Correction to This Article
A graphic with an Aug. 21 Metro article about the U.S. News & World Report college rankings incorrectly said that Catholic University was not listed in last year's rankings. Catholic was listed at No. 120 and retained that spot this year.

Ivy Rankings? Rah, Rah, Sis-Boom-Blah

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By Ian Shapira
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, August 21, 2006

Really, they say, they couldn't care less. Really.

Washington area alumni of the Ivy League -- the Ivy League vérité , please, none of that Dartmouth-Cornell-Columbia-Brown-and-Penn nonsense -- are playing it cool this week over U.S. News & World Report's annual rankings of the best colleges in the nation.

After suffering for three years tied with Harvard as the No. 1 university in the land, Princeton finally broke free to hoard the top spot all to its $11.2 billion-endowed self in the magazine's highly scrutinized rankings, which were released last week. A university in New Haven, Conn., nabbed the third spot.

But graduates of these schools who live in the Washington area -- the country's most hospitable nesting ground for the Limited Liability Partnership set -- say the rankings constitute little more than light social jousting among friends, if that. Some reported that they had not heard or don't track when the rankings are published, while other alumni had heard, but, abiding by their sense of decorum rather than humor, declined to comment for this article.

(Rule No. 1 among the most status-conscious of Princeton alumni: When asked where you went to college, meekly say, "In New Jersey.")

"Yes, I definitely heard about it. A friend told me that we -- the collective we -- were No. 1 by ourselves," said Jennifer Kogler, a District resident who is a 2003 Princeton graduate and a published novelist. "I think people make their decision about Princeton because it's a great school, whether U.S. News thinks so or not. . . . I don't know how they do these rankings. They're important and meaningless at the same time."

For schools in the Washington area -- an editor forced us to mention this lowly tier for readership purposes -- the rivalry over cachet between Georgetown and the University of Virginia was settled: After the schools tied for 23rd last year among private and public universities, Georgetown held on to the spot this year, while U-Va. went down a notch. Baltimore's Johns Hopkins University is still the best in the area at No. 16, although it slipped from 13th. (The full rankings can be found at http://www.usnews.com/ . )

At U-Va., the public relations folks apparently couldn't help themselves. "University of Virginia Scores High in Two National Magazine Surveys," the school touts on its Web site, referring to how U.S. News ranked it the second-best public university in the country and Newsweek anointed it as one of 25 "New Ivies."

Michelle Quiroga, who graduated from Osbourn Park High School in Prince William County, starts her first classes at U-Va. this week. She would have applied to Harvard, she said, but the tuition was too much.

"If someone who went to Harvard applied for a job, they're definitely going to trump someone who didn't go to as prestigious of a school," she said. "But costwise, I didn't feel the need to spend $40,000 a year when U-Va. is considered an Ivy public school."

(Rule No. 1 among Ivy League alumni: Nod politely upon hearing this statement.)

Were the men and women of Harvard and Yale -- or is it Yale and Harvard? -- disgruntled over their rankings? After all, isn't the time-tested expression Harvard, Yale, and Princeton etched in the cultural vernacular?

"It seems like [the magazine] always juggles the top three around just to get you to pay attention, in a very, very, very minor way," said Jake Bittner of Falls Church, a 1998 Yale graduate who is a sales director at a software company. "I hadn't thought too much about it, but I have friends who went to Princeton, friends who went to Harvard, and I'm sure we'll go out for a drink and kid each other about it."

We need a Harvard man to weigh in on this. They must be fuming. Princeton beat them after a three-year epic battle. Michael Gaw, president of the Harvard Club of Washington, D.C., said he read about the rankings on the Internet and claimed, oozing sang-froid, "I can't believe anyone in Cambridge is losing any sleep over this."

For those not in the know, Cambridge is located next to Boston, in Massachusetts, up east.

(Full disclosure: This reporter was a 2000 graduate of a college in New Jersey.)


© 2006 The Washington Post Company

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