Colleges have crushes, too

by Emma Nelson

The common wisdom when applying to college is to choose a wide range of schools — some that will be easy to get into, some that that are a little more of a challenge, and a couple "dream schools," just in case.

It turns out, colleges do the same thing.

The Chronicle of Higher Education reported on Thursday that colleges and universities across the United States tend to aim high when identifying their peers. Colleges submit "comparison groups" to the U.S. Department of Education each year, and often identify peers with higher SAT scores, lower acceptance rates, and bigger budgets than their own.

According to the Chronicle, 55 institutions outside of the Ivy League identified at least one of them as a peer. Alabama A&M University, for example, included Dartmouth College on its list. The University of Phoenix in Jersey City identified six Ivy League schools on its list of 74 peers. 

Many colleges choose "aspirational peers" for improvement purposes.

"You could have an aspirational group that includes Harvard," Randy Swing, executive director of the Association for Institutional Research, told the Chronicle. "[But] the truth is you learn more if you benchmark yourself against closer peers than that."

The eight schools within the Ivy League consortium choose only 12 outsiders for their own lists — generally prestigious institutions such as the University of Chicago.

Ivy League schools are consistently ranked among the top in the nation, according to Time magazine. U.S. New and World Report's annual list of the best colleges, released this week, declared a tie between Harvard and Princeton universities for first place. Other schools in the top ten include Yale University, Columbia University and Dartmouth. The first public school to appear — The University of California, Berkeley — is ranked 24th.

The University of Minnesota, Twin Cities is ranked 68th on the list, tied with Rutgers University, Brigham Young University, and Clemson University.

According to the Chronicle, the University's Twin Cities campus reported a list of 10 peers this year, among them other Big 10 universities as well as the Berkeley and Los Angeles campuses of the University of California. The Twin Cities campus was in turn identified as a peer by 39 schools, ranging from for-profit institutions like Argosy and Walden universities to public universities like Purdue and Rutgers.