What is a “TA-DA! Ranking?”

How does a Ta-Da! ranking work?  A school that earns all five diamonds is rare (2-4 is more the norm) and usually highly competitive, making our “Gold Standard.”  We provide the information because many parents have said that the circumstances of performing arts high school kids are slightly different than the high school norm, which is true.

We know that many schools envision students taking student loans to fill in “gap” money as acceptable, and that some offer merit money, work-study, and other programs to fill in the gap between what the Federal Student Aid people (FAFSA) say your family can afford, and what the college costs.

Particularly for students with some performing arts or fine arts major or minor, student loans are not acceptable. Steady increases in tuition outpacing the rate of inflation heavily are not acceptable. Our rankings will reflect both value and debt specific to arts students, and therefore differ with services catering to mainstream students.

US News reports that 60 schools commit to students getting an education without debt. That is a minority of higher education institutions to say the least.

Schools earn a diamond, up to 5, for each of these criterion:

♦ The school’s ability to provide an exceptional education, not just a degree. Lower student-to-teacher ratios, especially in the early “101” stages where class sizes have ballooned over the last decade into the hundreds and a few, the thousands; A faculty that teaches undergrads and does not hand them off to graduate students; Schools that don’t engage in schemes like grade deflation to improve national rankings at the expense of the student; Can you learn something that you can take into life and use?

One bellwether we use is to look at the number of National Merit Scholars (NMS) coming into the school. Those top students earning National Merit Scholarships have a wide number of options of schools to choose from, so we look at their admissions as a positive sign in their belief that they will receive an exceptional education.

♦ The institution’s affordability. Only a handful of schools meet need beyond the ability to pay for 100% of their students, without taking on loans or having to seek out alternative scholarships not offered by the institution.  Are their merit scholarships, work-study or other opportunities which close the gap between what the FAFSA says students’ parents can pay, and the rising cost of a college education with books and housing, on and off of campus?

♦  The Quality of Life on their campus and the surrounding community: Students have to live at these schools for four years.  We look at the freshman retention rate as a barometer of how students felt about their freshman choice.

Access to Opportunity/Pathway to the Future – Do performing arts high school students have good access to opportunity in their area of interest?  Can students leverage their experiences in the arts to gain additional opportunity or scholarship or just a leg-up in the admissions process at the school?  One aspect of our review of this is the 4 Year Freshman graduation rate: How many students stay on at the school from the time they’re admitted to the day that they graduate.  A fall off of significant numbers may indicate that students did not find the opportunity that they were seeking. When their students graduate from college or conservatory, how many people move on to get a higher degree in music, graduate work, law or medical school?  Do they have a powerful or influential alumni association that can help students migrate into non-degree driven careers?  Do they have a legit career center with a proven track record of placing their students?

Community/Diversity – Part of the mission of a college or university is to expose its students not only to a great education, but a vibrant, diverse community that is representative of the state and the world around the school.

Should you avoid a school with less than 5 diamonds?  No. It’s a bit of shorthand at the top of each report on colleges. but we want you to read the report carefully.  We go through the school’s website, review other rankings, do our own analytics and try to sort it out and make sense of it as it pertains to performing arts high school students.

Some schools may be a tougher fight to put all the pieces together for you. If it is the right “fit” for your student, though, it may well be worth it.

We want you to explore their websites, tour their campuses, and decide for yourself.  Since the websites of colleges vary widely, we want to provide some commonality that gives you an idea of how schools we recommend are likely to be.

You should always be a good “shopper” for your education, or your student’s education, and go into the process with eyes wide open.