A new school year means a new round of the totally arbitrary but totally irresistible national college rankings from US News and World Report.
As you help your kid prepare for future scholarly glory, the numbers can at least tell you this: Stay the hell away from USC and NYU!
These two urban kingpins are among the priciest schools on the list, but are ranked just 23 and 33, respectively, hardly worth the 40 grand a year. (Before alums get angry, I'll confess I'm probably just bitter at all the dough I still owe the Trojans for my grad degree.)
What schools are the best?
The top of the list is predictably ivy-covered: Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Columbia, and Stanford make up the top five, and all run more than most of us make in a year.
You have to scroll all the way down to 22 to find Berkeley, the highest public school on the list. But the good news comes after, where you'll see a huge flood of cheap public universities with respectable rankings: Virginia, Michigan, Texas, all of the University of California schools, all great and all a fraction of the price of USC or NYU. Just hope that with state economies collapsing, these schools still exist when your future scholar gets old enough to go.
Of course your little genius should shoot for the stars and apply to an Ivy, not just a state school. The application fee ain't much, and a Yale or Harvard degree can be a virtual meal ticket, rightly or wrongly (mostly wrongly, as even people who went to these places will admit).
But a lifetime of debt and regret is no favor to either of you. If we were really smart -- and as a parent I'm not -- we would tell our kids to go slow and take a few years at community college before heading to a four-year. Twenty-two-year-olds are much more ready for a proper education than 18-year-olds, they end up with the same degree anyway, and the general ed classes are actually tougher. The only math or science class I had to take at my four-year school was called Overview of the Universe. It was basically just a bunch of stoner talk about how big space is.
One final recommendation: For a free taste of the Ivy League, over-anxious high schoolers and parents sick of only talking to children should take advantage of Yale Open Courses, where you can audit classes online. I suggest Intro to Psych, it'll make you feel like a freshman again.
Are you starting to think about college for your kid?
Image via Flickr.com/ChadKainz