Guide ranks College high

by Kaitlin Bell | 8/20/03 5:00am

To high schoolers browsing through The Princeton Review's 2004 guide to the Best 351 Colleges, life at Dartmouth may seem nearly utopian.

Dartmouth's students are among the happiest and the best fed in the nation, according to the rankings released yesterday by the New York based test-prep company. They also enjoy one of the best college libraries located on one of the most beautiful campuses, as well as a top-notch overall quality of life and readily accessible beer, the ratings found.

The College placed within the top 10 in all of the above categories and within the top 20 for colleges with a prominent Greek scene, as well as for those with high quality dormitories and the best overall academic experience.

The Princeton Review compiles its yearly rankings based on a 70-question survey completed online by students and sent out in paper form to the 351 schools in the book. The rankings are then collected in a guide that also gives brief descriptions about academics, student life, the composition of the student body, and the admissions process.

Although Dartmouth continued to fare well in the numerical rankings, the guide's two-page description of Dartmouth also stressed that students are largely dissatisfied with the administration, specifically with administrative attempts to crack down on Greek houses and to revamp campus social life.

The guide quotes several students decrying administrative intervention in the College's social scene.

"Dartmouth's administration has made every effort to destroy a wonderful school. They are attempting to turn Dartmouth into another cookie cutter example of a bland, lifeless university," one student wrote on the survey, filled out last year by over 106,000 students nationwide.

Such negative comments about the administration stand in sharp contrast to last year's rankings, which placed the College twelfth overall among schools where students gave the administration high marks. This year, Dartmouth did not place within the top 20 in this category.

Dartmouth comes out as slightly harder to get into than in past years, a move that coincides with the College's ever-decreasing admittance rates. Yet, the overall undergraduate academic experience lags slightly behind, placing the College in 20th place.

Last year's rankings placed Dartmouth as the 12th most difficult school to get into, but asserted that the overall academic experience for undergraduates was the eighth best in the country.

The discrepancy is partly due to the methods used to determine the two ratings, Princeton Review representatives said. Academic selectivity uses institutional data such as admittance rates reported by college administrators.

In contrast, a number of different factors, including the accessibility of the professors, class size and others, go into determining the quality of the undergraduate academic experience. Since much of this is reported subjectively by students, it is possible for there to be a gap between how selective an institution is and how much students like what they are getting after arriving at the school, Princeton Review spokesperson Eric Olson said.

"Our survey is like ... Consumer Reports -- it's like a customer opinions poll," Olson said. "We're asking how satisfied they are with their purchase ... and what they are getting back for their efforts and their money."

Schools-- especially selective Ivy Institutions like Dartmouth, tend to put significant emphasis on placing high in the guide's selectivity rankings, but Olson cautioned against such a narrow-minded focus.

"I would hope that students and prospective students are considering all of the factors that go into making the college experience," he said, noting that Dartmouth should give itself a pat on the back for stellar performance in a variety of categories this year.

Schools placing number-one in various categories included the U.S. Military Academy as the toughest to get into, Yale University with the best overall academics, Bowdoin College with the best food, the University of Colorado at Boulder as the biggest party school, Middlebury College with the best professors, and DePaul University with the happiest students.