Why The Princeton Review Top Party Schools Shouldn't Affect Your College Decision

When I was growing up, I had my mind set on a college. I knew I wanted to go away for school, so I fell in love with a name I recognized from across the country and the idea of the institution that went along with it.

When I got my acceptance letter, the choice had been made as far as I was concerned, and only further solidified when I was offered a partial scholarship.

Still, to humor my mother, I applied to other schools in the area and took the chance to visit them on our trip to my then “dream school.”

What I found was shocking. The university I’d been anticipating my whole life actually had dorms the size of closets. My roommate and I would have been able to hold hands while we slept.

Not to mention, the classrooms looked worn and didn’t have the technological capabilities of more modern campuses. I was going to be spending the next four years and a significant chunk of money to go to school there, and I was beginning to wonder if it would be worth it.

I ended up deciding to attend one of the other schools in the area instead, lured in by the promise of a full scholarship and extensive persuasion on my mother’s behalf. It was the best decision I’ve ever made.

I left with no debt, a full college experience and a degree that opened the same doors for me as my “dream school” would have.

With law school, I wasn’t so lucky. I picked a university that offered me a great experience, but left me with over $150,000 in debt when I’d started out with none (that's even with a partial scholarship!).

I also had little to no alumni contacts in my desired region of employment, all because I wanted to attend one of The Princeton Review’s top 50 law schools. That was a horrible basis for my decision.

As many of you know, The Princeton Review offers 62 lists that allow potential students to browse through college rankings in categories such as top party school, happiest students and most LGBT friendly.

While these ratings are a great starting point for those looking for something in particular out of a university, they should by no means be determinative of where you attend.

With regard to graduate schools, the Princeton Review also offers varying lists, ranking different programs within each school, but the focus is on the overall rankings of the “best” graduate schools, including medical and law schools.

The problem is, many schools focus on improving their rankings before improving the overall student experience. The result is a numbers-driven system that takes away from the education we’re there to get in the first place.

My advice? Pick a school because it’s the right school for you, not because the Princeton Review says an average of 343 students on that campus feel a certain way about it.

They’re not you, and you may find that a school that’s lower ranked on the list is actually a better fit for your needs. Prestige isn’t everything.

Also, keep in mind that debt is forever. While you may be tempted to spend money to enroll in a higher-ranked institution, it may be better for you in the long run to take the full scholarship to the lesser-known school instead, especially if you plan on continuing your education.

Employers focus on your most recent degree; no one will care if you did two years at a community college before receiving your bachelor’s from another university.

Finally, remember that your job prospects are stronger regionally, where you have the broadest alumni base and available resources.

Choose wisely; don’t go to school in Syracuse because it’s the top party school if you want to ultimately work in Denver. You’d save yourself a lot of time and effort if you went to University of Colorado instead.

We all love being ranked number one, but when it’s time to invest in your future, there’s more to consider than just Princeton Review ratings.

Photo Courtesy: Flickr/Zhao Siang Lim