BLOG: Newsweek thinks you’re stupid

Dan Bauer is the Managing Editor of The Campus, and he decided to start a blog on a whim. His opinions are his own and do not reflect the opinions of The Campus or the rest of the Campus’s staff.

I’m only writing this to be a jerk, and because the fact that a throwaway list on the Daily Beast led to a full laudatory news release from the college.

By now you’ve likely seen this list of the “Most Rigorous Schools” on the Daily Beast.

Allegheny comes in at number 20. The list also includes Ivy League schools like Yale and Harvard, and at first glance, could give a student reason to be proud, or at least license to whine about her workload.Looking at the methodology, though, yields a different response. The Daily Beast whittled its initial list of schools down from 2,000 to 200 by comparing the ratio of admitted students to median SAT/ACT scores from different schools. Then it came up with the final 20 by comparing “workload manageability” and student-to-professor ratio (which, according to them, is a good measure of class difficulty). This process, in their words, allowed them to find “the workload most difficult when normalized by the aptitude of the student body.”That’s the key phrase here: these rankings have been “normalized” according to student “aptitude.” In other words, this is not an objective ranking of the amount of work different colleges lay on you- it’s an (imperfect) measure of how much they imagine you struggle with it.Keeping that in mind, what do our results say about us? First of all, we have the lowest SAT and ACT scores out of any college on the list (SAT = 1185, ACT = 26). The closest to us is the Illinois Institute of Technology, with 1247 and 27.5, respectively. Most schools have about 200 or more points on us in SAT scores, and four or five points in ACTs. This isn’t to say that standardized tests are a great measure of intelligence- it’s just the measure that The Daily Beast used.

The real kicker, though, is our “manageability of workload score,” gleaned from College Prowler. We got a 4.4, tied for third-lowest but within half a point of the least-manageable workload (Davidson College with a 3.9). This score is determined not by any objective criteria, but from student surveys and responses. In other words, our score is so high not necessarily because our workload is less manageable, but because we whine about it more than most schools. Harvard and Yale, two of the most prestigious schools in the world, and probably more difficult if we are being honest, both scored above a six.

So what does this ranking say about Allegheny, then, if it doesn’t really tell us that we deserve Ivy League props? The only reason we made the list, which again is “normalized” by student “aptitude,” is because of our low test scores, our low student-to-faculty ratio, and our supposedly unmanageable workload. The ranking isn’t saying that Allegheny is rigorous because it’s difficult; it’s rigorous because the Daily Beast thinks it’s too much for your low test scores to handle. In short, according to Newsweek, we’re nothing but whiners of average intelligence.

UPDATE: Commenter Nathan points out that my writing off of Allegheny as obviously easier than Ivy League schools is off base, and I think he may be right. His comment:

“Interesting take however I find some of it off base.  I especially have a problem with this statement, ” Harvard and Yale, two of the most prestigious schools in the world, and
probably more difficult if we are being honest, both scored above a

The Ivy Leagues are without question among the most competitive schools to get into, however many students once they get there are able to essentially coast. I have seen many articles about this, and I have friends from high school who have attended Dartmouth, Princeton, and Harvard and they have collaborated this view. I know anecdotal evidence does not mean much, but consider the following article on grade inflation at the Ivy’s The article may be old, around 10 years old, but it represents a trend. Even with schools like Princeton pledging to deflate grades, to around 35% A’s, there is still a lot of leeway for the students. This is not to say classes are not competitive and students do not work hard, however it is worth noting that America’s most prestigious schools are  not necessarily its most difficult.”

More on this at, a very informative Web site put together by Stuart Rojstaczer. One thing that jumped out at me:

“Highly selective schools had an average GPA of 3.43 if they were private and 3.22 if they were public as of 2006. Schools with average selectivity had a GPA of 3.11 if they were private and 2.98 if they were public.”

In other words, the closer your school comes to “average selectivity,” the less likely it is to be affected by grade inflation. According to the National Association for College Admissions Counseling, average selectivity is 65.5 percent. Allegheny’s selectivity is 58 percent. So there’s a case to be made that Allegheny actually grades its students harder than Ivy League schools do.

This information doesn’t change the fact that Allegheny made the Daily Beast’s list because of a combination of lower test scores and much complaining. But it does contribute to the argument that we might deserve more credit and name recognition than we get nationally.