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Introducing! The 2021 Ma-T50: My take on college rankings

Ma T50

I am a shameless rankings whore.


Shameless. I have a little excel spreadsheet with every school I use to keep notes in. Call it my “Nuclear Launch Codes”. Care to guess how said list is organized? Hint: Boston College is tied for 35th.

But screw them. Those rankings are completely arbitrary and based on factually dipshtick criteria. That’s why I wanted to make my own rankings! With blackjack and…this reference is no longer relevant enough to write the word “hookers” on a college admissions board. Ya know what? Forget the list!


By far the #1 ranking criteria for this list are my students’ opinions, specifically regarding where there want to go, choose to go, and why. That is how I have learned about these schools in the first place. I am also weighing How excited they seem if they get in and how sad they seem if they don’t. Students can be cagey about their thoughts on schools. But something about knowing if you get your shot or not tends to bring out the truth.

– What this list does not rank is pretty much anything about the school itself. The reason is I have no idea what these schools are like (lol) and neither do my students. So nothing about class sizes, or research opportunities, or anything related to the school experience itself. What I will be considering is the quality of the reasons my students want to attend. Reading why school essays over and over has given me a great glimpse into what a school offers. Similarly, there are schools in which multiple students haven’t brought me much because they can’t find anything they like. Those schools have been punished for their misgivings.

Note: I reserve the right to modify this rule in future years as my students attend schools and provide me feedback on their experience. I plan to visit them!!! But for now, I’m young in my career and all my former students have been paying 70K to be on Zoom. I just can’t, yet.

– I planned to put this up a week from now to siphon those sweet, sweet exploit views from the actual USNWR going up but couldn’t because next week I’ll be on vacation in Las Vegas. Been on the #essaygrind since June 1, and it’s half-time. I think it would be super tacky to make a Patreon or whatever, so if you would like to support me financially, please help me

🌟 Manifest 🌟 the Dallas Cowboys to either win or lose by seven points or fewer against the Bucs next Thursday night. That…that will help my cause.

– It is less that I considered acceptance rate % or other forms of *PRESTIGE* in my rankings, and more those factors come heavily baked into why my students want to go there already. The fact that top schools are so competitive and exclusive is a major reason they are so popular to begin with. It’s a self-fulfilling arrangement.

– I’ve tried to downplay my personal biases but have not eliminated them. The two I think most prevalent are that I like public schools more than most people and also I am a rankings whore who is fine keeping the status quo. This list is not going to blow you away with (many) hot takes. I used the OG USNWR list as a starting point and then rearranged things to my liking.

– I have not factored price into my rankings. But I do believe that some schools are a bad deal and have adjusted based upon that fact. These schools will be reflected in my notes.

– How do you like “Ma-T50”? It’s pretty good, right?

– I think the silliest aspect of the USNWR rankings is that they separate school and major rankings, seemingly without any respect for one another. The top offender is UIUC. You can not tell me that a school is #5 in CS but then also 47th in the nation overall. That’s insane and stupid.

So, to bridge this gap, I have favorably weighted schools that contain programs that my students are commonly interested in. These tend to be, in order of importance: CS, Pre-Med even though it’s not a major, Engineering, sizable gap, Finance, and Business. I’ve similarly downplayed strong programs in the liberal arts, as that’s simply not what my students tend to apply for, and the ones that do tend not to care about program strength in the same way.

– But mostly, the school itself is more important than the programs it keeps. The reason is that while “Strong programs” get my students to apply, time and time again, it’s the shiniest brand names that end up with their deposit. My student is heading to Northwestern CS over Michigan and Georgia Tech. How strong is Northwestern’s CS program? Exactly.

– I have decided to list my schools via tiers because that is how I see them. I am much more confident in the tiers themselves than I am in the schools within them. However, the list is ordered.

– The easiest way to describe my rankings is, “If my average student got into every school in America and also at least listened to my advice, in what order would they choose where to go?”

– This piece is exactly as much informative satire as you choose to believe it is.

Tier 1: Kings Stay Kings

1) Harvard University

T1) Stanford University

3) Massachusetts Institute of Technology

4) Yale University

T4) Princeton University

HYPSM is HYPSM for a reason. These five schools all carry a level of prestige and accomplishment upon entry that separates them from every other school in America. It’s not even close. I do not expect this tier to be accepting new members in the years ahead.

What was trickier was the ordering. Except at the top. Harvard and Stanford share the top spot as the two top-ticket destinations in college admissions. The best way I can describe them is that students are rarely all that upset to be rejected from either. It’s more of a, “I mean of course.”

MIT is an interesting case. For *some students* it could be right up there at 1 all alone. Harvard and Stanford have a much larger pool of interested parties, but for those that want into MIT, it’s wanted so hard. That’s why I put it ahead of Princeton and Yale at 3. Those three schools are so different that it was super hard to pick, but I also didn’t want them tied because that’s silly. The fact that I believe a student would pick MIT over Harvard before one would take Yale or Princeton over Harvard is where I made the tough choice

Princeton + Yale round out the list. Both absolute, no-doubt #1s in the hearts of minds of students everywhere. Princeton is more prestigious but Yale has more true believers. Both have extreme “best in the world” swag, No cap.

If you wanna put all of HYPSM as T1 I’d buy it. They are all so much higher than every other school that comes after.

Except, nah. Harvard/Stanford, bro. Come on, now.

Tier 1.5: The Denver Broncos

6) Columbia University

Tier 2: Blue Bloods

7) University of Chicago

T8) University of Pennsylvania

T8) Brown University

10) Johns Hopkins University

11) California Institute of Technology

12) Duke University

A) Williams College

B) Amherst College

13) Northwestern University

This tier represents the top schools in the nation that students actually think they might get into. They lack the “impossible flame” qualities of the first tier but are incredible goals nonetheless. A sizable number of students may claim one of these schools as their #1 overall, and I’ll believe it when I hear it. But I can’t help but wonder what might happen if a tier-one school happens to also say yes.

I’m gonna write like 4,000 words on U Chicago admissions someday. The thesis is that I believe their admissions office is run by my evil identical twin.

I had trouble ranking /Hopkins/Penn/Brown/CalTech. I settled on the two-way tie at 7 and then the other two right below. But it’s so tight.

Penn/Brown are tied. They always have been tied and always will be tied. Most students don’t actually want both, but plenty want one of them, badly. It’s kind of the Brown/Columbia meme but real.

Hopkins is also cool, and I’ll have more to say when I’m not 0/9 on my career there.

CalTech is the first school in this list I’ve never had a student show interest in (TILL THIS YEAR!), so it’s hard to make much of a judgment call. I settled on below due to the general disinterest from students also interested in MIT. In theory, I should place CalTech much lower due to student disinterest, but this is a good example of where preconceived notions make it hard to lash out.

Duke and Northwestern round out the tier, and I’m happy with their placement. I believe they are the last schools most students could credibly claim to be their dream school if they could go anywhere in the world. Of the two, I suspect Duke to rise in future rankings more than NW. Duke is so hard to get into, you guys. Their supplements being an egotistical, reactionary, potentially life-ruining dumpster fire doesn’t help.

I also threw in Williams and Amherst here, as I feel like they are relevant enough to rank. Also, I have a student attending Williams and want credit. Tbf I didn’t do shit; he’s such a beast. I feel like the LACs fall off after that and get too subjective to rank. It’s all about the right fit, ya know?

Tier 3: Also Elite

14) Dartmouth College

15) Cornell University

16) Rice University

17) Vanderbilt University

18) University of California – Las Angeles

T18) University of California – Berkeley

Dartmouth and Cornell are distinctly the “lesser Ivys” at this point. Still Ivys! But not on the same level as the schools above. It is their ivy-ness alone that floats them to the top of this tier.

Rice is probably the most interesting school in America as it comes to rankings. We’ve seen schools like U Chicago rocket upwards in the past, so we know it can be done. But Chicago did so via a concentrated effort to manipulate the system itself. It worked! Which is why Tulane and Northeastern are now attempting the drunk step-uncle version of it.

Rice instead seems to be doing so by…being really nice? And cool? And having a strong brand? And giving a lot of aid? And letting more students in because then more students can come? And having fun clubs and I bet the colleges play Tug-of-War and stuff? I call it Texas Hogwarts for a reason. Magical place.

Vanderbilt is chill. If Vanderbilt was 25 on the USNWR, it would be 25 here, too. Iono.

The UC system is a caged monster, growing larger with every annual feeding. I would not be shocked if LA/Berk break their shackles and begin to climb the ranks. Altho, I feel like I could be giving the same pep talk 10 years ago…when the two schools were in the exact same spot.

UCLA and Berkeley will also always be tied. Al-ways.

I initially included Carnegie in at the end of this tier because I wanted a nice even T20, but I’ll admit it doesn’t quite hang with the crowd. Not yet, at least. My “Top 20” has 19 schools in it.

Tier 4: The In-Betweeners

20) Carnegie Mellon University

21) Georgetown University

22) University of Notre Dame

23) University of Southern California

24) New York University

25) University of Michigan – Ann Arbor

26) Emory University

27) Washington University in St. Louis

28) Tufts University

The best way I can describe these schools is that very few of my students who attend them necessarily wanted to in the beginning. In contrast, I’ve had students who absolutely wanted one of these as their top choice, but then those students didn’t get in. The result is I apply to these schools with students endlessly but am left without the greatest opinion of them.

Carnegie, Georgetown, and ND could again be their own mini-tier. With each being a top choice for students interested in STEM, politics, and God, respectively.

Wash U, USC, and NYU are where price becomes a determining factor for me. These schools all carry a “pay to play” stigma in my mind. I don’t think any is quite as difficult to get into as their prominence would suggest—-they’re just really expensive. At least with USC/NYU I get the appeal. Wash U, in contrast, I do not understand the interest towards. At all. Consider it on notice.

I’m at like a 75% hit rate for Emory in my career. Then they never go. Maybe it’s small sample size. Or maybe lol that one book I probably shouldn’t piss off the author of.

Tufts is neat. Tufts should be a T20. Just feels right. It’s not, tho.

…Ok. So you want to know what I call Selingo’s book?

Who Gets Into Emory and Why

Please, Jeff. Tell me how I can help students crack the impenetrable fortress that is Davidson College.

Tier 5: Very Good Schools (™)

29) Georgia Institute of Technology

30) University of Virginia

31) University of Texas – Austin

32) University of California – Santa Barbara

T32) University of California – Irvine

T32) University of California – San Diego

T32) University of California – Davis

T32/C) California Polytechnic State University

36) University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill

37) Case Western Reserve University

38) University of Illinois – Urbana Champaign

They aren’t quite as flashy as the schools above, but I’ll be damned if I don’t have a bunch of shirts from school in this tier. In many cases, a student wanted a Tier 1/2/3 and…nope. They then got into one or more tier 4s. But then, when the deposit is cashed, it’s state-school time, baby!

Usually, the rationale is some combination of price and better schematic fit for their major and future interests.

And that’s good! We’ve officially left the world of prestige-based selections, and that’s when practicality tends to win out.

Georgia Tech is the one school on this entire list I most see further accelerating upwards in future years. I put it here because it fits the tier better. But if you wanna call it an honorary 26) overall, be my guest. Because that’s where it belongs.

GT simply offers too much for too large a potential student base to not be rewarded for its efforts. I’ve had students travel from California to GT, which is a huge marker for me of its worth. I love having students apply to OOS state schools for *reasons* but have come to accept that they almost never go because that’s expensive and silly. GT carries enough pull when it actually comes to selection, making it a school to watch.

(I went 6/6 on GT last year. ❤️. Two are attending. One over CMU and one over RISD. I also have a 2020 kid at Duke, Northwestern, 2 at Chicago, Georgetown, Rice, and a Cornell. Also 2 Stannys NBD. Become a Zoomer today!)

UVA seems nice. I guess.

Probably the biggest riser from USNWR on this list is The University of Texas. That school is *massive* in a way that makes it hard to decipher, but boy-o-boy have I had a lot of students from Texas who really want to get into The University of Texas. That 6% rule sure is jank! I simply don’t have that same state-school gravitational pull with other students except when it comes to Cali kids and UCLA/Berk. I don’t have many Michigan/Georgia/Carolina students, so it’s hard to compare.

The four UCs are the exact same rank. What that rank is is tricky. I have had nearly as many students attend those four in my career as every other school combined. But, I also spent the majority of my career applying with students who had around a 3.8. That was the goal all along, and we were both quite pleased to achieve it.

Cal Poly also gets in as an honorary fifth member. It completes the “Holy Pentalogy” of Very Good California Schools (™).

I had no idea where to put the final three schools. This entire tier in general I struggled with because so much of their value has to do with price and fit. That’s what makes them Very Good Schools (™) to begin with.

Tier 6: Middle-Class reaches

39) Wake Forest University

40) Tulane University

41) Boston College

42) Brandeis University

T42) Boston University

44) Northeastern University

These schools were extremely common targets for the same students mentioned above hoping for a Very Good California School (™). Those students often got into both—because I don’t think either tier is actually that hard to get into. For students who got into both tiers, it was a near-perfect 50/50 split over which type of school they went with.

I chose Tulane over UC Santa Barbara in 2009. I regret my decision.

I’m sorry, Wake Forest, I’m just not that into you. No one seems that into you. Maybe it’s been weird luck on my end, but I have never had a single student show even the slightest interest in this school. Your saving grace is being ranked 28th by USNWR initially. That at least gets me to ask, “uhh…you wanna apply to Wake Forest?” And then they say no and we move on.

Tier 7: I get 50 of these?

45) University of Florida

46) University of Wisconsin – Madison

T46) Purdue University – West Lafayette

48) University of Washington – Seattle

49) Lehigh University

T49) Villanova University

T49) University of Miami

T49) Ohio State – Columbus

T49/D) San Jose State University

If the USNWR T50 can be 52 schools mine gets to be 54.

Uhhh. These schools are fine. Florida probably should be higher, but man do kids in Florida throw so much shade at UF.

How dare you offer me a perfectly adequate college education for free. You sick fucks.

The end of this list is mostly schools that a whole lotta kids apply to. And then they always get in. And then they don’t go. The reality is that after the last Very Good School (™) a power vacuum opens and a bajillion pretenders to the throne think they have a shot at glory.

This is because rankings are inherently based on prestigiousness. So when prestige mattered, I had a system. Then, right after that, is schools students logically wish to attend to achieve what college is actually intended for. Those schools matter, too.

But after that? They’re just schools, man. All of them. UW should be higher. I have three UW shirts. It’s an awesome place to go. But, like, I don’t care. And neither does anyone else. You don’t care. You’re still cranky about where I put WashU actually its pre-med program is excellent who cares that the campus is a $300,000 parking lot.

San Jose State rules. Bro, it’s like 9k a year, and then you get fed directly into the Bay Area STEM machine just like you/your parents always wanted. SCU blows. Don’t go to SCU unless they cover 75%+. Never go to UoP. I went to a debate tournament there every year in high school and liked it until my junior year when someone alerted me that it wasn’t a Community College.

This list was entirely as much informative satire as you choose to believe was. Please explain to me in the comments why I’m wrong. Excited to see how USNWR 2022 checks out and unironically shift my entire perception of college admissions by it. I have literally 3 slots left all year glhf. I’m like 85% sure this piece means I’ll never be allowed to join the IECA. That’s alright. Cowboys +7.5 next Thursday, please.


– Mattie