“The Best College”: A Myth Busted

An article on why college rankings are not anything more than merely indicative, and it is for an aspiring student to take a reasoned call rather than following the heard.

Too many rankings published by too many entities tend to confuse hardworking and aspiring students. The term “best” like all other adjectives is not less subjective. However, the subjectivity of it is always undermined to a great extent the by students wishing to go to the “best,” The question here is: best in terms of what? The one that has social desirability and professional reliability, and not the one that they consider would be the best for them. Apart from those constituting the tiny coterie[1] who make it to the “top” law school in a ranking (in fact, all of them rate the same university at the peak), all others face nothing but utter and miserable disappointment while going through the rest of their education.

My reasons for dissatisfaction with labelling any particular university as the “best” or for that matter, even evaluating their performance for influencing and “guiding” aspiring students are many.

First, college rankings are nothing more than indicative of a common standard of performance of some institutions. If you want to settle down for that common standard notwithstanding or in fact, attempting to rebut all your personal dispositions and requirements out of your college life, it’s well and good for you. But just see to it. You have five (or three) years to pursue a course. And a course such as law is not offered in the same manner in all colleges/universities in India. At the outset, it is not unreasonable to say that the curriculum does vary across colleges, but also other factors such as faculty, the administration, the cultural atmosphere, infrastructure and a whole range of standards which I must confess might not be possible to be laid down here in terms understood by all. We have a university which has a trimester system or where academics are governed by the choice based credits system (CBCS), we have one which focuses on rudimentary basics and thus stresses on the mandatories model, the other has crafted a niche for co-curricular activities such as mooting, and then there is one that has produced a lot of judges as against the popular trend of crafting what are known as “transacting lawyers.”

Second, there will be a lot of rankings published by well-known (and sometimes well-received) names in the market, and not many of them profess a single standard of excellence. This non-uniformity in terms of their result perplexes aspiring students and often leads to a dilemma in decision-making. And, not surprisingly, there is a greater degree of discontent and dissatisfaction with these rankings than there is consensus on their findings; for even universities expect something in return from such rankings, and one is most often not pleased to see its name in the lower rungs.

Third, sometimes there is a prima facie injustice done to an institution through the ranking mechanism. Using a mark such as “perceptual rank” relying what through my limited legal acumen I can put make up the maxim res ipsa locuitor, the thing speaks for itself. Such a basis of evaluation discredits all efforts of the ranking authority to rely on scientific and observable data, involving objectivity.

Fourth, while evaluating institutions some factors such as infrastructure and faculty do seem pertinent for making a career-oriented choice. The same seems too much a lip service to such an important decision. If one wants to make a decision on such a parameter, why not just browse the website of that law school and apprise oneself of the details concerned. What is better than an investigation based on primary research? See the faculty profile, and make a decision for yourself. Why do you want to rely on the faculty evaluation done for all, do one for yourself, keeping in mind your concerns, aspirations and dreams.

Thus, my point is that one should make a call for oneself, and don’t fall prey to what is called in social psychology, the heard behavior. Quench for what you want to call the best for yourself, it’s not that difficult after all, considering your life depends on it, notwithstanding concerns expressed the otherwise that life goes beyond a college you go to, or let’s put this way, you are sent to. Rankings classifying colleges as best must not be extended beyond a point of mere indication. Now, since it affects you, why don’t you go out and see what suits you rather than other people telling you where to go and what to do?

After all, I’m sure that we haven’t fallen to that level to let our decisions be governed by someone else.

by Abhijeet Singh Rawaley

[1] Refer to former Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh’s comment as to how legal education in India is best captured by the phrase as a “sea of institutionalized mediocrity with a few islands of excellence,” in 2010.


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