There are more than 7,000 colleges in the U.S., and 21.8 million students enrolled in them. That's potentially 21.8 million opinions about what makes a school "the best."
The penalty for a bad choice can be huge. The cost of a degree continues to soar, graduation rates vary widely from college to college, and a growing body of evidence suggests that picking a supposedly "top" school doesn't necessarily pay off later in life.
A noble institution? A good show? A tedious quarter-hour of lame jokes told under the hot sun? The American commencement address can be all of these things.
We skipped and slogged through 50 of the most popular commencement speeches on YouTube - looking for inspiration, wisdom, amusement, corny jokes and clichés - to bring you this mashup of highlights and lowlights.
The Common Core State Standards have vaulted into the national consciousness lately thanks to some high-profile dissenters, like Louis C.K. ("Kids teachers parents are vocally suffering.") and Stephen Colbert ("Common Core testing is preparing students for what they'll face as adults — pointless stress and confusion.")
It's a frequent complaint in education journalism: Reporters should spend less time at school board meetings and get into a classroom to find out what's really going on.
For reporters, though, that's a challenge and a risk, because lots of good journalists don't know what to look for in a busy classroom. How do you know if what you're seeing is "good" or not? After all, reporters aren't professional educators. And they're often under deadline.
The New York Timeshighlighted new data yesterday that once again beats the drum: Despite skyrocketing costs, a college degree is a good investment. In fact, MIT economist David Autor writes in the journal Science that the value of a degree is rising. College grads made almost twice as much per hour in 2013 as workers without a four-year degree. And the lifetime value of a diploma is now around a half-million dollars, even after you factor in tuition.
Former Clinton and Obama speechwriter Jon Lovett knocked it out of the park last year at Pitzer College's commencement. We asked the brilliant animator Steve Cutts to bring part of his address to life in pictures. You will likely never look at a commencement gown the same way again.
Something funny has happened to the familiar commencement address in the past 10 years. That something is YouTube. Steve Jobs' 2005 address at Stanford, to take just one example, has been viewed upwards of 20 million times.
Learning is something people, like other animals, do whenever our eyes are open. Education, though, is uniquely human, and right now it's at an unusual point of flux.
By some accounts, education is a $7 trillion global industry ripe for disruption. Others see it as almost a sacred pursuit — a means of nurturing developing minds while preserving tradition. Around the world, education means equal rights and opportunity. People risk their lives for it every day.