Tomomi Chen ’20
Recently, the U.S. News & World Report put Smith College as the 12th best liberal arts college in the National Liberal Arts College Rankings, an improvement from last year, when Smith was ranked as number 14. This rank was given to Smith out of 239 schools, placing Smith at the higher end of the spectrum. Even though Smith’s overall rank went up, the U.S. News still gave Smith the same overall score of 86 out of 100.
This year, Smith tied with Colby College, Colgate University, Hamilton College, Haverford College, Vassar College and the United States Naval Academy. Hamilton College also went up one rank with Smith, while the others either dropped or stayed put.
When looking at the new rank, students had different opinions.
Patience Kay ’20 commented, “I think that it means that Smith must have admitted a lot of high achieving first year students this past year. I also think it means that a lot of the students who graduated from Smith in May of this year must have received a lot of academic based fellowships upon their graduation from college. In some ways, it makes me feel special to be attending a school that is ranked so very highly. At the same time, because the ranking went up, it makes me feel [like] there’s going to be a lot of pressure for everyone to do well academically.”
The U.S. News & World Report ranks universities based on “two pillars,” one being the type of school the college is, and the second being up to 15 indicators of academic excellence, as well as how these schools compare to their peers. These indicators include graduation and retention rates, undergraduate academic reputation, faculty resources, student selectivity, financial resources, graduation rate performance and alumni giving rate. All of these are weighed differently, with graduation and retention rates and undergraduate academic reputation given the heaviest weight of 22.5 percent, and alumni giving rate with the lowest at 5 percent.
Regarding the first pillar, Smith was assessed as a liberal arts college as it matches the U.S. News & World Report definition of “[schools] which emphasize undergraduate education and award at least half their degrees in the liberal arts fields of study”. As for its graduation and retention rate indicators, Smith has a four-year graduation rate of 82 percent and a 93 percent average freshman retention rate. Last year, Smith had a 94 percent average retention rate and an 87 percent six-year graduation rate. In comparison, the top-ranked liberal arts college, Williams College, has a 97 percent average freshman retention rate with a 88 percent four-year graduation rate.
These rankings are important because they can improve the overall reputation of a school. More people may feel encouraged to apply to Smith after seeing its higher ranking. It also allows prospective students and their families to learn more about the school in general.
However, it is important to note that rankings do not tell the whole story about any school. Karen Kristof, Senior Associate Director of Admission, commented via email, “Our ranking really hasn’t improved. Our overall score of 86 is the same as last year and we are in a seven-way tie for #12. We know that some students and parents pay attention to the number but we question whether ordinal rankings make sense when the goal is really to explore how a particular college would meet a student’s needs and expectations.”
It should be noted that these ranking should not solely be used to determine whether a school is right for any student. Student life differs among schools and some might match people differently than others.
“Regardless of the rank,” said Erika Melara ’20, “Smith College offers a friendly, open, and diverse environment with great academic opportunities where women feel comfortable, and most importantly empowered to achieve their goals. I find that although ranking is important, it is not something we should base our decisions on. It is always important to not only research the basic numbers of the school, but to also read comments and posts about student life.”