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New College Ranking Places Harvard Fifth

By Zachary M. Seward, Contributing Writer

Yale edges out Harvard, and MIT reigns supreme in a new ranking of the nation’s most selective colleges and universities unveiled Wednesday by The Atlantic Monthly.

Local admissions officers decried the list, blasting the magazine for merely adding to the anxieties of high school students and their parents.

“They’re changing the standard so they can sell more magazines,” said Marilee Jones, dean of admissions at MIT, whose school ranked first in the list.

Harvard is the nation’s fifth most selective school, according to the magazine, trailing MIT, Princeton, Cal-Tech and Yale.

James M. Fallows ’70, whose story leads The Atlantic’s coverage this month, defended the magazine’s rankings and accompanying articles as an attempt to temper the chaotic college admissions process.

“We used this ranking system to illustrate how meaningless rankings can be,” said Fallows, a former Crimson president.

Admissions officers, however, predicted the list would be viewed as yet another college ranking system akin to the famous annual survey published by U.S. News & World Report.

“I was surprised to learn that they were doing rankings,” said Marlyn McGrath Lewis ’70-’73, director of undergraduate admissions at Harvard.

The Atlantic’s apparent foray into the college rankings game follows previous critiques of admission practices in the magazine.

Fallows penned a piece for The Atlantic two years ago which set off a heated national debate over early admission, and his article in this month’s issue again alleges flaws in an “overloaded” college admissions system.

“Anybody up to the challenge of reading The Atlantic...will be smart enough to take the message of the general trend of admissions,” Fallows said.

He said the rankings, which take into account admission rates, SAT scores and class rank of matriculating students, will not be an annual feature in the magazine.

“We’re definitely not getting into the rankings bit,” Fallows said.

In an interview with The New York Times published Wednesday, John F. Sullivan, the magazine’s president, appeared to indicate the magazine had been motivated by profits in publishing the list.

“Atlantic readers are people too, and they have the same natural instincts,” Sullivan told the Times. “They like lists, and we’re appealing to them with a list.”

Sullivan could not be reached forcomment, but, in a statement forwarded by Fallows, Atlantic Managing Editor Cullen Murphy said, “There clearly was some miscommunication.”

Murphy said the magazine plans to publish an annual package of articles on college admissions but not a regular list of the country’s most selective schools.

“We are not going to get into any rankings competition with U.S. News,” Murphy said.

Richard Folkers, director of media relations for U.S. News, wrote in an e-mail that The Atlantic list is a helpful peer to his magazine’s rankings.

“Welcome to the club,” he said.

An article introducing The Atlantic’s “selectivity database” this month acknowledges many flaws in the list.

“The fact is, neither selectivity rankings nor aggregate statistics for any school can really tell candidates with any degree of precision the likelihood they will be admitted,” wrote Don Peck, director of the magazine’s editorial research staff.

“Such a rating seems to provide clarity. But the clarity is an allusion,” he adds.

McGrath Lewis and MIT’s Jones said statistics used in The Atlantic’s list, especially the admissions rate, could be easily skewed by college admissions offices.

Harvard’s admissions rate was a slim 11 percent last year, second only to the U.S. Coast Guard Academy among schools on The Atlantic list.

Those schools ranking higher than Harvard were generally helped by slightly higher SAT scores and class ranks of matriculating students.

No school bested Harvard in the U.S. News rankings published last month, in which it tied Princeton for first place.

Fallows expressed surprise that anyone would be “thrown into a tizzy by one page” in the magazine.

“This is trying to be part of a solution rather than part of a problem,” he said.

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