Are these schools really a step above all others?

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Discus: College Search and Selection: September 2003 Archive: Are these schools really a step above all others?
By Rocksolid4 (Rocksolid4) on Monday, September 01, 2003 - 02:09 pm: Edit

Are these schools really a step above all other schools in terms of prestige?


By Drusba (Drusba) on Monday, September 01, 2003 - 02:47 pm: Edit

If you define prestige as the universal belief that something of questionable value is worth far more than it is actually is, then yes.

By Argilospsychi (Argilospsychi) on Tuesday, September 02, 2003 - 03:41 am: Edit

Is the education you get at places like the above significantly better than those at lesser know places like Tulane?

How bout admission to grad school?

By Batman (Batman) on Tuesday, September 02, 2003 - 03:52 pm: Edit

Look, at the end of the day your success or failure will be dictated by your individual performance, not the college bumper sticker on your rear window. Any advantage gained from the prestige factor afforded from IVY league schools dissipates fairly quickly after graduation. Do they offer a good education? Of course they do, but so do many many other programs around the country. If fact, the majority of professors at IVY league schools actually did their undergraduate work at small little known Liberal Arts colleges.

By Haon (Haon) on Wednesday, September 03, 2003 - 11:34 pm: Edit

Williams, Amherst, and Swarthmore should be included in the above list.

By Ksolo (Ksolo) on Friday, September 05, 2003 - 01:22 am: Edit

It really depends. Some schools are really good depending on the program (in terms of graduate school).

The advantage gained from the prestige factor afforded from IVY league schools does not dissipate fairly quickly after graduation. It never dissipates. This is because once you obtain an IVY league degree, you also have a base of exclusive networking. So if you are in the job hunt, alumni can assist you in getting a job. And most jobs that people receive are typically done through networking. Alumni at IVY league schools really like to look out exclusively for fellow alumns. That is why the Ivies are an elite league.

By Thedad (Thedad) on Friday, September 05, 2003 - 01:38 am: Edit

You overestimate the advantage of Ivy networking.

By Mauretania (Mauretania) on Friday, September 05, 2003 - 08:31 am: Edit

I agree with Thedad. I know from personal experience.

By Rocksolid4 (Rocksolid4) on Friday, September 05, 2003 - 04:22 pm: Edit

I never said i valued prestige overly much, I just wanted to know.

By Argilospsychi (Argilospsychi) on Friday, September 05, 2003 - 05:39 pm: Edit

What value do graduate admissions officers award the prestige factor of undergrad schools?

By Mike (Mike) on Friday, September 05, 2003 - 06:59 pm: Edit

Mike's physics and Astronomy teacher told his class that two years after graduation the where you went for your BS in science is of little help unless you went to MIT or Cal Tech. He feels there are about 100 universities that provide a good science education if the student is motivated to get it and another 100 LACs that give an excellent UG science education.

Mike's Dad

By Mike (Mike) on Friday, September 05, 2003 - 07:08 pm: Edit

I would llike to add my personal experience to thedad and Mauritania. I have interviewed and hired entry level mental health jobs and the school top 25 or 4th tier has never been a big factor. Perhaps the best person I ever hired graduated from a 3rd tier church related college. In fact few of the people I have interviewed with over the years look beyond the line that asks what degree/degrees you have. The only interest in where is do you recognize the name of the school because diploma mill "grads" go into the reject pile.

Mike's Dad

By Ksolo (Ksolo) on Friday, September 05, 2003 - 10:22 pm: Edit

Not overestimating. The opportunity for that exclusive networking is there. Obviously, jobs are not guaranteed. But then again, the opportunity for networking is there. And it's through networking that most jobs are given out.

Lastly, again, having a prestigious degree does not hurt, but rather, it usually helps.

By Thedad (Thedad) on Saturday, September 06, 2003 - 12:47 am: Edit

Right, Ksolo. And you've interviewed for how many professional jobs? You've held how many professional jobs? You've hired how many professional employees?

Overestimating. And you don't know jack. Maybe after you've been to college your education can begin.

By Obh100 (Obh100) on Saturday, September 06, 2003 - 01:12 am: Edit

I don't think its necessarily the college you go to, rather the kind of person you are. The way I see it, the people who are going to be at the top of the class with 3.8-4.0 GPA's, and doing a lot of things at any university will get jobs and can do big things. However, if your at the top of a highly competitive university it can greatly enhance your application for grad school, jobs. Essentially, its not where you go, but its what you make of it. If you go to a good school, make use of it, and be at the top of the class, and then you'll make it far, cause just a degree doesn't mean anything anymore...

By Thedad (Thedad) on Saturday, September 06, 2003 - 01:22 am: Edit

Right. It's what you've *done*. I've hired, TheMom hires, and of three friends who are Harvard grads, two of them hire. The *most* they'll attribute to Harvard of their careers were some *interviews*, not jobs, early on. Ten years after you graduate, it's as Mike's Dad says: you weed out the "diploma mill" candidates and then look at what people have accomplished.

People who expect the secret knock and the secret handshake to open doors throughout their life are in for a rude shock. Deservedly so.

By Ksolo (Ksolo) on Saturday, September 06, 2003 - 11:46 am: Edit

First, I know this through experience. Please do not assume that I'm not a college graduate, as I am. And please do not assume I have no professional work experience, as I do.

Again, a prestigious degree helps! It does not hurt. Obviously, to obtain a good job, what you have done (aka your experience) is what matters most. No degree guarantees someone a job. I've stated that already.

Anyway, being able to network with alumni is a great thing. It is an added benefit. And it is through networking that most jobs are given. Networking via alumni works in someone's favor usually if, and only if, this person has the qualifications (skills, work experience, etc) for the job in the first place. Many of the Ivy League alumns are at great positions in corporate America. Many of them are willing to assist a fellow alum.

The majority of the jobs I've held were due to the fact that I knew someone who had some type of "tie" with the employer, as most available jobs are unadvertised for.

Also, having a nice alumni network can help to get one's foot into doors that might not be open regardless of how great your qualifications are.

To say it for the third time, no college degree, whether prestigious or not, guarantees being hired. BUT, it does help. A prestigious degree helps, and it does have its own benefits. Typically more benefits than a degree that's not so prestigious. And in the end, it's not necessarily all about what you know, but many at times, about who you know! Both play large roles.

By Batman (Batman) on Saturday, September 06, 2003 - 12:48 pm: Edit

No, a prestigious degree does not hurt. Nor does it hurt to do well at any other quality institution.

Also, with regard to networking, it would be a big mistake to overlook the most highly regarded schools in specific parts of the country where you plan to live and work. For example, in Virginia, UVA, William & Mary, and even Va. Tech grads have far more networking opportunities, and certainly, stronger ties than an IVY league grad would have. Regionally, at least, alumni networks from Va's state supported schools would be considerably more valuable. They are also very strong and visible. You cannot underestimate the pride of the alumni from those schools. I think that's true for other places around the country as well.

I'm also a hiring manager and I can tell you unequivocally, that all other things being equal, we are more likely to take the kid from one of our top state schools, in part because we have several alums from those same schools, in part because we want to support qualified graduates educated in our state, and in part, because we do not believe an IVY name necessarily equates to a better employee. That's not to say we don't hire IVY grads, I'm just saying they have no advantage whatsoever over grads from our own state schools. Of course, UVA and W&M are considered "Public IVY's", but I don't think that takes away at all from my main point.

By Ksolo (Ksolo) on Saturday, September 06, 2003 - 01:54 pm: Edit

Yes, what you have said it's true. I agree. But when I say prestigious degree, this also goes for non-Ivy institutions that are highly regarded.

In the corporate world, whether or not Ivy League alums have a better networking association over other prestigious institutions is debatable. What is not arguable though is the fact that prestigious degrees do help, supplying one with great, and many at times, exclusive networking opportunities.

By Carolyn (Carolyn) on Saturday, September 06, 2003 - 02:32 pm: Edit

Sorry, but Thedad is right. Don't put too much stock in alumni networking or even in the power of a "name" to get you a job. Employers don't hire SCHOOLS, they hire EMPLOYEES.

As someone with 20-plus years of experience as a business executive with Fortune 500 companies, I've hired hundreds of college-educated employees. I've also been in the job hunting seat. The truth is, I have NEVER hired anyone based on where they went to school, and I can honestly say I have NEVER been hired for a job BECAUSE of where I went to school. Instead, I've always made the decision based on the person and what I thought he or she could add to the company. Most businesspeople and human resource managers don't pay all that much attention to the "where" of schooling - they are only glance at your education (which is listed way down on a resume)to make sure you HAVE a degree. Much more important is what is listed up above education on your resume: your experience and actual skills, and how you personally come across in interviews.

My husband is also in charge of hiring "new professional" (i.e., recently graduated with little or no job experience) engineers and scientists for a major federal agency. When the hiring committee is looking at applications, they
DO look closely at education. The most important factors they look at are: what courses has the applicant taken and their overall GPA in college or graduate school. The last thing they consider is the name of the school. In fact, recently my husband mentioned that they had been deciding between two candidates with computer degrees. One had just graduated from San Diego State with a 4.0 GPA, the other had just graduated from Harvey Mudd with a 3.5 GPA. Now, a GPA of 3.5 at Harvey Mudd is quite an accomplishment BUT the SDSU candidate got the job because of his GPA, his internships during school, AND recommendations from his professors.

However, there is one advantage in certain schools: some draw more corporate recruiters to campus. Interestingly, however, Bentley College in Boston draws MORE recruiters each year than Harvard. So it is not necessarily the "Ivy" name that draws recruiters to campus either. Students looking at colleges would be better served for future job-hunting by asking about how many recruiters and which companies recruit on campus as well as the school's career counseling then they would concerning themselves with the "name" or US News ranking.

I am not saying that an Ivy education -or a so-called Top 25 education - isn't worthwhile - it can be a wonderful opportunity to learn and grow - but those who believe that an "college name" is going to spell the difference in getting a job are mistaken.

By Bnp182 (Bnp182) on Saturday, September 06, 2003 - 02:55 pm: Edit

I wish US news would report the starting salary of the graduates of the different fields. It would be interesting to see where people made more money right of the start, and thus putting an end to this futile debate.

By Marite (Marite) on Saturday, September 06, 2003 - 02:57 pm: Edit

I think there are two distinct arguments being made here. TheDad and Carolyn are absolutely right that firms hire employees, not schools. But
Ksolo is also right that networking is useful. Perhaps not to land a job, but to know about the job being available, or perhaps getting a foot in the door. What happens afterward depends on the individual qualities of the applicant.
That said, networking is not exclusive to prestigious schools. In Mass, I'm told, it is (was?) better for a prospective politician to have gone to Boston College than to Harvard.

By Mike (Mike) on Saturday, September 06, 2003 - 03:57 pm: Edit

Starting salaries are only meaningful when comparing degrees. Some fields just don't pay as well as others.

Networking is just a matter of presitige but often is influenced by big instate U's tht produce a very large number of instate folks involeved the hiring process. U of O and OSU have grads in every field and major employer in OR and UDUB and Washington stae are the same in WA. Chances of meeting one of these folks in the personel office or executive suite are far greatter then meeting a HPY grad. They also pass along informaton about who is hiring and give recs just like the elite grads do.

Mike's Dad

By Batman (Batman) on Saturday, September 06, 2003 - 06:58 pm: Edit

My point exactly.

By Purgeofdoors (Purgeofdoors) on Saturday, September 06, 2003 - 10:24 pm: Edit

My dad once told me about some low-level manager who used to be a co-worker of his at a major US company. This employee was always referred to as the "Guy who graduated from my dad's alma mater" - his grad school was a decent eastern establishment, but by no means Ivy League.

One day while looking through personnel files, my father realized that this employee not only got his graduate degree from Decent College X, but undergraduate degrees from both MIT and Harvard! And no one cared!

Several years later, this person was the victim of corporate layoffs. My father, who got an undergrad degree from a small, relatively unknown school, remains with the company. :)

By Ksolo (Ksolo) on Saturday, September 06, 2003 - 11:00 pm: Edit

Interesting story, but what are the odds of someone having not just one, but TWO undergraduate degrees from Harvard and MIT?! And then thrown into the mix is a graduate degree from a "no-name" institution. Ummm, is it just me, or does that story smell of some falsehood?

Regardless, someone can bring up a story where an Ivy league grad is an executive, and the no-name grad is a low-level manager that ended up getting laid off. What's the point?

And should we bring up stories about those who have MBAs and Phds, yet are jobless? And shall we throw into the mix the few cases where individuals have become quite successful, attaining a lot of wealth, despite not having a college degree?

What does this prove? Anyway, jobs are not guaranteed regardless of the prestige of a degree. And regardless of whether or not you even have a degree. Just ask the college and graduate school alums who are waiting tables. And with all of that said, a prestigious degree does in fact help.

By Obh100 (Obh100) on Sunday, September 07, 2003 - 01:03 am: Edit

Ksolo your missing the point, you realize that if you get straight D's throughout college at Harvard, your still going to get a Harvard degree, however, the value of that education is nothing. The executives who have Ivy degrees are those who are truly very bright and succeeded at an Ivy univiersity, thats how they got their job, because they worked hard, not cause of connections.

By Batman (Batman) on Sunday, September 07, 2003 - 10:53 am: Edit

It's difficult to measure. The IVYs only select the very best students from around the country (well, for the most part that is)-- students likely to succeed no matter what school they attend. So how much of their success can be directly attributed to their IVY education versus the fact that so many are off the charts to begin with? Probably not as much as the schools try to make the public believe.

I think any kid who is able to hitch his or her wagon onto the IVY mystique, and the general perception that they too must be brilliant to have been admitted, will experience SOME advantages. However, I think the nature of those advantages tend to be exaggerated. Not sure it's worth the additional $100k+ investment over four years for an undergraduate education versus going to a well regarded State U. Guess it depends in part on ones career objectives or factors involving legacy. Otherwise, I'm spending that extra $100k on graduate or professional school education, not for an expensive IVY undergrad diploma.

By Carolyn (Carolyn) on Sunday, September 07, 2003 - 01:50 pm: Edit

I had a good chuckle last night while reading the new Ben Franklin biography. Here's Franklin's take on Harvard graduates back in the early 1700's --- "They learn little more than how to carry themselves handsomely, and enter a room genteelly (which might as well be acquired at a dancing school), and from thence they return, after abundance of trouble and charge, as great blockheads as ever, only more proud and self-conceited." Of course, Franklin may have been biased: his father refused to pay for him to go to Harvard so he ended up being apprenticed to a printer instead. The rest, as they say, is history.

By Aparent (Aparent) on Sunday, September 07, 2003 - 03:13 pm: Edit

If I remember correctly, this is the reason he decided to found Penn and emphasize what he called "practical" training there. The passage you cite, Carolyn, reminds me of some of the complaints about Harvard voiced by its president in the NY Times' recent cover story. He said they learned too much about how to learn and not enough actual information.

By Marite (Marite) on Sunday, September 07, 2003 - 03:54 pm: Edit


I think you are the one missing the point. No one said that the Ivy graduate who got laid off got D's Harvard. And companies would be truly stupid to hire someone who got Ds at Harvard.

Do try telling the employees of Enron, some of whom am sure have degrees from elite universities, that the reason they were laid off was because they worked less hard than the executives with or without Ivy degrees.

Over the course of his working life, my husband who does have a Ph.D. from an Ivy, has been laid off several times, all because of factors beyond his control, such as a company being bought off by another, or drastically downsizing. At no time was it because his performance was less than stellar or he did not work hard enough. The high tech industry is full of people with great degrees who worked 16 hours a days but got laid off. An Ivy degree is no guarantee of job security. Nothing is. One should want to go to an Ivy for different reasons.

A for learning how to learn, that's no bad thing, considering how likely one is to have to change careers several times over a life of work.

By Aparent (Aparent) on Sunday, September 07, 2003 - 04:06 pm: Edit

Marite, I'm with you on your last paragraph. I was paraphrasing Harvard's prez. I was very surprised to see that nearly all the letters to the editor about the article were very supportive of him. In the article I thought quite a few of the things he was quoted as saying were a bit silly. I think Columbia got the last laugh when they got Bollinger after Harvard turned him down.

By Mike (Mike) on Sunday, September 07, 2003 - 04:06 pm: Edit

Many Enron execs got MBA'a at Harvard. All that proves is that you can get a grad degree at Harvard and still not be honest or ethical or know when to sell. You can leave any college honest,ethical and smarter or not.

By Marite (Marite) on Sunday, September 07, 2003 - 04:15 pm: Edit


You are quite right. I was not passing judgment on the ethics (or lack thereof) of people who come out of various schools, merely trying to make the point that when people get laid off (or manage to hang to their jobs) often has little to do with: a. where they got their degree from; b: their performance at work.

By Carolyn (Carolyn) on Sunday, September 07, 2003 - 04:42 pm: Edit

Marite: Your line "An Ivy degree is no guarantee of job security. Nothing is. One should want to go to an Ivy for other reasons" says it all. Great point.

By Ksolo (Ksolo) on Sunday, September 07, 2003 - 07:06 pm: Edit


You know what's interesting...there are very few colleges (if any) that graduates ANYONE from undergrad with a GPA below a 2.0. So how (obh100) could bring up an example of a student receiving "straight D's" throughout college, at Harvard out of all places, is just odd.

By Obh100 (Obh100) on Sunday, September 07, 2003 - 11:19 pm: Edit

Ksolo, I was just providing a rough example, I'm just saying that there are people who aren't exactly the best and brightest that graduate for the Ivy's of the world, I think its not fair to discredit the people who actually truly are smart that go to Ivy's and work really hard. I think this argument can go both ways, but in the end its all a matter who the person is and what they bring to the table... rather than just a degree...

By Massdad (Massdad) on Monday, September 08, 2003 - 12:14 am: Edit

Batman, you are on the right track. There have been many comparisons done between elite college grads (the term bundles the ivies with Stanford, MIT and so forth..) to us mere mortals. The measure usually used is income at some future point. No surprise, the Ivy grads made more, which fact is frequently trumpeted by Ivy boosters. I'm surprised Ksolo missed this point. HOWEVER, a few years ago, two economists did the "right" study. They compared the income, 20 years later, of kids who went to the ivies with those who were accepted, but went elsewhere. Guess what? No difference.

Regarding Ivy connections - the Ivy thing can also backfire. There's more than a bit of hostility (perhaps mild jealousy, perhaps not) toward IVY grads, especially away from the east coast. For example, what if the hiring manager's kid was turned down by an Ivy? what if (s)he was?

By Ksolo (Ksolo) on Monday, September 08, 2003 - 12:54 am: Edit

Did I discredit those who are truly smart and worked hard at Ivy's? I hope not. To add on to your sentence, what also matters is WHO YOU KNOW.

I could've brought up points like that, but it's controversial. It can go back and forth, and forth and back. One side will route in favor for IVYs, another side will state that there's "no difference" or that the non-IVYs made more. And sure IVY connections can backfire. Likewise, any non-IVY connection can backfire just as well. It goes both ways my friend. What if the hiring manager's kid was accepted by an IVY? And what if (s)he was? Does that mean that the person being interviewed will be looked down upon because (s)he doesn't have an IVY degree? Possibly? Possibly not? I think we all need to stay away from bringing up arguable examples that can go both ways. In the end, what's the point? It leads nowhere.

I agree with what you said. Better to spend such a high expense with a graduate education, than an undergrad.

By Obh100 (Obh100) on Monday, September 08, 2003 - 01:12 am: Edit

Ksolo in certain cases it maybe who you know, but more often its what you know and who you are. However to defend the higher schools when people talk about graduate school, especially when it comes to Med/Law schools, going to an elite school and doing well helps increase chances to go to a professional school, though maybe not Ivy's but any school in the top 25 essentially. An argument people use to justify the Ivy education. However you could still rebutt that claim, and there are so many counter arguments.

so back to ksolo, the fact is, there are compelling arguments for both sides, and really, theres got to be a reason why people want to go to elite schools, and why people will continue to want to go to these schools. However, I think you go to an Ivy school for the surroundings and academic enlightenment, not the salary afterwards, cause well thats not guaranteed no matter what. There are situations, exceptions, too many variables to filter with, essentially a "small N problem" when comparing graudates of Ivies, when not because of the nuances, etc, dealing with a study of that sort. My conclusion is you just keep working hard no matter where you wind up, you do what makes you happy, bottom line...

By Ksolo (Ksolo) on Monday, September 08, 2003 - 01:21 am: Edit

Depends. It's pretty arguable of a statement to make when again, most jobs out there are unadvertised for. And when those unadvertised jobs are filled, usually, it's through some form of networking. Someone at the company knows someone who would be "good" for the job. Or maybe someone asked an acquaintance if they have any job leads for their field, and that person knows a friend at a certain company where a position needs to be filled. Your qualifications alone doesn't merit a job. It's been showed through MANY studies, and its pretty much a fact, that networking is the leading method towards people landing jobs (and yes, what you just said must also be takin into account - who you are, and what you know, your experience, character, etc). Networking usually is the leading factor used to "open the door." Who you know and your qualifications play big roles.

Other than the underestimation of the importance of "who you know," I agree with much of what you said.

By Marite (Marite) on Monday, September 08, 2003 - 01:51 am: Edit

I am curious about the dichotomy I sense in this thread. Whereas so many posters, especially students, in other discussion groups seem to think it's Ivy or bust, some posters here would deny any advantage to going to an Ivy in terms of the education received or job prospects. And when discussing costs, it is as if only Ivies are expensive, and non-Ivies are a great inexpensive alternative. What I have found is that there are a lot of private non-Ivies that are every bit as expensive as Ivies, and some are distinctly inferior in the resources they offer.

My son would not consider applying to Ivies, even though as a double legacy, he would have had a good chance of being accepted at one. He chose instead a LAC that's every bit as expensive as any of the Ivies. He wanted to be in a small college, and the Ivies were too large for him. Because of this, there is no way we would send him to our grossly underfunded state university, even though the tuition there is about 1/10 of what we are paying at his LAC. For out of state applicants, the tuition advantage is reduced, and so are chances of getting in, especially, I understand in CA.

Our younger son will soon be ready for college; he needs to be in a research university with a great graduate program in math and sciences. There are some state universities that do have such great programs, but they are all too large for our son who will be a young college entrant. So we are definitely considering having him apply to HYP. But it won't be because they are Ivies, or because of networking, or because they will offer better job prospects.

By Obh100 (Obh100) on Monday, September 08, 2003 - 02:10 am: Edit

"There are some state universities that do have such great programs, but they are all too large for our son who will be a young college entrant."

Well think about the University of Virginia (12,000 enrollment) or the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill (15,000 enrollement) compared to Cornell (13,000 enrollment), and Penn (10,000) enrollment. I don't think size matters too much, because there are some smaller state schools as well.

I think one thing we all failed to mention is FINANCIAL AID, the thing is, the private universities have bridged the gap when it comes to attending, unless your grossly rich or don't fill out the FAFSA, you'll get aid. And grant aid for that matter, I'm from a middle-middle class family, and I got a 20 grand Fin Aid package, so I mean the fact that the elite schools are grossly expensive are also overrated, and are almost used an excuse for not getting in, going, etc. I'm from NJ and well going to Rutgers isn't exactly an exciting prospect, and if I went to another state's university, I'd be paying the same or even more to go a public university. So I think one must take financial aid into account when talking about the elite privates...

By Marite (Marite) on Monday, September 08, 2003 - 07:17 am: Edit


You make two very good points that I had thought about but did not include in my previous post because there were already so many points being made.

People lump the Ivies together as if they were interchangeable. They're not. They differ in size as well in the quality of their programs. We'e thought of HYP (and Stanford and MIT) because of their excellent math programs.

The wealthiest universities also have the most financial aid available to students, so it may not cost much more to attend a private university than a state university.

By Ksolo (Ksolo) on Monday, September 08, 2003 - 09:37 am: Edit

Marite, Obh100:

You two have both made great points. I'm really not sure how private universities base their awards for financial aid. Although, from my own experience, a prestigious private university gave me a full scholarship for all years, while a state school offered nothing but loans and some federal grants. So in essence, I would've been more in-debt by going to the in-state university. And what's more interesting is that the private university costs TWICE as much as the state-university ($35k vs. $12-15k).

However, for graduate school, for a masters degree, private universities seems to not want to offer any assistance other than huge loans. It's quite disheartening.

Before, I used to think public's had much more funding to play around with. Well, I don't know.

By Obh100 (Obh100) on Monday, September 08, 2003 - 12:38 pm: Edit

Ksolo, in the recession economy that we're in right now, states are cutting back on funding for higher education (so we can rebuild Iraq and Afghanistan, damn you Bush) anyways, it may as well be that if you are in the middle income bracket (75-110,000 a year) you might be able to go to an elite/Ivy school for the same price if not less than a state school. However, all the elite schools give aid based on need, as opposed to merit. It only costs 40,000 if your filthy rich.

By Massdad (Massdad) on Monday, September 08, 2003 - 01:08 pm: Edit

Marite, I would not rule out large research universities, including state universities because of size for two reasons:

- most of them have honors programs or honors colleges, often with dedicated housing, better advising and so forth.

- some have residential learing units within the university. These are set up specifically to offset the anonymity size otherwise fosters, while preserving the advangages of size, depth of resources.

I was part of a pioneer effort in residential learing "o so many years ago", as part of Lyman Briggs College (now School) at Michigan State, in the late '60s, and just visited it for the first time since graduation a two weeks ago. I had gone to a high school with 115 in my class, so size was an issue. I took many classes right within the dorm. Faculty had offices there. It was great, and probably kept me from heading off in the wrong direction - nothing is worse than running into your calculus teacher one evening, right in the dorm, and being reminded that I was, shall we say, coasting. I first learned the term "gentlemen's B" (or was it "C"? never mind) that evening.

Let me know if you want some other suggestions.

By Sac (Sac) on Monday, September 08, 2003 - 04:29 pm: Edit

So many times this discussion involves the assumption that students will go into business, and not just business, but to work for a large corporation, probably in Manhattan, immediately after getting a B.A. If not that, then go on to medical or law school. There are other futures. I think there are distinctions to be made here in terms of whether a student is likely to stop at an undergraduate degree vs a graduate degree, what field the student is in, whether that field is more local or national, and whether the student wants to live in any particular part of the country other than the Northeast for his or her professional life. Talking in general terms of how valuable an undergraduate degree is from an Ivy vs a non-Ivy just does not make one bit of sense to me.

I also think that networking, as much as it is part of the working world, is not the reason to choose or reject any college at the undergraduate level. The advantages to my mind of the "elite" schools (not just Ivies) lie in the quality of the faculty and student bodies they attract. Of course, quality of faculty doesn't matter much if undergraduates have no real contact with them, and a student body can have great statistics but not be the group of people a particular student wants to spend four years around. That's why each school, Ivy or not, needs to be investigated with a particular future student in mind. The people who base their decisions on the prestige factor, I think, are the most likely to be disappointed.

Marite, I want to add a point to consider for your second son, the future winner of the Field medal, I'm sure. As a math major, no matter how large the university, he will have a niche and is likely to get personal attention. Even a huge school like UC Berkeley only has about 70 undergraduate math majors at one time. My daughter had the experience ot UCLA of being in a small department (art). Each undergrad had his or her own mail box, repeat classes with many of the same students, studio classes with only 17 or 18 students taught by major artists. Very different experiences than her friends had majoring in fields like history or communications. In other words, you know your son best, but you might look at what his experience as a math student would be before eliminating some of the large schools.

By Marite (Marite) on Monday, September 08, 2003 - 05:07 pm: Edit


Many thanks. I'll try to respond to your different points.

Let me make an observation about the quality of faculty and students. Given the academic job market, there may not be a big difference between faculties at Ivies and non-Ivies, even community colleges. Ph.D.s from the most prestigious universities with the best departments in their fields take whatever jobs are available, and some try to piece a career out of being adjuncts at several institutions for what amounts to poverty-level income.
The quality of the student body, however, differs greatly among institutions. There are plenty of non-ivies that have students every bit as good as students in Ivies (after all, there are all these rejected applicants with exactly the same profiles as those that got in; they have to go somewhere). I was told by someone who taught at at Berkeley then at an Ivy that the top students at Berkeley were every bit as good as those at the Ivy. The difference was in the students who were not at the top. At a state university, she explained, there was a more rapid drop-off than at a prestigious private university that could afford to be more selective.
Since I think that students learn as much from each other as from professors, the quality of the student body (not just in sheer academic terms, but also in the diversity of their experiences, backgrounds and interests) is of importance to me.

As for my son, we've met a Berkeley prof who's been trying to persuade him to consider Berkeley. I'm sure he'd keep an eye out for him if my son did go there. I do know about the small programs and they are very attractive. But I am concerned about the more general social scene, housing, etc... I am the sort that avoids large discount stores if I can because I find them exhausting.
Perhaps in another year, I will think my son mature enough to be let loose in a larger institution than those we are considering so far.
I will definitely keep your comments in mind.

By Marite (Marite) on Monday, September 08, 2003 - 05:17 pm: Edit

Re: Boston University

It used to be a mediocre school that has done a lot to raise its standards. It has some top notch professors in a variety of fields (Elie Wiesel, Robert Dallek). It has given very generous scholarships to several students I know. It has also tried hard to attract international students, so they now form a very visible part of the BU scene as well as the Boston party scene.

Regarding accommodations, my son just spent six weeks there last summer. His room was adequate though the whole dorm looked quite run down (and the elevator unbelievably slow). He complained that the food tasted like cardboard in both cafeterias to which he had access. But perhaps less of an effort was made for summer students.
Finally, Boston is a great college town.

By Sac (Sac) on Monday, September 08, 2003 - 06:03 pm: Edit


I agree with what the professor said about the Cal student body. It jibes with what a Stanford professor who had also taught at Cal once told me: that the students he taught at Stanford had jumped through so many hoops to get there that he found it hard to get them to argue with him in class. He said he found at Berkeley, on the other hand, a kind of "wild genius" as well as some "dopes". I don't think I'd agree with the "dopes", especially these days, but clearly there is a much wider range. It does come down to student body and the culture of the school, I agree, though particular student bodies are also attracted by distinguished faculty. I also agree, as I think you may have gathered from my other posts, that it definitely does not come down to non-Ivy vs Ivy, which is why U of Chicago is higher on my son's personal list than Yale. (There is a very nice discussion on a site called Philosophers Gourmet. It ranks philosophy departments -- an interest my son mentioned before physics emerged on his horizon -- but it starts with a long discription of how to look at such rankings when considering undergraduate vs graduate education. It basically says look for a strong undergraduate education first, then look at the departmental rankings. It goes on to make many more points).

I should have added to my list of what to consider when weighing ivies vs non-ivies whether a student has already chosen a career path. (Or, as I suspect in your son's case, a career path has chosen him). I think this makes the process a much different one. I'm sure your son will have lots of choices and that he'll find the place where he can grow both as a mathematician and a person.

By Marite (Marite) on Monday, September 08, 2003 - 06:30 pm: Edit


Chicago has a great curriculum, but it's not for everyone. Several years ago, the faculty tied itself into knots over reducing the number of requirements in order to enable more students to go abroad (a move strongly supported for those in humanities and social sciences where learning a foreign language and being exposed to the culture one is studyig are important). Added to the numerous requirements, is the fact that the curriculum is designed so that everyone has read the same things: great for discussion. But perhaps, if a student is not on the conventional track, it may be restrictive. It does have a very strong math department, so it's on my list.

But the application essay can be a real killer. The topics are notoriously wacky. Four years ago, the assignment was to write a TV script that would bring together Fermi and some pop culture figure. Anybody who can write a decent essay on topics like that ought to thrive there.

By Sac (Sac) on Monday, September 08, 2003 - 07:35 pm: Edit

This year one of the questions is to imagine yourself walking a tightrope over a landscape -- what landscape would it be???

I do have to say that those wacky prompts might be easier to answer than the more generic "tell us something about yourself that makes you stand out....." My son has just made a first stab at the National Merit essay and finds it extremely difficult to achieve a tone when writing about himself that doesn't strike even him as obnoxious. Writing some wacky may turn out to be easier!

Yes, Chicago is very self-selecting. Interestingly, Columbia and Chicago, both with core curricula, are higher on his list than Brown which is much more open. The fact is that he tends to gravitate on his own to the "great books" -- thus a summer philosophy course, the choice of AP European History,18th and 19th century English novels, and Roots of Western Literature as electives. So, at least curriculum-wise, it seems like a possibility and he liked it when we visited. There is also a plus to everyone reading the same thing for a student who really relishes those late night discussions. My son's at a school with lots of smart kids, but no one who wants to discuss Wittgenstein with him. Even I am not sure I want to discuss Wittgenstein with him. But getting a cup of coffee in the Chicago student union, the students at the next table were discussing... you guessed it. He does have to deal with the "weird" factor whenever he mentions that he's considering Chicago. He's definitely not a weird kid, or anyone you'd mark from a distance as a nerd -- especially now with the sideburns, the gel, and the wifebeater (ugh, ugh, ugh) shirts. He is intellectual, however, something that often gets confounded in this country with weird, especially these days.
Do you know anything about Columbia's math department?

By Marite (Marite) on Monday, September 08, 2003 - 07:52 pm: Edit

Between Columbia and Chicago, I'd choose Chicago. My impression, which is still very superficial, is that the math department at Columbia is good but not at the same level as Chicago, Harvard, Berkeley, MIT, Princeton. If your son loves philosophy then I think it's either Chicago or Princeton. I, too, love the idea of all the students reading the same things and being able to really exchange reactions to the readings. And it's wonderful for instructors to be able to have a common reference point. By the way, there was an article recently that showed the cultural gap between professors and current students for whom Paul Newman is the guy who makes salad dressing.

I do hate those essay prompts that invite you to boast or claim unique experiences that the average teenager cannot possibly have had. I can imagine my son, who does have a wacky sense of humor, writing an essay to the effect that the one thing that makes him stand out is his unruly hair (no gel: it stands up all by itself).

By Sac (Sac) on Monday, September 08, 2003 - 07:55 pm: Edit

great topic. tell him to go for it.

By Rocksolid4 (Rocksolid4) on Wednesday, September 10, 2003 - 11:10 pm: Edit

so it seems to me that everyone thinks that the job prospects are no better, the prestige is greater, but relatively valueless b/c it depends on the student, the faculty is only marginally better, but the resources are much greater, and the student body is brighter ("wild geniuses" excluded) than the vast majority of universities...
in other words, if you learn from your peers better than from teachers, it is useful, whereas if the reverse is true, there is no reason why HYPS + the 2 IT's are better than other universities, unless you are in a certain department for which that uni is famous (the 2 IT's for engineering, for example)

so complicated... and i'm guessing that THIS is going to spark a debate.
but that seems to be the semi-consensus.
thanks guys, sorry for causing all the fuss...

By Jimjunior (Jimjunior) on Thursday, September 11, 2003 - 03:00 am: Edit

I wish more people saw education for an end in itself. That's one reason that I am strongly considering liberal arts colleges. I know that the prestigious colleges have extraordinary student bodies and great facilities. I think that is more of an attraction over how much the average graduatemakes five years after the fact

By Rocksolid4 (Rocksolid4) on Thursday, September 11, 2003 - 06:25 pm: Edit

People kind of turned this into a "who makes more money after graduation" thing...

I was asking about prestige because I figured that the most prestigious colleges attract the smartest people... and i learn from my peers alot, so I figured that was the way to get the best education.

Obviously environment comes into play, also, (I would never apply to Caltech), but that's why I was asking about those 6... cuz, from what I'd heard, those are the 6 most prestigious schools, and thus the 6 most likely to have the brightest kids

By Thedad (Thedad) on Thursday, September 11, 2003 - 06:37 pm: Edit

I think your assumptions are dubious.

These colleges have an awful lot of bright kids. But bright kids are going to go to an awful lot of other good colleges as well. I don't think a kid who goes to a college because of prestige is nearly as bright as the kid who goes to a college because it's a good fit, even if it's the same college.

Choosing a school because of prestige is one small facet of letting your life be controlled by what others think. If you do so, you're much more likely to spend your money on the trendiest labels in clothing, drive the "right" car, marry the most socially acceptable person, take the "name" job, vote for the consensus pick of Fox News all of which I say, "Feh."

As for "brightest" kids, I don't think you're going to find the peer environment any less challenging at schools like Amherst, Swarthmore, Wellesley and even Reed in its own quirky way. (Reed is a great example of why stats are deceptive.)

By Wobudong (Wobudong) on Thursday, September 11, 2003 - 08:47 pm: Edit

There are two kinds of college networks. The self-adulation network believes that fellow alums must be superior because they graduated from the same place. They will pat each other on the back and if you are lucky arrange an interview, but that is about as deep as it goes. The second kind of network really looks out for its own. You won't find much of this kind of behavior in the Ivy types. If you want a real network, start doing pushups and check into Annapolis or West Point.

By Thedad (Thedad) on Thursday, September 11, 2003 - 09:46 pm: Edit

Texas A&M has a rep in that regard as well.

And to some degree, so do Smith & Wellesley.

By Momof2 (Momof2) on Friday, September 12, 2003 - 09:13 am: Edit

True. Not to start the TX jokes again, but I thought nothing could out-do an Aggie Corps wedding. I was wrong. Try to imagine an Aggie funeral.

By Anonymoussparty (Anonymoussparty) on Friday, September 12, 2003 - 09:56 am: Edit

Alumni bases can't be counted out. Michigan State, Michigan and Penn State claim each an alumni base of 400,000 or so, which helps a lot.

As far as science goes, it depends on what you make of it. If he says people not in Caltech or MIT are hopeless, he's somewhat ignorant. Science fields are somewhat thin and there is a massive shortage of scientists particularly in the physical sciences.

By Thedad (Thedad) on Friday, September 12, 2003 - 02:25 pm: Edit

Mo2, true. I have a friend, visiting LA next week, who's an Aggie and a recently retired full colonel in the Army. He periodically forwards me e-mail of interest, including things that have come through the Aggie network.

By Massdad (Massdad) on Friday, September 12, 2003 - 03:51 pm: Edit

"there is a massive shortage of scientists particularly in the physical sciences."

I don't think so.....

By Anonymoussparty (Anonymoussparty) on Friday, September 12, 2003 - 04:05 pm: Edit

I think so, particularly with regards to physicists the trend projects a dilemma within the US. In 1990 AIP data would show approximately 5000 physics degrees of the BS level were handed, as opposed to 2000 when the number had declined to roughly 4000.

The APS had a nice article which while obviously and inherently prone to being more optimistic, definitely indicated a shortage as opposed to abundance. I would imagine particularly with regards to increased dependence on optical and semiconductor devices and the future of quantum computing, one would continue to see the rise in demand as opposed to the kind of loss of interest that results in dramatic drops such as 20%.

By Massdad (Massdad) on Friday, September 12, 2003 - 10:31 pm: Edit

Anon, you may want to check your data and approach. First, within the sciences, experts don't pay much attention to BS level employment, as that's generally a technician level, not a scientist level. Scientists need Ph.D. degrees.

Rand Corporation published a study this year that looked at the issue from several directions and found no evidence of a shortage.

They pointed out, rightly, that if there were shortages, you would see big rises in salaries. You don't. There isn't. End of story.

The press releases of the various scientific professional associations are not a good resource, as they typically are trying to promote increased support for training of that field.

By Ksolo (Ksolo) on Saturday, September 13, 2003 - 01:27 am: Edit


I don't think you should choose a school solely based on prestige alone, although most high school seniors do this when selecting colleges. The prestigious schools are typically most selective when it comes to admissions. And because the standard of who they accept is so high, the competitiveness of the institution is also high. So you'll be competing with many other salutarians, valedictorians, and other high school academic all-stars. With the not so prestigious schools, depending on the institution, the education can be just as good. Except, it might not be as competitive when it comes to grading and the amount of material covered. As the prestigious institutions tend to run through material quicker, and if not, the grading at the least is definitely more difficult. So exams, papers, and so on will be harder. A lot of the prestigious schools are tough with the grading because of the caliber of students they have. So it's not easy to get an A, B, and sometimes even a C (even with a C you'd have to work quite hard). Where as, if they were at a lesser "prestigious" school, it would most likely be easier as the institution is not filled with so many academic hot shots. The competition is less. But then again, it depends.

Again, it really depends on the institution we are talking about here. If you want to go to a prestigious school because you feel it will challenge you the most, then do so. Just remember that in the beginning, it'll be very difficult because this time around you're competing with many high school hot shots. So it won't be so easy to get an A or even a B in courses. And the speed of which Professors go through the material is quite fast. In the end, do what you want. It is your choice, your life. Just make sure you consider some other important factors other than the prestige, such as the size of the institution, social life, interaction of faculty with students, availability of faculty, academic programs, etc.

By Marite (Marite) on Saturday, September 13, 2003 - 01:53 am: Edit


To add to Massdad's comments.

If there is a shortage, it may easily be filled by foreigners, whether by letting them come to work in the US or by contracting with offshore companies. My husband received assistance in fixing some problems with his Microsoft Word program from several technicians based in India (we live in New England). Each phone call lasted several hours, but clearly Microsoft considered the economies achieved by hiring Indian technicians worthwhile.

The fiber optics industry is currently in a state of crisis and has incurred massive layoffs because it had overestimated demand. Whlte the superiority of fiber optics is acknowledged, the industry had underestimated the initial costs of installing optic cables. Let's remember the teacher shortage of only a couple of years ago, that has turned into massive teacher layoffs this year with the shrinking education budgets in practically every state.

Now I've read that another labor shortage is predicted for the next couple of years, owing to massive retirements among baby boomers, but that's another story.

By Rocksolid4 (Rocksolid4) on Saturday, September 13, 2003 - 02:41 pm: Edit

KSolo -
THAT is what I wanted to know. Obviously other factors are much more important, but the degree of challenge certainly is a factor.
Thank you

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