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Unless you are a) a high school student applying for college, b) a person who works at a college, or c) the parent of someone who is applying to a college, you may not be aware of the cottage industry of websites for the college-bound. These sites are the bane of universities, largely because they encourage students and parents to obsess over ever detail about the school of their choice, whipping kids up into a lather about The Perfect School. (And they take advantage of the fact that these kids don’t know that the college you go to doesn’t actually matter all that much unless it’s a top-tier school—and once you’re good enough to get into Yale, then it really doesn’t matter that Harvard rejected you.)

It’s a fascinating world, one that I studied extensively in a past life working at Princeton University, because prospective applicants would sign onto these sites, post their SAT scores, grades, and extracurriculars, and then ask other students (and parents!) if it’s likely that they’ll get into the college of their choice.

Anyway, all of that is to say that there is more to this story in the American University Eagle about its most recent ranking on Campus Grotto—which is not to be confused with College Confidential or Unigo.

Campus Grotto ranked schools by their “net price,” which means tuition minus the average grant—and American came in second after Drexel University with a net price of $36,271.

Obviously, university officials are displeased:

Vice Provost for Undergraduate Enrollment Sharon Alston said these rankings are misleading since the data did not factor in merit awards and other institutional funding from the university.

“The reality is that AU meets the demonstrated need of its students,” Alston said.

Approximately 80 percent of last year’s entering class received financial support from AU.

“This academic year alone, $69 million of the University’s budget has gone toward undergraduate financial aid, and financial aid expenditures are third behind personnel (faculty and staff) and supplies in the overall budget, an indication of the University’s commitment towards the students,” Alston said.

The Eagle story also notes that Kiplinger’s recently rated AU as a good value for a private college.

What’s most annoying about this trend of websites for college-bound high school students is that their opaque editorial standards and diet of useless lists don’t actually do anything useful for students except feed obsessions.

Photo by B. T. Indrelunas via Flickr/Creative Commons Attribution Generic 2.0