A beautiful campus is no reason to choose a college.The Princeton Review has released a ranking -- based on a completely unscientific survey, as noted by Lynn O'Shaughnessy over at MoneyWatch -- of colleges based on all sorts of factors: academics, best party schools, best classroom experience, etc.

But one really jumped out at me: a ranking of the most beautiful campuses and the least beautiful campuses. The least beautiful campuses included The New Jersey Institute of Technology, SUNY Purchase, Harvey Mudd College, MIT and Drexel.

The Look of a Campus Is Overrated

Who cares what the campus looks like? Have you seen what most students' dorm rooms look like? The notion that families should include the "look" of a campus in even the top 1,000 reasons to pick a school is ludicrous.

And yet many college counselors and advisers stress the importance of the look of a campus, and many students seem to buy into it. Syndicated travel columnist Eileen Ogintz recently wrote about her experiences traveling around the country to visit colleges with her kids: "I've driven four hours to have my son refuse to get out of the car because he didn't like the look of the campus; I've flown halfway across the country to have my daughter bail out before the tour because . . . the campus was "too flat."

Ogintz isn't alone in having to deal with architecture-diva high-school students on college tours. In his book Acceptance: A Legendary Guidance Counselor Helps Seven Kids Find the Right Colleges -- And Find Themselves, journalist David L. Marcus describes the thought process one student went through as she mulled her options for higher education:
Chelsea's decision became more complicated when Skidmore took her off the wait list and offered her a spot, giving her three options. She visited Skidmore and the found the idyllic college -- students tossing Frisbees and lying on greens. She saw campuses through her artist's eye, and she liked the way the light filtered through the trees at Skidmore.

Many Factors Go into a Successful College Experience

Seriously, people: Your or your kid's college experience will be determined by many factors, the overwhelming majority of which have to do with what the individual student decides to put into it. The notion that a school filled with the Brutalist architecture that defined college campuses built during the late 1960s will somehow provide an inferior experience to a more graceful Ivy-clad campus is nuts.

And please: Don't pick a college -- or, worse yet, borrow tens of thousands of dollars -- based on the way light filters through trees. The sun shines on all college campuses, and light-filtering trees are to be found everywhere.

Can we all please agree to ignore the look and topography of campuses when picking schools and focus on something that actually matters?

Zac Bissonnette's book, Debt-Free U: How I Paid For An Outstanding College Education Without Loans, Scholarships, Or Mooching Off My Parents, is available for pre-order and will be in stores Aug. 31.

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The feel of campus affects learning for many students.

If you have to fight to get a parking place, you are frustrated before you even enter your classroom to take that test.

If the campus has a relaxed feel with many trees for example, it can help
make you more relaxed and ready to study.

Each student needs to find the right campus for them.

Attending college is a growing experience.
It is good to pick the right one for you.

August 09 2010 at 9:44 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Good common sense article; however, if common sense were prevalent in today's society we wouldn't have people paying $200,000 for a degree in early childhood development or comments like those before me advocating scenery over substance.

August 09 2010 at 6:51 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Totally disagree with this. Who wants to spend four years in a dumpy place that will depress you on a daily basis? Your environment DOES affect your psyche and what could be more of a downer than an ugly (or noisy) place to live?

August 08 2010 at 6:42 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

how not to hire a financial writer

August 08 2010 at 5:48 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Ah, but Zac,

The esthetic qualities and overall ambience of a campus ARE important to a student's comfort level and ability to succeed academically. "...the way the light filters through the trees" is cavalierly dismissed as being of trivial importance, but do put the prospective 4 year college experience of an 18 year old into perspective. At age 61, college and university are long ago and far away, but fondly remembered not only for the educational experience, but also for the "Intro to Architecture and Landscaping" that those campuses offered.

Pleasant surroundings, like a physically attractive mate, are more conducive to learning and positive interaction.

August 08 2010 at 4:54 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply