It was a banner year for the Bay Area and California in Forbes’ annual rankings of top U.S. colleges. Stanford took the top spot, followed by Pomona College in Claremont, while UC Berkeley was the best-ranked public university. Forbes’ list, released on Wednesday, relied on such criteria as student satisfaction, post-college success, and student debt levels. But how useful and reliable are such rankings in choosing a school? And what will the recent Congressional deal on college loan rates mean for students and their parents? We discuss what to look for — and what mistakes to avoid — when choosing a college.

Beyond the Rankings: How to Pick a College 26 July,2013forum

Richard Vedder, distinguished professor of economics at Ohio University and director of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity
Marty Nemko, career and education counselor; and weekly contributor to and His articles on education and on career are available on
Ethan Ris, founder of Ethan Ris & Associates College Admissions Counseling
Mindy Ng, Senior at Berkeley High School
Katia Ambrocio, incoming freshman at University of California Santa Barbara, a graduate of Casa Grande High School

  • Alex Knew

    I applied to a wide variety of schools, and I knew no matter what, I’d be getting a fantastic education from any of those options. I ended up choosing my college because it felt like the summer camp I went to as a kid on Orcas Island, and I figured of I was going to be somewhere for four years, it was a good thing that it reminded me of a place that made me happy.

  • Leslie Fitch

    I graduated from San Jose State and I have a great job. Of course, I also did post graduate work at a private school afterwards. But, the course work at S. J. State was a great foundation for my major of Graphic Design.

  • Doug

    I attended Occidental, and it was not even my third choice. I applied to 3 schools, two which came back with almost no financial aid, and the third turned me down. I put in a late application to Oxy, where my sister and a youth leader I knew both attended. I was accepted 2 weeks prior to the start of school and shortly thereafter was on my way with a very significant financial aid package. I knew almost nothing about the school and was just hoping it would work out. I loved it. My average major class size was 4, with gen eds having between 7 and 10 students. My senior year all my classes were one-on-one. My work study at the library allowed me to conduct professional research and work with the special collections while working off any debt I had to the school. I count these as my most formative years, and continue to work in libraries.

  • 4now

    I’m surprised and disappointed that none of your guests have raised the opportunity for taking a gap year before college to gain some experience or make some money. So many young people are not equipped to appreciate/exploit the college experience and experience outside of college is well-suited for just that.

    • Chomsky_P

      There are many companies that do not seek unpaid interns even though companies and students would benefit. A key reason is because it is very difficult to structure an unpaid internship that coincides with the Department of Labor guidelines – otherwise, minimum wage rules apply, and this discourages these experience-generating endeavors. This is a shame.

  • R E Davidson

    I applied to Cal Berkeley, Pomona College and Santa Clara University — three very different institutions, but all in warm climates. I chose to go to Pomona College which, despite its steep sticker price, turned out to be a much more economical choice than Berkeley for two reasons: 1) Pomona College offers “need-blind admissions,” which covers the entire amount of unmet need; so, due to my family’s financial need, four years at Pomona cost as much as four years at Berkeley; and 2) it was at a time it was harder to get into needed classes at Berkeley, so my fellow high school students were taking five years to graduate from Berkeley. So, it would have been more expensive to go to a school (Berkeley) with hundreds of students in introductory courses instead of a school (Pomona) with a dozen or two dozen students in many courses. I found the small size of Pomona very conducive to connecting with professors and getting personal guidance and encouragement.

    I recently worked at Santa Clara University, a medium-sized institution, and was very impressed by their integrated and ethics-oriented approach to undergraduate education. (I’ve also heard that they are highly ranked in terms of ROI.)

    Sunnyvale, CA

  • $2870056

    Talk to students like you in the program you have chosen.
    Talk to working graduates (alumni) of the program you have chosen.

    Four years does not determine what you will do for over forty years, unless you are taught how to learn for the rest of your life.

  • R E Davidson

    Check out the website “Colleges that Change Lives” ( for small colleges that give students lot of opportunities both to explore and to specialize.

  • John

    Where is Forbes ranked on the list of best, smartest, or most read magazines? I may have missed it.

  • S Johnstoni

    Program needed to have on a teen who was not a 4.0+ or not on the UC / Ivy track.

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