NYU’s “Dream School” Drop; Whazzit Mean?

I’m not really sure if I know!

Originally published today in the Washington Square News:

The dream-school dream: exploiting ignorance

by Damon Beres

And lo, the skies parted, swine took to the air, and this columnist found himself in complete agreement with NYU spokesman John Beckman.

What value are we to place in the ludicrous Dream Colleges ranking released annually by The Princeton Review? Beckman said it best, quoted in yesterday’s WSN article called “NYU slips to fifth in list of U.S. ‘dream schools,’ ” with the elegantly snappy claim that rankings do little more than “sell magazines that prey on Americans’ obsession with lists.”

It’s true; The Princeton Review has a list for just about everything, beating the ever-softening brains of American youngsters to a pulp and sloshing the congealed soup around in the cold steel colander of their millions. Can’t decide what to do with your useless, apathetic self? Hop on over to their Top 10 College Majors list, which bears the ironic disclaimer, “Whatever major you choose, don’t pick what’s easiest — or what your best friend is studying — because you’ll only be cheating yourself out of some great opportunities!” Sure, don’t pick what’s easiest, but do feel free to go with whatever some website makes sound good.

The concerning trend with rankings madness is the underlying assumption that students and parents don’t know how to think for themselves. It’s worrisome, because although NYU has dropped five places in the Dream Colleges ranking in just as many years, it’s still up there, which means some from the vapid Princeton Review readership might soon be matriculating at this school for reasons as simple as “lolz, totally going to Saks, love ya, bitch, muah.”

 What’s so dreamy about NYU, anyway? The exquisite sight of a hawk dive-bombing an unsuspecting, rat in Washington Square Park? The warm feeling you get as a guard sandwiches you into a Silver elevator and your neighbor drips his Kimmel stir-fry down your shirt? Our proximity to countless nightclubs and bars?

Ah, that last one sounds pretty good, and given the “if cost were not an issue” clause of the dream college list, probably not far from truth. I’ve gotten the impression, looking around a lecture hall or two and letting comments from peers really set in, that a lot of people are not here for a top-rate education; they’re here to become fledgling Manhattan socialites. Do we really want NYU to be desired because of a glamorous Manhattanite image proliferated by the likes of “Gossip Girl”?

We don’t, because while the dream rankings are without doubt the most specious exploitation of the admissions game on the market, NYU’s failure to maintain its top standing might represent something else entirely; the realization that primo academics outweigh getting plastered in a Brooklyn warehouse on Friday night. With the ailing economy, students nationwide might be waking up to the reality that sacrificing the social scene for a Stanford degree could be worth it. (Sure, tuition may not be a consideration in the Dream Colleges rankings, but New York City isn’t cheap, either.) Or maybe, despite a widespread socialite attitude (remember, vapid Princeton Review readership), brains are the new black.

But that’s the saddest part, I suppose. NYU is a great school in a great city, filled with great, bright people, but it simply can’t escape the glitterati zeitgeist. I don’t know what The Princeton Review’s Dream Colleges rankings are supposed to convey. They suggest quite simply, “like, a lot of people want to go to NYU.” But the connotations they drum up — the celebrity-laden campus, the unique social scene, Scarlett Johansson’s “Hayden” dorm room in that Dennis Quaid movie “In Good Company” — are troubling, to say the least. I’d hope no one paid much mind to these rankings, but considering that major news outlets like USA Today and FOX ran stories on them yesterday, that would seem not the case.

Take a closer look, NYU hopefuls; there’s more to our school beneath the skylights and shimmer.



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