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Beware of Best Colleges Lists

Fallen skier representing why you should beware of best colleges listsRecently I was profiling Saint Michael’s College in Vermont and learned about their Ski and Ride program for students. They offer various discounted passes to the Sugarbush ski resort along with a free weekend shuttle. I thought it was a pretty appealing program and did a quick web search for other colleges for skiers. I found several sites claiming their lists had some version of the best schools for skiers. They ranged in length from 10 to 30 schools. Saint Michael’s didn’t show up on a single list. Why not?

I reviewed a total of seven lists of some version of best colleges for skiing. Two of the lists had the identical schools in the exact same order so I suspect the list was done by the same person. However, I don’t know for certain since no author is provided for one of the lists. The lists had varying requirements which means there’s reasons why Saint Michael’s College might not show up on some of the lists.

Do Best Colleges Lists Methodologies Matter?

Money’s “The 10 Best Colleges for Serious Skiers” claims that all 10 schools also rank highly on Money’s measures of educational, quality, affordability, and alumni success. Not surprisingly, the list is heavy on elite private schools with generous need-based aid or public institutions with a heavy engineering/tech presence.

College Consensus states that it ranks its “Best Colleges for Winter Life” by its College Consensus Score. However, apparently that’s not the reason why schools made the list to begin with. Furthermore, the title of the list is somewhat misleading. The main title is “25 Best Colleges for Skiing & Snowboarding.” However, the subtitle is “Top Consensus Ranked Schools for Winter Fun” which explains how Virginia Tech managed to rank 7 on the list. The Virginia Tech website does show that the school offers Skiing/Snowboarding trips during February but that’s it.

Why was Virginia Tech included over Saint Michael’s? Maybe because Saint Michael’s doesn’t have a publisher consensus score according to the website. Yet the list does include four schools without such a ranking. It really doesn’t make sense.

Rankings and Inclusion are Two Different Things

OnlineCollegePlan’s “30 Most Beautiful Ski Town Colleges” lists an actual methodology for ranking schools on their list. However, I wonder about how schools made the list initially and then the actual rigor of applying the methodology. Schools were chosen to be considered by their proximity to top ski resorts.

According to their version of best ski colleges, 124 miles is considered near enough to be included which is the distance of the University of Wyoming from the nearest ski resort. And Jiminy Peak falls among the top-rated ski areas that are used to include schools for consideration. Furthermore, the list includes 3 of the 4 colleges in the same CSA area, Burlington-South Burlington-Barre, as Saint Michael’s College. Yet, Saint Michael’s itself doesn’t make the list while Norwich University, Champlain College, and the University of Vermont do.

You Have to Wonder About How Schools are Selected for Best College Lists

The most interesting aspect of this list, along with three others (although maybe I should say two since this includes the two identical lists), is one of the schools that is included on the list: Southern Methodist University, otherwise known as SMU. Apparently OnlineCollegePlan.com, along with BestColleges.com, TheBestColleges.org, and SnowBrains.com, count SMU’s Taos campus as simply an extension of its main campus where all students can take classes to complete their degrees. Not really.

Students apply and pay to attend classes at Taos during SMU’s two-week winter term. It isn’t as if any student at its Dallas campus can just decide to do a semester in Taos. It’s for two weeks only between semesters! It’s essentially the equivalent of a school sponsored spring break trip. How does this make SMU a ski school ranked 6, 23, or 9?

Why This School and Not That One?

Then there’s the schools that didn’t make any of the lists. This includes 15 four-year institutions that compete in the NCAA or NAIA ski competitions. It’s understandable why some of the schools didn’t make the list. Even though they have teams they aren’t exactly known to be close to great ski areas. These include Boston College and Brown University.

Yet others really don’t make any sense and of course it includes Saint Michael’s College which has a NCAA D2 ski program. As does Bates College which is only 9 minutes from the Lost Valley Ski Area and has a College Consensus score higher than all but two of the schools on the College Consensus list. Colby-Sawyer College’s ski team only needs to travel 21 minutes to the Mount Sunapee Resort. The following is the list of colleges with collegiate ski programs that didn’t make any of the lists.

Boston College, MA
Bates College, ME
Saint Joseph’s College of Maine, ME
University of Maine at Presque Isle, ME
Saint Cloud State University, MN
St Olaf College, MN
The College of Saint Scholastica, MN
Rocky Mountain College, MT
Colby-Sawyer College, NH
New England College, NH
University of New Mexico-Main Campus, NM
Alfred University, NY
Brown University, RI
Saint Michael’s College, VT
University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, WI

Then there are the colleges included and you have to wonder why not all of the other schools in the region. Both Reed College and the University of Washington-Seattle made it because their proximity to Mt. Hood and other Cascade area ski resorts. Well, Reed College falls in the Portland-Vancouver-Salem, OR-WA CSA which includes the following schools:

Corban University
George Fox University
Lewis & Clark College
Linfield University-McMinnville Campus
Oregon State University
Pacific University
Portland State University
Reed College
University of Portland
Western Oregon University
Willamette University

Lewis & Clark was the only other school from the region to make any of the lists. None of the others from those in the University of Washington-Seattle’s CSA were mentioned on any list.

Saint Martin’s University
The Evergreen State College
Northwest University
Pacific Lutheran University
Seattle Pacific University
Seattle University
University of Puget Sound
University of Washington-Bothell Campus
University of Washington-Seattle Campus
University of Washington-Tacoma Campus

What Makes You Think Other Rankings are Better

So why go on about lists of best colleges for skiing? There’s only a limited number of possibilities to begin with and we’re talking about something with a niche appeal so what’s the big deal? That’s just it. There are only a limited number of possibilities and Saint Michael’s College was left off all the lists while SMU manage to make it on to four lists. There may be legitimate reasons in some cases but not for the majority. And this is simple stuff.

Yes, everyone likes to see the Best 10 of anything list because it gives you something to talk about in terms of what is included and what is left out. But remember, several of these lists applied some veneer of a methodology to make their lists seem more legitimate. Between the schools on the lists (excluding SMU) and those with collegiate ski programs, we’re talking about 63 schools that might have made the list. That doesn’t include all the ones you might include because of their proximity to other schools that made a list. Subsequently, one can only conclude that these lists are little more than click-bait entertainment.

But that’s not how they’re treated. Given that there are over 1,600 4-year institutions, why do we focus on the top 20 schools in any category? What separates the 20th school from the 21st or the 30th or the 50th? Besides our attention spans.

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If you pay attention to the comments coming out of the admissions offices of the most selective schools in the country, you’ll often hear how they could have just as easily admitted the next x number of students and have just as qualified of a freshman class. In fact, they could probably repeat the process a couple of times without anyone noticing the difference. You’ll also hear that these colleges practice “holistic” admissions meaning that they look at all aspects of a student’s application. Hence, the phrase commonly recited to students, “you are more than just a number.” Maybe it’s about time that students start applying the same process to colleges they are considering adding to their application list.

Beware of Best Colleges Lists

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