Whether Wheaton College's latest distinction is a good or not-so-good thing depends a lot on what you're looking for.
When The Princeton Review released results of its annual college rankings this week, the Christian institution in Wheaton was second in the nation in the Stone Cold Sober Schools category, right behind Brigham Young University in Utah.
BYU has held the top spot for 12 years and Wheaton is "a usual suspect" in that category, said Robert Franek, author of "The Best 371 Colleges, 2010 Edition."
The rankings are based on surveys of 122,000 college students, and any student with a college e-mail address can participate in the annual surveys at princetonreview.com.
Wheaton College officials say the ranking is a positive mark because it fits the school's moral philosophy.
"Part of our campus environment and goal is to cultivate an atmosphere that stimulates moral and intellectual growth," spokeswoman LaTonya Taylor said.
Wheaton College encourages all students to agree to a Community Covenant, which cites the school's Christian values and discourages behaviors officials believe are at odds with their religion and scripture, such as excessive alcohol consumption, any use of illegal drugs or anything deemed pornographic.
Taylor said many students are looking for such guidelines to help keep them true to their beliefs.
"The students who come to Wheaton are interested in growing their faith, as well as for challenging academics," she said.
In addition to being a the second-most sober school in the country, Wheaton also ranked in several other categories: first, Alternative Lifestyle Not an Alternative (low acceptance of gay community); second, Got Milk? (low beer consumption); second, Scotch & Soda, Hold the Scotch (low hard liquor consumption); third, Most Religious Students; fourth, Future Rotarians and Daughters of the American Revolution; fifth, Town-Gown Relations are Great (good relationship with Wheaton residents); sixth, Don't Inhale (low marijuana use); eighth, Most Conservative Students, 13th, Best Campus Food.
Last year the college was said to have the best food in the nation. This year it moved from fifth to first place for low acceptance of the gay community. Franek said the rankings vary from year to year based on the changing student body.
"Each list is an incredible resource because it reports so much information from primary sources, which is college students themselves," he said.
He added that there is no such thing as a bad ranking in the book. Instead, the categories are created simply to help prospective students make the best decisions.
"If you're a young, gay kid thinking of applying to any school, you want to know what the campus climate is," Franek said. "If the tolerance is low, you would at least want to understand that and prepare some questions. It doesn't mean you should stop your research there, but you should let that make your research that much more savvy. I don't want people to cross a school off their list simply because of our rankings."