Useless Rankings: Brown ranked thirteenth on list of “happiest freshmen”


The U.S. Department of Education recently released a list of the top 25 freshmen retention rates of private colleges and universities. The difference between consecutive rankings here comes down to a fraction of a percent—Brown has an average retention rate of 97.5 percent, coming in at an unlucky a respectable thirteenth place. According to a Yahoo! news report, this officially renders Brown the school with the thirteenth happiest freshmen. The equivalency being presumed between retention and happiness can be easily deconstructed and dismissed, but it’s easier just to point out how irrelevant Yahoo! is.

Unfortunately, they aren’t the only ones that mark these statistics as a measure of our  happiness—HuffPo and CBS News, among others, do the same. We always find it disconcerting when studies attempt to calculate the amount of happiness someone has (or a group people have), but in this case it is particularly discomforting as Princeton is ranked happiest. Sorry, but if this letter situation is happening at your school, you can’t win the happy-go-lucky award. Also, Princeton sorta just sounds sad. (Whoever said orange was the new black was seriously disturbed.)

We commend these sites for trying to gauge our happiness, but laugh at their shortcomings. These numbers don’t recognize the students who love their schools but decide to take some time off to pursue newfound passions, score year-long internships, or find themselves overwhelmed by the possibilities regarding what to pursue in their four years at school and  need some time to reflect. Where are the asterisks that show the students who loved their freshmen year, but simply couldn’t return because said college couldn’t meet their financial needs?  We can’t help but wonder how many freshmen were completely miserable at their schools, but either felt too pressured to take time off, failed to get accepted as transfer students elsewhere, or returned as sophomores, hoping that they’d have a better time. For all schools, Brown included, freshmen retention can’t really capture or quantify the freshman experience. We’re also not even freshmen, we’re first-years so HA! Sucks to suck.

Rankings like these make us consider our own experiences at college. Was I thirteenth-place happy this year? Do I deserve the title of happiest this year? “Me and my friends are happier than you and your friends!” (says everyone between-the-lines to their high school friends once in a while). The reality is that freshmen year is a roller-coaster, a learning curve, a series of up and downs, and all the other cliche descriptions you can think of. The other reality is that there is no place we’d rather be freshmen.

We’re so glad we got to Google Maps our way to the Ratty from Wayland Arch and experience the maze that is Keeney at 2 a.m. and gossip in the SciLi study rooms that—spoiler alert—aren’t actually soundproof. We’re glad we go to a school where no one is forcing us to take Principles of Econ—some of us make that idiotic choice of our own regard—and where the Registrar’s Office seems to be working as hard as possible to make sure our transcripts look as beautiful as possible (Thank You, S/NC). W’re glad we go to a school where they make you take some things S/NC.

A non-competitive ivy-league school seems like an oxymoron, but that seems to be where we go. Brown is a really happy place, in part because it feels like we can do whatever we want to do. It’s not just about open curriculum; it’s about the fact that you can just as easily experience all of Providence life or never leave College Hill; that you can just as easily go to a frat house as a RISD party; that on a given Wednesday night you could be at the sketchiest, most beloved college bar that has ever existed, or in the stacks of the Rock, writing a really great paper on Keats, or in the CIT lounge, doing whatever it is you do there (…seriously what do you do there?). Sometimes going out might actually mean “going out,” but other times it might just mean playing illicit (or non-illicit) games around Nicolas Cage movies. You can be whoever you want to be and be happy at Brown.

It also doesn’t hurt that we have the coolest student body ever (then again, we might be kind of biased). Many of us find it entirely acceptable to drop all of our work and join “Camp Brown” on the Main Green the second any sunshine appears and proceed to soak up each other’s awesomeness. We find it equally as acceptable to get super excited about an assigned reading for class and text our friends about it. Most of us love our studies just as much as we love Arrested Developmentwe’re taking classes that excite us alongside other impassioned students who are in our classes because they choose to be there. But there’s so much more depth to our student body than our academic interests. We find genuine joy in dancing along to laundry lists of fast food chains. Some have called us the Noah’s Ark school for basically having “two of every kind of person out there” (it is acceptable to laugh at the image of our entire student body lining up in twos). But in all seriousness, during our first year at Brown, we have encountered some crazy-awesome, inspiring, kind, and passionate humans who we are excited to get to know better in the fall (or we can just stalk friend-crush on them here).

We don’t think freshman year is all peaches and cream; once in a while you’ll see us experiencing some Leung faces (pun intended). But it was a pretty fantastic year, and we’re really, really glad we’re not freshmen at Princeton. Or Harvey Mudd. Or wherever else they ranked higher than us.

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  1. Rob

    Thanks for the fulfilling post! I had no idea that at Brown you can take classes S/NC, that Keeney is a dorm and freshmen live there, and that we have a library and it is called the SciLi. And you are right, these rankings are useless! You did a great job of pointing that out by writing a 500 word blog post about why Brown is so totally awesome and why the other places are ugly and stupid and orange (groosss). Thank you! Thanks. Great job.

  2. Doug

    Ughhhhh seriously? We are not this insecure as a school and should not be belittling or insulting other schools because we’re upset at where we fall on some list. The fact that this ‘useless rankings’ column even exists is pathetic. If they are so useless (and they certainly are) we should not be paying any attention to them at all

  3. ^ Looks like Rob and Doug there need to relax. It’s a blog post guys. Chill with the unnecessary sarcasm/criticism.

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