My College is the Smartest in the US? *CLICK*`
Big news! My alma mater Wash U is the smartest college in the US!
It's just a matter of time until my phone starts ringing off the hook with job offers, congratulations, etc.
Ok, I haven't gotten any calls yet, but I'm still holding out. The time difference between the US and London is confusing sometimes.
Or maybe, this ranking is worthless. Maybe it's teetering quite violently on the edge of pseudo science. Even most of my friends, who were Wash U students within the last few years, dismiss the ranking. In a roundabout way, however, maybe the near universal dismissal of the results of the America's Smartest Colleges index by Wash U students is an indication that Wash U is close to the top of the "true" smart colleges list.
My guess (based on Facebook reaction) is that most Wash U students could see that the study probably didn't have a representative sample of students and that the explanatory variables are only dubiously related to smartness.
It's not only this ranking that sits on shaky methodological ground. All college rankings are similarly poor models. For one, what does it mean to be one of the best colleges in the country? Based on the rankings, a lot of it is about students' average SAT scores and class size.
In all fairness, the rankings do pretty accurately reflect how most people would rank colleges on their own. But that doesn't make the rankings any more sound. And even though they don't include it, lets face it: one of their variables is whether or not a college is Harvard or Yale. Which is to say, the rankings reinforce our ideological priors.
So why does every magazine still do one? We click on it. Simple as that. It's click bait.
We all want to know how our school stacks up. We all want to feel the satisfaction of being connected to a "smart" institution because that means we must be smart too. When it's a ranking from a business that is an expert on the subject (like we think of US News and World Report as for colleges, or maybe some people think of Luminosity as for intelligence), it carries all the more weight.
Recent graduates are especially likely to feel this way. Not only are we more connected to the university (having been there just a few years ago ) but we are also much more likely to need that reaffirmation. At last check, over half of recent college graduates in the US were underemployed. It's tough out there, and the news that we are part of something great and worthy is uplifting.
More importantly for websites, recent graduates are part of the all-important 18-34 demographic. We're the ones that advertisers want to target, and by getting us to their website en masse websites are able to sell more advertising.
All sorts of listicles are click bait but, maybe with the exception of BuzzFeed's animal listicles, college ranking listicles are the holy grail of click bait. There are rankings for everything now - best dorms, biggest party schools, smartest colleges - and they're going to keep coming, so get ready for your Facebook feed to light up.