Cornell vs. Williams

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Discus: College Search and Selection: April 2004 Archive: Cornell vs. Williams
By Eulogy1786 (Eulogy1786) on Sunday, April 25, 2004 - 07:49 pm: Edit

-Much Larger Campus and student population
-Several times more courses offered
-Several Colleges within the school to transfer between
-"Ivy" Status
-Semi-urban (still pretty rural) city and Collegetown
-research institute
-great campus

-small class sizes
-better professor:student relationship
-reputation as one of the best LACs
-great grad school placement
-easier to conduct research during undergrad
-great campus

Between the two colleges, im assuming the workload is very similar (both very strenuous). However, because WIlliams is smaller, I'd also assume it would be easier to get help from your professors. Also, Williams has a "tutor" system set in place for students who need help with school work.

Both schools have good reputations, but Cornell's status as an ivy school is more universal. William's reputation is not as widespread. Currently im planning to go pre-med, however if i decide to enter a different field, the ivy league reputation might be more useful. Also, the several schools at Cornell give me more options.

AGHHHHH!!! I dont know where i want to go...

By Gabushida (Gabushida) on Sunday, April 25, 2004 - 08:08 pm: Edit

Everyone I've talked to at Cornell loves it and says the Professors are very approachable.

By Sunshine916 (Sunshine916) on Sunday, April 25, 2004 - 08:15 pm: Edit


welcome to my life...


hi Eulogy :)

i think im going crazy over the decision

By Thedad (Thedad) on Sunday, April 25, 2004 - 09:20 pm: Edit

"Reputation" is a restatement of "prestige." Unclean! Unclean!

Believe it or not, there are people to whom Cornell means bupkis too. Are you going to let the foibles of that subgroup of people who are aware of Cornell and not aware of Williams--by definition, a group not as informed and ightbray as those who are aware of both--make your decision for you?

By Crnchycereal (Crnchycereal) on Sunday, April 25, 2004 - 09:24 pm: Edit

Clearly, the correct choice is Williams. Why, you ask? Because I'm going! And if you're cool like me, you'll make the same decision. End of discussion.

By Mini (Mini) on Sunday, April 25, 2004 - 09:43 pm: Edit

Isn't Cornell that cow college? Oh, wait, that's Williams, and theirs (ours) are purple!
Most folks out here wouldn't know a Cornell from a Grinnell from a Bucknell. But then most folks out here mistake Williams for Whitman.

Since Whitman has more reputation than Grinnell or Bucknell, I think you should go to Williams.

By Travisd (Travisd) on Sunday, April 25, 2004 - 10:19 pm: Edit

Williams. The fact that you get so much personal attention is crucial. At Cornell, most classes are pretty large and are given in lecture halls [I think...]. Also, Williams students have a good deal less stress than Cornell students, since something about Cornell's academics drives everyone insane. And Williams has a markedly better grad school success rating.

By Qt1396 (Qt1396) on Sunday, April 25, 2004 - 10:58 pm: Edit

eulogy- im basically in the same position as u.. im trying to choose between cornell, berkeley, and williams.. when i visited cornell, the people there didnt see too happy; they all appeared to be stressed with exams, hw, etc; the place did seem quite depressing, perhaps its because i visited on a rainy day... however, you can tell that the people at williams really did love their school despite its isolation.. anyways, i think ill probably end up choosing williams considering the fact that i intend to go on to grad school.

By Everet (Everet) on Sunday, April 25, 2004 - 11:18 pm: Edit

Qt- i think ill probably end up choosing williams considering the fact that i intend to go on to grad school.

err explain. I'm planning to go to law school and I'm going to cornell for undergrad. If you're talking about grad school placement Cornell's is pretty good.

By Crnchycereal (Crnchycereal) on Sunday, April 25, 2004 - 11:51 pm: Edit

But Cornell lags far behind Williams in grad school placement. Check it out:

According to WSJ, Williams ranks number 5 just behind HYPS in terms of highest percentage of grads going to the top 15 professional schools, including law, medicine, and business schools. Cornell? Number 25.

By Everet (Everet) on Monday, April 26, 2004 - 12:22 am: Edit

yeah but that survey includes all of cornells colleges. It's a bit misleading. I mean if you think about it for example the hotel school would be the last stop for many students at cornell. Or like the architecture school etc

By Snuffles (Snuffles) on Monday, April 26, 2004 - 12:49 am: Edit


By Haon (Haon) on Monday, April 26, 2004 - 03:04 pm: Edit

Everet--Cornell does have "pretty good" grad school placement. Williams, however, has amazing grad school placement. Also, I'm fairly certain that the survey DOESN'T include all of Cornell's colleges...

Even if the survey does include all of Cornell's college, Williams still does better than Cornell A&S in both placement and acceptance rates into top grad, law, and med schools.

By Carolyn (Carolyn) on Monday, April 26, 2004 - 03:10 pm: Edit

Maybe this will help - another Mom posted this in the parents board. It's an editorial written by the president of Whitman college about the value of a liberal arts education in a liberal arts institution (by the way, Whitman patterned itself on Williams). If you see yourself in this article - or would like to see yourself be LIKE this - Williams is the way to go.

By Confused86 (Confused86) on Monday, April 26, 2004 - 04:41 pm: Edit

I agree with Everet, if you are in Cornell CAS or Engineering you will be fine... go to Cornell

By Crnchycereal (Crnchycereal) on Monday, April 26, 2004 - 04:56 pm: Edit

Well, I checked the numbers, and the survery does indeed include all of the schools. However, even if you were to adjust those numbers assuming that only CAS grads go to a professional school, then they only barely edge out Williams (Williams being slightly over 9%, Cornell now being slightly over 10%). That said, the number is still slightly inflated because clearly, not only CAS grads would go to a professoinal school.

By Confused86 (Confused86) on Monday, April 26, 2004 - 05:17 pm: Edit

Well the other schools do not apply in my situation.

Crunchy, how did you calculate the percentages?

By Mini (Mini) on Monday, April 26, 2004 - 05:17 pm: Edit

This is one of those cases where WSJ might be measuring inputs, rather than "value added". Virtually no professional schools - business, law, or medicine - offer very substantial scholarships. So it stands to reason that it is more likely that a very intelligent student from a family that can afford $168,000 for an undergraduate education is more likely to attend (or even contemplate) 3 more years at $135,00 than a similarly intelligent one who needed financial aid. (This works for grad schools too -- a wealthier student could attend without fellowship assistance, a poorer one -- of similar intelligence and grades -- not likely.)

This is a testable hypothesis. One could plot the statistical variation in professional school enrollment for students with the same SATs based on family income, or simply whether they received undergraduate financial aid or not. Or, if one didn't want to be so formal, take a look at the professional school entries of Yale students (where only 40% of students are on financial aid, and 60% of parents plunk down $168,000) and check the financial aid status of those who attend Harvard law.

Note that above it was suggested that Cornell ranks far behind Williams in grad. school placement. Being a Williams grad., I'd have to say that would be nice, but it is not clear whether that is simply a measure of the value of the school, or the wealth of its familise, or both.

By Imho (Imho) on Tuesday, April 27, 2004 - 02:19 pm: Edit

Uhh....why is this even a question? I can understand someone turning Cornell for Stanford or Harvard or equivalent, but....for Williams??? I just don't think it's even an issue.

By Crnchycereal (Crnchycereal) on Tuesday, April 27, 2004 - 03:30 pm: Edit

Imho, you make a rather broad statement without backing it up with any reasons why. Now, I infer that when you say turning down Cornell for Stanford/Harvard would be an easy decision (which may not necessarily be the case for everyone), you mean that Harvard and Stanford offer substantially better educations. If this is the case, then you also mean to say that Cornell is relatively better than Williams. However, what are your reasons for doing so? Surely you can't claim they provide better educational opportunities; Williams matches Cornell in most cases and may even surpass it in some. Student body? Hard to find a student body more talented than Williams'. So what then? Name? Not everybody is a prestige whore. So what else? Location? Size? Student body make-up? Sorry, but the fact of the matter is that all of the other issues are purely subjective and will mean different things to different people. As to the other factors that are directly comparable, there is certainly little to convince me that Cornell is the "clear choice."

By Imho (Imho) on Tuesday, April 27, 2004 - 04:55 pm: Edit

Williams normally competes with Harvey Mudd, Pomona and other small schools..most of the students applying to Harvard, Cornell, Stanford etc. are usually going for the prestigious schools (because of the great world-class academics).... I don't think Williams fits well in that picture. It usually faces more local competition than the big name schools, which tend to get international level competition.

I'd understand if someone were to torn between say, Stanford, Cornell, Brown etc....but it's usually not reasonable to be confused between those schools and harvey mudd, pomona etc.

By Crnchycereal (Crnchycereal) on Tuesday, April 27, 2004 - 05:49 pm: Edit

Harvey Mudd and Pomona, though great schools, are not at the level of AWS. Again, you really didn't support your claims with evidence. You just said that Williams competes with smaller schools, whereas larger research institutes compete with other large research institutes...well DER! Universities and LACs are like apples and oranges, but again, the latter typically provides a much stronger undergrad-education. Furthermore, the fact that you draw a distinction between Cornell and Williams merely based on the fact that they compete with different groups of schools says nothing about the quality of education or the student body. Comparing both schools objectively reveals few relative advantages that either has over the other.

By Haon (Haon) on Tuesday, April 27, 2004 - 10:21 pm: Edit

Imho--you're actually incorrect. Williams competes the most with Amherst, Dartmouth, Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and Middlebury, not with Harvey Mudd and Pomona. Williams competes more with Brown, Columbia, and even Cornell i believe than Harvey Mudd or Pomona. I believe the biggest overlap for Williams is Dartmouth, actually (who they split cross-admits with about 50-50).

Williams is also one of only six schools in the entire WORLD that are need blind for 100% of students (including international students), and thus is more competitive for international students than many other similarly-selective schools.

The revealed preference survey of students pursuing undergraduate degrees list Williams at #11 and Cornell at #16...according to this, Williams is a more preferable school than Cornell is.

Cornell is 62% out of state. Williams is 80% out of state (it seems to me that Williams is less regional).

Mini--that's an interesting point that I've never thought of. I'd like to look into this more when I have more time, but upon brief observation, I don't believe there's any corrolation between % of students on financial aid and WSJ ranking.

One possibility for Williams ranking higher is WSJ than Cornell would be that Williams students go to Med/Law/Business schools more than Cornell students. Of those applying to ANY med/grad/law school from Williams, 41% go to one of the elite schools WSJ used in their survey. Of those applying to ANY med/grad/law school from Cornell, 5% go to one of the elite schools WSJ used in their survey. Assuming ONLY Cornell A&S and engineering send students to one of the WSJ's elite schools (which is not true) and assuming that the %age of students going on to grad/med/law school from A&S and Engineering is identical to %ages of all of Cornell (which is not true), the number would still only be 11%. The actual %age of A&S and Engineering kids who go to Med/Law/Grad schools at one of WSJ's elite schools will be lower, probably closer to 8-9%.(numbers derived from's %age of students going on to grad/law/med school, the cornell website, and the WSJ feeder school rankings). Please, double check my numbers--they seem too drastic to be correct (if they are correct then I'd strongly recommend Williams as it seems to do much better in getting its students into top grad/law/med schools).

By Mini (Mini) on Tuesday, April 27, 2004 - 11:11 pm: Edit

Haon -- bear with me a minute. Last time I looked (I don't follow it carefully), while Williams is 100% need-blind, 60% of the students (give or take a few percentage points) received no financial aid, so that means the average student at Williams has a parent that can cough up $168,000 for college (there may be some private loans, of course.) That means that while they are "need-blind", like Yale they find the bulk of successful applicants among the very well-healed. (No jealousy here -- my d. got into Williams, with a very fine financial package.)

Why is that? Well, other studies have shown a clear correlation between SAT scores and family income. In the upper SAT reaches, you can figure that every quadrant from $0-50,000, $50,000-$100,000, $100,000-$150,000, and above in family income is worth roughly 100 points on the SAT I. In other words, all things being equal, and looking at things in aggregate, a 1300 SAT for someone in the bottom bracket is equivalent to a 1500 in the plus $100,000 bracket. No mystery here -- money buys opportunity -- homes in areas of better schools, more mentoring opportunities, more test prep, and, likely, more books in the home, better chance of high-powered conversation. This is all in aggregate of course, and has little to do with individuals.

What I'm saying is that a top-flight school with fewer folks on financial aid is likely to do better with professional school admissions. More importantly, the students are more likely to apply, knowing (or feeling) they are likely to be able to foot the bill.

So the question always remains: do prof. school admissions measure inputs (the facts that the students are academic superstars to begin with, plus the value of family wealth, both in preparing students and in actually paying the bills), or "value added"?

These are all testable hypothesis. You should look at the WSJ survey again. It would be fascinating to look at HYPS legacies, correlate them with family income, and see what their prof school admissions looked like. (GWB went to Harvard Biz....)

By Haon (Haon) on Wednesday, April 28, 2004 - 02:07 am: Edit

Mini--the %age of students at Williams on finaid is still around 40%...I think it may be slightly higher but don't quote me (I'd guess 45%). However, Williams differs very little from other schools in the %age of students on finaid (princeton is 42%, Yale 46%, harvard 48, amherst like 46 or so...etc...).

The corrolation between SATs and income that you're finding is not surprising. Those with more education tend to make more money, and have kids who do better on the SAT than those wiht less education making less money. I'm one of the few left that believes that you can't study for the SAT (I didn't). I don't agree that money buys high SAT scores, because even if it were possible to study for the SAT, I don't think you're going to get much more for $1000 than for $25.

Check on if what you were saying were true, there would be corrolation between # of students going to law/med/grad schools, and # of students on finaid (schools with more students on finaid would have less students applying to med/law/grad schools). After looking through several schools you'll find that no such corrolation exists.

Your question of input vs output is another interesting, but entirely separate question. I've been meaning to rate selectivity of colleges vs the wsj survey for a while, but i haven't had the time to do it. You would expect the most selective school in the country to place the most students into top grad schools...if I had more time I'd combine selectivity rankings and try to establish which schools are "overperforming" (sending more students to top schools than their selectivity would merit) and which schools are "underperforming" (sending less students to top schools than their selecitivity would indicate). This is something that would be VERY hard to do correctly, but could be used as a pretty good measure of school quality.

By B18c1cx (B18c1cx) on Wednesday, April 28, 2004 - 04:56 am: Edit

Let's use my method by comparing:

Williams is, arguably, the best school in the country (I am going to get shat on for this, but I think it's true).

Cornell is not.

Before someone kills me, I would like to talk about why I said that:

Williams is very prestigous and has a more loyal (by %) group of alumni who seems to do well. They ALL seem to do well. You will never be left behind at a school like Williams. When everyone there works... you will work. Your likelyhood for succsss is greater. I know no one who is doing poorly there.

At Cornell, it is VERY possible to be lost in the crowd and end up with a •••••• gpa and some good college memories. I know a few kids who are doing real •••••• at Cornell.

The choice is simple.

By Mini (Mini) on Wednesday, April 28, 2004 - 11:24 am: Edit

" Mini--the %age of students at Williams on finaid is still around 40%...I think it may be slightly higher but don't quote me (I'd guess 45%). However, Williams differs very little from other schools in the %age of students on finaid (princeton is 42%, Yale 46%, harvard 48, amherst like 46 or so...etc...)."

You need to compare Williams with schools having a different financial aid profile (i.e. Cornell -- I find this all ironic, as 35 years ago, I rejected Cornell to go to Williams, and I'd do it again.)

As already noted, "top" (meaning "richest") professional schools is not a good measure -- to go, a student needs not only top grades, but an ability to pay (or imagine paying) another $135,000 on top of undergraduate costs to even consider going. (and legacies, or having fathers named "Bush" help.)

A better measure for measuring the value-added of a school (not simply how wonderful -- and wealthy -- students were when they entered, but what the value of the education received was) would be to measure future Ph.Ds, as so many Ph.D. programs give at least enough money for a student to live on, and then correct for family income status (and the effect in lower SATs among admitted students.)

If you do this....I have no doubt that you will find that Earlham College is likely the best college in the country (not having the "best students", mind you, but the one that adds the most value to those students.) You'll likely find that Reed and several others in the Midwest are close behind.

In the sciences, you'll find that the women's colleges -- Wellesley, Smith, Mount Holyoke, and Bryn Mawr -- far outstrip the AWS of the world, if only because a much higher percentage of women in these colleges major in science, math, and (at Smith) engineering. This will be further compounded by the fact that the financial situations of student families at Mount Holyoke and Smith (70% on aid, 10% older students) are far, far poorer than average families at HYPS and AWS.

Anyhow, Williams and Cornell are both wonderful places. Students work hard, play hard, and do well. In the final analysis, it's all about "fit".

By Carolyn (Carolyn) on Wednesday, April 28, 2004 - 12:12 pm: Edit

Mini- I like your concept of "value added," particularly in the sciences. Interesting question: Is a school that takes "B" or even a "C" students and turns them into "A" students who go on to graduate school or successful careers any less better than a school that takes an "A" student and sends them on to graduate school? I've heard and seen some amazing stories of small liberal arts schools that probably aren't on anyone's radar here at CC turning out nobel prize chemists, getting above-average percentages of kids into med school, and letting students do some amazing research...yet the prevailing thinking still seems to be "If it ain't a "prestige school" you can't get a good education." Very interesting how our minds work.

By Imho (Imho) on Wednesday, April 28, 2004 - 01:07 pm: Edit

I'd say that Cornell is probably 1000x more recognizble (the 1000x is just a guess, because it's Ivy level). Don't know what to say about Williams though...I guess it's a "feeder" school, so it'll help you get into a good school eventually. If it can get someone in a Cornell or Harvard grad program, then it's not too bad.

By Ariesathena (Ariesathena) on Wednesday, April 28, 2004 - 02:22 pm: Edit

Two things, one regarding the Cornell vs. Williams, the other regarding the professional school placement:

Personally, I would go for Williams before Cornell. Both are located in rural, cold areas - no differences there. Williams is entirely focused on the undergrad (having little or no grad programmes), has amazing facilities, professors, and alum networks. The Williams alums are notoriously (in a good way!) dedicated to their school. Long after you graduate, you will have that network there for you. Both Williams and Cornell are great schools, but Williams is more nuturing and less competitive. Many Cornell students struggle to get decent grades - and when classes are graded on a strict curve, it does tend to promote competition. (Some professors at my alma mater did scale tests, but had a set curve which they would use regardless of the class average. It was to encourage us to work together and to understand that in a class of 10 people, helping out two of your fellow students wouldn't force you down the curve.) I don't know much about Cornell, but I don't think you will get the small class sizes, individual attention, undergrad focus, etc that you would get at Williams. Cornell though might have more course offerings (just being larger, they can sustain that), more specializied higher-level coursework, opportunities to work with graduate students or get started on grad work early.

Regarding prof. school placement: I do think that you need to divide the people who go to grad/professional school into two categories. The first are those who graduate without debt OR do not have debt upon applying (think a 35 year old applying to business school); the second group would be those with debt upon graduation. The second group is probably more likely to delay going to professional school so that they can work, earn money, and pay off existing debt first.

I also believe that the lack of financial aid undergrad is not necessarily indicative of graduate school finances. My parents paid for everything undergrad, but their deal was that they would only pay undergrad. Law school (to the tune of $125k) will be entirely on my own. While the lack of undergraduate debt does help me, I do think a lot about the debt burden that I'm taking on. There are also people who have some loans from undergrad because their parents have little money; they also get grants for grad school because of their financial situation. Sometimes, the kids who are the worst off are the ones whose parents "can" afford to pay, but choose not to. (I use "can" lightly because, for many parents, it would mean delaying retirement, raiding retirement savings, taking a second mortage on the house, or doing it at the expense of younger kids - though they might be wealthy by many standards.) These kids, under the "did not ask for financial aid undergrad" category, appear to have an easier time of graduate school.

Those factors are all pretty independent of the undergrad institution and are measured quite imperfectly by financial need for undergrad. While it is good to point out that some kids have an easier time of financing professional school, I'm not sure that measuring undergrad need portrays that accurately. I think that some professional schools have about 80% of the students receiving financial aid.

By Confused86 (Confused86) on Wednesday, April 28, 2004 - 03:11 pm: Edit

According to the PR, Williams' Prof to studnet ratio is 8:1 while Cornell's is 9:1. Yes Williams does not have any TAs but please don't make Cornell's classes seem huge. The intro science classes I've been when I visited had about 100 and some people, but the others are fairly small.

By Thedad (Thedad) on Wednesday, April 28, 2004 - 03:57 pm: Edit

To the poster "Imho," anyone who thinks Williams isn't a good school is displaying woeful igorance or woeful attitude, take your pick.

By Asdad (Asdad) on Wednesday, April 28, 2004 - 04:09 pm: Edit

"(and legacies, or having fathers named "Bush" help.)"

Or Gore, or Fonda

By Ariesathena (Ariesathena) on Wednesday, April 28, 2004 - 04:50 pm: Edit

I have a question about student/faculty ratios. With an entirely undergrad school, it's pretty obvious that most faculty would be teaching solely undergrads. If you have a lot of grad students, however, you could have the same # of professors, the same # of undergrads... and larger class sizes because of the grad students. Right?

It does stand to reason that at least some of the faculty at universities with huge grad programmes will be teaching mainly grad students, or that the upper-level courses will be larger because of graduate students. A professor could have two classes, one with undergrads, and one with only (or mainly) grad students - which is a reasonable teaching load. At a school without grad students, a professor teaching two classes would only be teaching undergrads.

Just saying that the student/faculty statistic, like all stats, can be misleading. Nothing against Cornell!

By Haon (Haon) on Wednesday, April 28, 2004 - 06:29 pm: Edit

Yes, Cornell, Harvard, and many other large universities are able to maintain low student:faculty ratios by having lots of professors teaching few classes. For example, if every single professor at Cornell taught 1 undergraduate section and 2 graduate sections while every professor at Williams taught 3 undergraduate sections, Cornell would have a similar student:faculty ratio as Williams but Williams would have 3x more profs teaching undergraduate courses.

I'm not sure if TAs are counted in student:faculty ratio...i've heard that they are (because they're recognized as "part time faculty" or something weird like that). If they are recognized, that would throw the ratio much further.

Look at a course'll find that Williams class sizes are MUCH smaller.

Imho--you need to do more research on college as you really seem to have a very poor understanding for higher education at this point.

By Madelinemay11 (Madelinemay11) on Wednesday, April 28, 2004 - 06:45 pm: Edit

Cornell is definitely more prestigious than Willaims, but you can still get a good education at Williams...don't just go for prestige (although most of my friends do, so I have to as well:(

In fact, just going to a university shows that you're doing something with your life. You can learn at almost any school, so it really doesn't matter which school you go to.

By Crnchycereal (Crnchycereal) on Wednesday, April 28, 2004 - 06:50 pm: Edit

Agreed, one should NOT choose a school based on prestige. However, it is ridiculous to claim that Cornell is definitely more prestigious than Williams. Both schools are very well regarded and both hold enormous weight in the academic/intellectual world. To automatically dismiss Williams as a lower-class school is ignorant and pretentious.

More troubling than this idea, however, is the fact that you've said that you must choose a school based on prestige because your friends are as well. What happened to individualism? What ever happened to finding the right school for YOU? It sounds as if you have a bad case of PWS (Prestige-Whore Syndrome). LET GO!

By Palladio (Palladio) on Wednesday, April 28, 2004 - 07:43 pm: Edit

I add my $0.02 in support of Mini's comments on input/outputs. I am fairly confident that there is not much hard research on this, as I have not found it and have looked vigorously.

BUT it makes all too much sense for it not to be true to some degree, and to at least possibly (and greatly to my thinking) occlude the "value added" potentials of schools. The Krueger and Dale studies would seem to point to the same thing -- motivated high achieving goal oriented students that may qualify for prestige school A tend to reap overall longer term financial benefit if actually choosing to attend school B. But if these students qualified for prestige school A, it is possible part of the "input" characteristics, and these may help propel through school B (and beyond) as much as the "value added" of school B.

Interestingly, Mini mentions Earlham.. while not sure I'd rush to concur with the particular statement, here is a link to an article by Earlham's president in regards to "value added."

I find his remarks of interest.

Carolyn mentions the "B" and "C" student scenario - which after all is Loren Pope's contention. List me as an admirer of LACS in general and as being far more interested in what a poster on that other board rightfully (in my opine) called the "embarassment of riches" that are available to interested students in pursuit of higher education in this country.

However, I am not all that sure that the proclaimed success of these smaller lesser known schools is due to reasons all that different than Mini's observations above. While the collegiate choice scenario is mostly portrayed in very black and white terms on boards such as these, factually some portions of these type of schools populations are indeed excellent students based on commonly perceived qualifiers -- a school with a mere 40% of students in HS top 10% sounds pale compared to another with 80% -- but it is not a small percentage of the students. A 3.5 avg HS GPA sound bad against 3.85... but there are a lot of "A" students still lurking in the former.

And do SAT scores tell anybody anything? See Richard Tapia's (Rice U) presentation at for some thought provoking comments on this yardstick... after a certain point (Tapia's threshold), does any score say/mean anything about capacity of student or students in general -- my understanding is that the japanese educational system works on such threshold scoring

Generally, a lot of the chatter about "quality" is about numbers. While those numbers seems diffferent and, as "numbers" do have statistcal validity (in case of A vs B vs C) in some measurements, the numbers do not stand by themselves. What these variants may represent in reality may be a very fine distinction.

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