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Discus: College Confidential Café: 2004 Archive: WHY A TOP COLLEGE?
By Hakujin (Hakujin) on Thursday, May 27, 2004 - 10:06 am: Edit

Everybody here wants to get into college, and most want a top school. What reasons, other than prestige, do people have for wanting to attend? Why not settle for a state school?

By Poison_Ivy (Poison_Ivy) on Thursday, May 27, 2004 - 01:58 pm: Edit

Looks better on job applications. Better life there and the alumni associations (gets your great internships and jobs). Settle for a crappy state school who won't give you the attention you need. It's your choice.

By Songman (Songman) on Thursday, May 27, 2004 - 02:00 pm: Edit

Hakujin- Our family in a way went through the same decision for my son. It is a complicated/difficult decision for some,easy for others. He will attend a state university rather than one of the LAC's that accepted him.

The presitige of the school is important (a generalization I know) in the first 5 years after graduation. I am only qualified to discuss public versus private for business jobs:large companies,Fortune 500 types, prestigious law firms and presitigious non- profits. Recently a summer intern list for a large firm came across my desk. Of the 12 interns that they hired, only one was from a state school. While this is anecdotal, it is a stark reality for job hunters with this type of firm and industry. Someone said that the founder of the firm Monster.com went to a state university ,so I will bet that in his company there are more state U grads?. Others may dispute this point, but I believe that there is a bit of an equation at play here in the college prestige "Name Game". That equation or formula being that the more difficult(to land a job) or more prestigious a firm is ,the more they demand a degree from a prestigious school. There are many exceptions to this rule ,but I have found that it is quite accurate at least 90% of the time. Another factor to consider is that all the prestige in the world will not land a position for you if the economy is in the tank.

Notice I mentioned nothing about the quality of an education. Why? I believe that the top 300+ schools in the USA probably provide an excellent education comparable to the HYP's and IVY's,LAC's etc. So that is the long winded way of answering your question: the reason to pick a private school let me list a few:

* to get a more cutomized, hands on education
*land a more prestigious job after college
* for the network of possibly higher echelon alum.- Private schools still have a more close knit tighter network than state schools and that helps after graduation.

* to be in an environment where the majority of students are there to learn
* to be in a community where grammar.punctuation,reading comp and writing skills are held in high esteem
* to be a big fish in a small pond?

Mainly though I believe many people like private schools because they feel that they will not get lost in the crowd. They surmise that they will meet actual professors rather than TA's, be in a better environment, attend smaller classes and all that. There are so many reasons I can not list all of them.

At least in my field private colleges still reign for now ,although the name/prestige game is changing slowly.

By Gottagetout (Gottagetout) on Thursday, May 27, 2004 - 09:16 pm: Edit

The stark reality is that not all schools are created equal. In some fields, it is possible to replicate high quality educational experiences at many institutions. In other fields, it is not. For instance, in the hard sciences, engineering, and mathematics, some schools excel above all others.

For instance:
Mathematics: Harvard or University of Kentucky?
Physics: Caltech or University of Florida?
EE/CS: MIT or University of Washington?

In the liberal arts this may not hold true, but for these fields, there generally does exist a stratification of quality.

Culture is also a major aspect: certain schools attract students with certain personalities and abilities over others. A gross generalization: MIT's work hard, play hard (and geeky) culture or University of California at Santa Barbara's party culture?

The quality of education at many private institutions beats the quality at many state schools; however, ultimately, the right choice is wherever fits you best.

By Hakujin (Hakujin) on Friday, May 28, 2004 - 05:34 am: Edit

Thanks for the input. I was actually just trying to play the Devil's advocate on this topic because I wanted to see what motivation people had for wanting to attend a prestigious university.

I'm actually looking for a little bit more specific info, like what college and why. For example, I would love to attend Stanford because it seems to have virtually unlimited resources and the environment fits me well. Stanford's International Studies program is great. Also, the campus is absolutely gorgeous. However, my chances of being accepted are pretty lousy, so I think I might just go to the University of Oregon, since most of my friends will attend, the Japanese program is stellar, and it's not a bad school. (UO is also a Pac 10 School like Stanford.)

By Baggins (Baggins) on Friday, May 28, 2004 - 06:19 pm: Edit

I want to attend Harvard. I could just settle for a school like the University of Virginia. I want to go into medicine and I think Harvard would be the best choice. It has the money to provide for labs and other material in science class. Also you get all the up to date information. Harvard is also known to produce the most med students. It also has a medical school. More than 60% of Harvard med students attended harvard for pre med.

I'm also thinking about Penn State which is also very good for medicine. But to me Harvard and Penn State are equal. The only thing that sets them appart is that I'm not sure Penn State has a med school

By Star69 (Star69) on Friday, May 28, 2004 - 09:28 pm: Edit

I think a big part of the attraction is the caliber of the other students - a synergy sort of thing happens in that competing against the best (or interacting daily with similarly top caliber students) makes for a better over all educational experience.

By Goneinfivemin (Goneinfivemin) on Friday, June 04, 2004 - 11:07 am: Edit

most people don't "settle for" UVa

By Aquaholic (Aquaholic) on Monday, June 07, 2004 - 08:47 am: Edit

lol goneinfivemin, true

-personally, I wanted a big name school because I've moved around a lot (military kid) and ending up at a name everyone recognized would be another way to validate myself and make me feel that I am smart anywhere I go, not just in a certain state

-now I realize that I shouldn't worry about what anyone else thinks, so I based my final decision on these facts:
*I'm capable of doing awesome work and learning what I need to know no matter which college I attend
*The top 5% at any state school is just as smart if not smarter than the average person at HYP
*What I want out of college is to get a job that pays well, so the least amount of debt is important

I am lucky enough to have lived in Virginia for the past two years, so my state schools aren't too shabby, but i ultimately made the decision based on cost and just dealt with the fact that most of my friends in California don't know how great of a school UVA is.

By Ariesathena (Ariesathena) on Monday, June 07, 2004 - 02:03 pm: Edit

A few bullets on why a top private vs. a state:

*Some states have okay or downright mediocre schools. UVA, William and Mary, UNC Chapel Hill, a lot of the UCs, UMich, etc are great schools. If you live in a state with okay schools, it's a different ball game.

*Size. I had many classes with about five other people at my alma mater. You just won't get that at some of the flagship State Us.

*Fellow students. To paraphrase someone, the best-kept secret of the top schools is that the students learn the most from each other. While the top kids at the State Us are very bright, there just aren't as many of them. At a top school, almost all of your fellow students are bright, accomplished, motivated, and interesting. Greater percentage of students who are focused on their studies. You can always find bright and talented people at any university, but you have to work harder to find them at some schools.

*More on the last point: some state Us will be very homogeneous. My alma mater has a very international focus. Many of my roommates lived in other countries or have parents who are from other countries. Not an experience that my friends at state schools had.

*Secondary effects of prestige: professors are often widely recognized in their fields.

*Funding. Privates aren't affected by state budget cuts. You pay a lot more, but you do get some benefits from it. Newer facilities, nicer dorms, more dining options, newer and more lab space.

*At some schools, the option to do research with a professor. With huge States, often not possible to do the kind of relevant research with professors. Also, you get to know your professors at smaller schools.

By Thedad (Thedad) on Monday, June 07, 2004 - 03:16 pm: Edit

Good bullet points; a fair list.

By Seleucus26 (Seleucus26) on Tuesday, June 08, 2004 - 12:38 pm: Edit

and State vs. Top Private:

*large State U's often have some less recognized majors that other top private schools cannot populate with students.

*State schools are often career oriented and have tons of recruiters come for the sheer number of prospective employees.

*Labs at state u's are publicly funded and often keep research projects going longer than private U's, whose research is decided by individuals or small groups.

*Federally funded (NSF) things are often done at State U's

*Honors colleges often negate the bad points of State U's

By Demingy (Demingy) on Tuesday, June 08, 2004 - 02:41 pm: Edit

"*Labs at state u's are publicly funded and often keep research projects going longer than private U's, whose research is decided by individuals or small groups."

Unfortunately this can also be a con depending on the research and the political "flavor of the day" (think stem cell research for one example).

By Ariesathena (Ariesathena) on Tuesday, June 08, 2004 - 04:36 pm: Edit

*Federally funded (NSF) things are often done at State U's

They are also done at privates. My alma mater does a lot of STTRs (Small Business Technology Transfer) with companies. A local business and the university team up, write proposals for the Army, Navy, National Institute of Health, etc and get grants for research.

Also, just because NSF stuff is done at large universities does not mean that it in any way helps out the undergrads. It's more a size issue than a public vs private issue - large universities with tons of grad students do not have much in the line of research opportunities for undergrads. Most of my classmates (like about 80%) did significant research with their professors. I don't know if that is true at more graduate-oriented schools (but it's again a graduate vs undergrad and a size issue).

By Docarchitect (Docarchitect) on Saturday, June 19, 2004 - 09:43 am: Edit

Yes Penn State has a medical school: The Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical School, at the famous Hershey Medical Center. It's not located at PSU's State College main campus, but nor is Harvard's medical school located in Cambridge.

What is very unfortunate in so many postings is that people seem to want to make a college choice as if picking out a sweater with a logo on it. (They're all the same, but the logos are different). State schools, and privates, have their own areas of strength and weakness. If you want to enter an undergraduate professional program in Architecture for instance, Harvard is a terrible choice (they don't offer an undergrad professional architecture program). Penn State does though, and it's a good one. But you won't "settle" for this one, admissions are highly selective. You might have to um... settle for an Ivy.

By Goodchocolate (Goodchocolate) on Saturday, June 19, 2004 - 11:51 am: Edit

What a stupid question.

If you can get into a good school, and can afford it, why wouldn't you go?

This is no different from asking "Why be rich?", or "Why have a good family?" (as if being poor, attending a bad school, and having gay 'parents' are somehow better options).

By Mrbesch (Mrbesch) on Sunday, June 20, 2004 - 12:51 am: Edit

I want to go to a top tier school for the challenge. All the AP's I take, all the stuff I do, it's all for the challenge. I challenge myself as much as I can. Sure, I could get the easy A in Honors English, but I'd rather have a B in AP because I knew I challenged myself the most. For that reason, I want to go to the toughest, highest tier school I can. Harvard is a dream, but it is more of the pipe variety.

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