Students arriving on campus this week will likely be pleased to discover that Brown has reestablished itself as the school with the happiest students in America — at least according to The Princeton Review, which released its 2010 edition of "The Best 371 Colleges" in July.
Happiness aside, the summer college rankings season this year produced a particularly varied roller coaster of emotions for students who put stock in such things. Brown was situated 16th overall in the highly-scrutinized U.S. News and World Report rankings — but came in last in the Ivy League — while the University also soared to the top of GQ's tongue-in-cheek "America's 25 Douchiest Colleges" ranking.
The Princeton Review's "Best 371 Colleges," which has been published annually since 1992, lists the 20 highest-rated schools in 62 different categories. .The 2010 edition marks the first time in three years that Brown has come out on top of the student happiness list — the 2008 and 2009 editions of the rankings listed Brown behind Whitman College and Clemson University, respectively.
Many students cited the University's open curriculum and emphasis on academic freedom as reasons for the ranking.
"I think the happiness stems from all the freedom Brown gives its students," Anthony Urena '12 wrote in an e-mail to The Herald. "Brown is a university just like any other, but what makes it special is that no one is telling you how to spend your tuition," he wrote.
David Manning '12 offered a slightly different take.
"As a student population we have a sense of self fulfillment that comes from a desire to be a positive influence in the world," he wrote in an e-mail. "So we're content."
This year, The Princeton Review also named Brown a "Best Northeastern College," and ranked the school 6th for "Best College Radio Station," 13th for "Best College Theater," 15th for "Best Quality of Life" and 17th for "Lots of Race/Class Interaction."
The Princeton Review's rankings are determined entirely by student opinion, according to Jeanne Krier, publicity director for Princeton Review Books. Each college is given a score based on students' answers to an 80-question, multiple-choice questionnaire, and the scores determine which schools rank where.
Unlike other publications, The Princeton Review does not give schools an overall numerical ranking.
Top sixteen, but last Ivy
U.S. News and World Report's "Best Colleges 2010" rankings, released in August, are based primarily on empirical data — and placed Brown considerably lower on its list. "Best Colleges," which has been printed annually since 1985, ranked Brown as the 16th-best school in the nation, the same ranking it received a year ago.
The rankings are based on 15 weighted categories, including freshman retention and alumni giving. Peer assessment, freshmen retention and faculty resources are the most heavily weighted categories, factoring in at 25, 20 and 20 percent, respectively. Other important categories include student selectivity (15 percent) and financial resources (10 percent).
The U.S. News rankings compare Brown to other national universities. Harvard and Princeton tied for first, while Yale ranked third on this year's list. Brown ranks last among its Ivy League counterparts, with Penn tied for 4th, Columbia tied for 8th, Dartmouth ranked 11th and Cornell 15th.
While most students interviewed said they were not upset by the fact that Brown fell behind other Ivy League schools, Miriam Furst '13 said some of her high school classmates placed a particular emphasis on the U.S. News rankings.
"I went to a really competitive high school, and college rankings were definitely a popular topic of discussion within the first semester of senior year," she wrote last week in an e-mail to The Herald, adding, "I applied to Brown early decision, and it's my dream school. People in my school were actually pretentious enough to tell me, after I got in, that it's the lowest-ranked Ivy League."
But Furst said she couldn't be less concerned with Brown's position in the U.S. News listings.
"The truth is, though, I really don't care what U.S. News thinks about Brown," she wrote.
"The U.S. News rankings are constantly changing, so I think what's more important is that you go to a school were you can thrive academically and socially."
In a telephone interview last week, Provost David Kertzer '69 P'95 P'98 agreed. He said that despite their popularity among high school students and their parents, rankings might not be the best place to look when selecting a college.
"These are not really the best basis for judging quality in higher education," he said. "It has a lot of limitations."
"If this is supposed to be a guide for what's the best place for one to receive a college education, it's really a terrible place to go," he added. "What's best for any particular student is relatively unrelated to the ranking."
No. 1 for intimate hygiene?
Even so, one ranking — which Brunonians can only hope won't factor into high school students' college decisions — seems to be catching the interest of current Brown students.
Taking its place alongside The Princeton Review and U.S. News & World Report, GQ Magazine has added its opinion to the college discussion this summer, finding Brown without peer: In the magazine's first-ever "America's 25 Douchiest Colleges" rankings, Brown sits at number one.
The article, included in the magazine's September issue, cites Brown as the home of "The ‘Peace Sign on My Mom's 7 Series' Douche," adding that in 10 years, a typical Brown "douche" will be "living with your family in an old house that you quit your job to refurbish yourself (by overseeing a contractor) with painstaking historical accuracy in a formerly decaying section of the city that's recently been reclaimed by a small population of white guys in hand-painted T-shirts who are helping you put together a health care fund-raiser for MoveOn.org."
Gillian Brassil '12, who interned at GQ this summer and helped compile the list, wrote in an e-mail to The Herald that the ranking was "all in good humor" and not intended to be taken too seriously.
"It's obviously intended in jest, and it says somewhere that part of the douchiness criteria was just them being intimidated by alumni at that school," she wrote, "so I maintain that we can be flattered by it rather than offended."
Meanwhile, Eden Castro '12 wrote in an e-mail that she thought GQ had selected the wrong Ivy to top its list.
"Douchiest?" she wrote, "What's that about — shouldn't that award have gone to Yale? That's the biggest legacy, money, power, Skull and Bones school around, isn't it?"