Collegiate ranking looks beyond books

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Ivy League? What Ivy League?

The quality of a campus is all in the eye of the beholder, according to a survey of 115,000 students released today, which reveals that political leanings, food and mood sway collegians rather than academic prestige alone.

Rice University in Houston ranked the best “quality of life,” while the University of Chicago was cited as “best overall academic experience,” according to students at 361 campuses polled by Princeton Review, a New York-based research group and publisher.

The “toughest school to get into” was not Harvard University, but the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The hallowed halls of Harvard, in fact, only rated mention for its library. Yale University made the list by virtue of its student newspaper; Princeton University for its financial aid.

The most politically active campus was American University in Washington; the least politically active — “Election, what election?” the survey quipped — was Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Worcester, Mass. The most “Birkenstock-wearing, tree-hugging, clove-smoking vegetarians” were found at Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, N.Y., while Reed College in Portland, Ore., was rated the least religious.

“College admission has gotten crazy. Valedictorians with perfect SATs may not get into the college of their dreams,” said Harriet Brand of the Princeton Review yesterday. “But what is the college of their dreams? Prospective students need lots of information to find out.”

The survey posed 80 questions to students about life on their campus during the 2005-06 school year, including partying, study time, dorms, sports, cuisine — or lack of it — and prevailing attitudes.

“The real challenge for applicants and parents is finding the college that’s best for them,” said Robert Franke, who compiled the data.

For students who like to party, the University of Texas grabbed the top slot, besting Penn State University and last year’s biggest party school winner the University of Wisconsin.

But partying didn’t jibe with happiness, as Brown University in Providence, R.I., grabbed the “happiest” campus status.

The least happy campus was the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, which also got the worst marks for its food and professors. The U.S. Coast Guard Academy was not shipshape, either. It was most cited for having “dorms like dungeons.”

On a happier note, the U.S. Air Force Academy ranked tops for “professors who make themselves accessible.” Middlebury College in Middlebury, Vt., had the best overall professors, while Fisk University in Nashville, Tenn., was accused of having the most “long lines and red tape.”

Where do students wax most nostalgic for former President Ronald Reagan? That would be Hillsdale College in Hillsdale, Mich.

Alternatively, they pine most for former President Bill Clinton at Warren Wilson College in Asheville, N.C. — which, incidentally, ranked tops in “Reefer Madness” — marijuana use — in the poll.

Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, rated the best food; Pepperdine University in Malibu, Calif., the most beautiful campus, Drexel University in Philadelphia the least; the University of Wisconsin the most beer drinkers — and Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, rated the most “stone cold sober.”

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