Tuesday, April 11, 2006

If you didn't get in to Harvard...

So you didn't get admitted to Harvard. Or that other high-prestige college that you set your heart on.

Here's some sound advice for what to do next.

1. Do remember that some of the most prestigious schools in the US are awful places to get an undergraduate education. Harvard's doctoral programs mostly deserve their reputation. Their undergraduate programs are something else again. As an academic, if my kid wanted to go to Harvard, they'd need a VERY good reason. In most cases, my kid would find it easier to convince Harvard to accept them than to convince me to help pay for four years of over-rated ivy. Since Harvard's admission rate is historically about 10%, well, you get the picture.

2. If your heart is really set on that school that turned you down, then don't take no for answer. Take your next best school, work hard as a freshman, and look to transfer in later as a sophomore. You are not sentenced to spend the next four years of your life at a school that you really don't like.

3. Do realize that graduate schools are not impressed by the US News rankings. Your ability to go to a top-class graduate school depends on your GREs, your GPA, and a number of other things. There are numerous excellent colleges that will not be found in the first couple lines of the US News rankings.

4. This is nicely summed up by Gregg Easterbrook:
"The elites still lead in producing undergraduates who go on for doctorates (Caltech had the highest percentage during the 1990s), but Earlham, Grinnell, Kalamazoo, Kenyon, Knox, Lawrence, Macalester, Oberlin, and Wooster do better on this scale than many higher-status schools. In the 1990s little Earlham, with just 1,200 students, produced a higher percentage of graduates who have since received doctorates than did Brown, Dartmouth, Duke, Northwestern, Penn, or Vassar."

5. So here's a short list of great liberal colleges that I hope my kid will look at seriously:

St John's College: the classic great books program and probably the best liberal arts college in the country.
Thomas Aquinas College: similar to St John's, but with a strong Catholic slant.
University of Chicago: Indiana Jones's school is vastly underrated by high school students, but not by grad school admissions offices.
Wheaton College: "In a survey of baccalaureate origins of doctorate
recipients, Wheaton ranked 11th in the nation in the total number of graduates (all fields) who went on to earn doctorates."
Hillsdale College: first-rate liberal arts program with a strong emphasis on values and culture.


At Tuesday, 25 April, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, part of the reason that attending a top ugrad doesn't mean you'll have the best chance of getting into grad school is simply your own competition.

Most grad schools don't want to take their entire incoming class from a given ugrad school--so if you and 15 other history majors at Princeton are all applying to the same 10 grad schools, your odds aren't as good as if you are the one history major from Macalester with straight As and equiv GREs.

But honestly, if you pick the wrong school, usually you are doomed to stay in it for four years, because it's very very difficult to perform well in a school you dislike. If you've picked a school with a bad program, or that's not a good fit, getting those As will be difficult--and transferring will become less and less likely. At least, it's difficult at 18 when disruptions in your personal life overwhelm your discipline and work habits.

That's why it's important to consider waiting to attend college until after you are a bit older, and a bit more capable of handling adult life.

At Sunday, 07 May, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's true, but . . .

I've known numerous people who were undergraduates at a midlevel state university and then went on to get into elite professional and graduate schools.

Unfortunately, I also no far more that went to the same undergraduate univiersity and flunked out. That's the problem. Those places can easily pull people down if people are not focused on where they want to go next.

At Monday, 22 June, 2009, Blogger Sashimi said...

I have been seriously considering St. John's, Thomas Aquinas, and Hillsdale. I hope to visit the campuses next year to see which one is the best fit for me; they all seem to have unique and vastly different atmospheres. Thank you for giving me some reassurance about my choices, and some fuel to convince and calm my Ivy-addicted parents.


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