Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The College of Your Choice אוניברסיטאות אמריקאיות

Inspired by this New Yorker article, coupled with years of listening to 11th and 12th graders and their parents agonize over “getting into a good school”, here’s my advice to the agonizers:

Forget all about which schools have “a great X department”; the only time that will be relevant is if and when you apply to grad school. For earning a bachelor’s degree, your enjoyment without breaking the bank should be your priority. Pick a part of the country that’s always intrigued you, choose a state school(s) therein, and apply. Why?

First of all, until I got to college, I had no idea how common transferring is. This decision that looks So Fateful when you’re opening those acceptance envelopes should be de-mystified. Try this factlet on for size: Half of all graduating seniors did not start out at their schools as freshman.

Secondly, this may be the last time in your life when you get to choose where you’ll live. Soon enough your choices will be constricted by employment, aging parents, special-needs siblings or children, or those of a partner. Why blow this jewel of an opportunity so you can later say you attended Fancy Name College?

Finally, I wouldn’t do this post justice if I didn’t air-raid against the Great Brainwash of the Private College. It’s a shame how many families pursue the myth called “a good college”, the main claim of which is that public higher education is inferior. Why would any sane person dig herself deep in debt in exchange for a piece of paper that is only marginally more valuable — if at all — than an equivalent piece of paper purchased at a fraction of the cost?

A four-year degree is just the beginning of a life journey that in most cases consists of three or more career moves; it is therefore in actuality merely a ticket to either a job that doesn’t require a hairnet, or grad school. What one does in either of these post-B.A. worlds determines much more strongly one’s path and one’s success therein than does what university you attended. Two anecdotes illustrate:

An acquaintance who attended community college and then continued at an Ivy League school tells of her community college instructors and how skilled they were at enthusing their students about the material. She was therefore shocked on her first day at Penn, when the professor stood on the podium staring at his shoes, then looked up and greeted the full auditorium with, “I don’t like teaching. It interferes with my research.” In complete seriousness.

VoteForTheLeastWorst, a reviewer on Amazon: “My brilliant community college communications professor told us a wonderful story on our first day. She was at Harvard for a conference, and decided to check out the bookstore and their communications textbook selection. What did she find? That my good ol' publicly funded community college uses the exact same book Harvard uses, for the exact same communication class. I paid $39 a credit hour for my education; Harvard students pay $800 a credit hour for theirs. Who's dumber?”

Steph16, a Hax commenter, on Big Name College: "Competitive Parents, I work on Wall Street. Honestly, after your first job, NO ONE cares where you went to school, What they care about is how you've distinguished yourself in your career. There are people here from U. of Florida to Harvard. What matters more are your grades in undergrad for your first job, and then working your way up.

I'm sure you've heard about the millions of CEOs who were C students. Quality of grad school matters to a degree more but then it's back to performance. So really, just let your kids enjoy themselves, pursue their interests, and it will all work out. Happy, satisfied people have it so much better.

More on this subject here.

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