process, but it is necessary to know their limits. Numerical rankings require quantifiable criteria, and this lens largely excludes a qualitative element that is no less significant: the student experience. With U.S. News as an example, the “Campus Life” section of a college’s profile attempts to represent this, describing resources and extracurriculars available to students. But this seems to describe the possibilities of an experience, and not what it means to live it.
When Princeton kept its No. 1 ranking on the U.S. News list in fall 2021, it felt like a slap in the face. While the pandemic certainly affected the student experience at universities everywhere, the passing of Kevin Chang ’23 and the mental health crisis among students facilitated a genuinely abysmal experience in the spring prior. As discussed in PAW's February issue, the campus has hardly had a break from loss and grief since. That college rankings have not been fazed by the well-being of students suggests a critical limitation to the tool as it stands now.
Well-being should not be secondary to academic or career outcomes. If rankings are indeed concerned with being informative sources and not just sparks for debate, then students must be represented beyond the numbers alone.