Rankings provider U.S. News buys college advising service


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Dive Brief:

  • U.S. News & World Report acquired CollegeAdvisor.com, it said Tuesday, giving the publication known for its embattled college rankings a coaching service aimed at students navigating the admissions process.
  • Founded in 2019, CollegeAdvisor.com pairs students and their families with admissions coaches. Services include one-on-one counseling, interview preparation and editing of admissions essays.
  • The advising services had been owned by NCSA, a college athletics recruiting platform that’s part of IMG Academy, a preparatory boarding school and athletics training operation based in Florida. Terms of the acquisition weren’t disclosed.

Dive Insight:

U.S. News is wading into advising after a bruising several months for its flagship offerings, its well-known college rankings.

Despite long-standing complaints about their methodology, U.S. News rankings have enjoyed a prominent position in the higher education ecosystem. Prospective students and families know the lists. College leaders often use them in benchmarking, even as many of them grumble privately about the lists’ influence.

Then in November, two top-ranked law schools, those at Yale and Harvard universities, said they would stop actively participating in U.S. News’ Best Law School rankings. Other law schools followed, then medical schools. This month, the revolt spread to the flagship undergraduate rankings when the Rhode Island School of Design said it will not take part in the Best Colleges list.

Although individual institutions’ exact reasoning has varied, they’ve generally said U.S. News rankings don’t reflect their educational values and discourage them from promoting programs whose graduates go on to work in public-interest jobs. They mirror criticisms from admissions experts and policymakers who argue college rankings prioritize wealth and reputation.

U.S. News initially said it would use publicly available information to continue ranking law schools “regardless of whether schools agree to submit their data.” The magazine’s chief data strategist, Robert Morse, cited the publication’s “journalistic mission” of providing students with information to use in their law school search.

The publication then announced plans to rework its law school ranking criteria to give less weight to peer evaluation and to boost institutions whose graduates enter public-interest careers. But Yale Law Dean Heather Gerken said her school wouldn’t return because insight gained into U.S. News’ decision-making “has only cemented our decision to stop participating in the rankings.”

U.S. News didn’t focus on its rankings when it shared information about its acquisition of CollegeAdvisor.com.

“The CollegeAdvisor.com advising platform is directly aligned with our mission, providing students with a greater understanding of the opaque college admissions process and empowering them with the tools necessary for a successful college admissions journey,” Eric Gertler, executive chairman and CEO of U.S. News, said in a statement. “This relationship is a win-win for students everywhere.”

The publication said CollegeAdvisor.com will keep its current leadership and operate as a wholly owned entity. It compared the service to other products it developed for prospective college students, like a custom rankings service that allows college students to input some of their preferences and receive a list of matching colleges, and a tool that aims to estimate students’ chances of gaining admission at different colleges.

Critics of the college admissions system traced a direct line from the rankings’ struggles to the advising acquisition.

“With its flagship ranking publications under increasingly intense criticism, it is not surprising that the publishers of U.S. News & World Report purchased a new product to expand their firm’s market reach,” Bob Schaeffer, public education director at FairTest, which advocates for limited standardized testing and equitable admissions, said in a statement. 

“The move concentrates the commercialization of pre-college counseling in the hands of a company whose arbitrary judgements and questionable advice do not play a constructive role in the admissions process,” Schaeffer said.

But a U.S. News spokesperson said in an email that the acquisition was not related to recent developments with the publication’s rankings. The magazine has been examining CollegeAdvisor.com since mid-2022, the spokesperson said.

College profile data will be “aligned” on CollegeAdvisor.com and USNews.com, but U.S. News will be editorially independent in its reporting, the spokesperson said, providing a link to the publication’s editorial guidelines.

“Since its founding in 1933, U.S. News has espoused the values of ethical journalism, to ensure the free exchange of information that is accurate, fair and thorough,” the spokesperson said. “As such, all its content and practices are guided by the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics.”


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