Selecting A College
A fair share of the e-mail this column gets relates to the question of what colleges are best.
In this column I'll try to focus on several types of "top college" lists and then some of the key issues that should be considered in selecting a college..
First, some people say, "It really doesn't matter where you go to school as long as you get a degree in something from somewhere."
If this is all that needs to be considered, you can save yourself a lot of time and money by spending $50 or so on a mail order diploma from an unaccredited diploma mill.
It will look good on your wall (from a distance) and you can claim you have a "degree"; and throughout your life you can hope that no one asks you any questions about it. (Watch out for job interviews!)
Assuming you want a real degree, you would be wise to consider some real options.
If you want maximum return on your four-year, many-thousand dollar investment, you need to consider a top-notch university.
However, "top notch" doesn't necessarily mean "ivy league."
A 1999 study by Alan B. Krueger of Princeton and Stacy Dale of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation found that students who were admitted to both selective and moderately selective colleges earned about the same. The study suggested that motivation and drive matter more than the college.
At the same time "motivation and drive" are encouraged and honed at top-notch universities. The opposite can also be said: colleges that demand little for a diploma except tuition fees and casual class attendance not only send the wrong message about what it takes to be successful, but they encourage laxity.
Prestigious schools -- those what everyone has heard of -- can, of course, be quite selective in their admissions. But there are "top notch" schools that are not well known.
For example, Pomona and Claremont McKenna in California are among the nation’s most elite, but people outside of California have probably never heard of them.
And who except for possibly a Midwesterners has heard of Grinnell or Carleton?
At the same time there can be a problem with schools that no one, especially a prospective employer, has never heard of. And to "get in the door" in today's competitive job market this can make all the difference.
So let's look at some of the top U.S. colleges and universities. Recently, The Princeton Review listed their "top 10" choices.
A group of West-cost high-school students who scored from 1,200 to 1,600 on their SAT tests were asked what universities they were considering. (With SAT scores this high, they would probably be eligible for academic scholarships almost anywhere.)
The top five choices were:
The strictly liberal arts schools would constitute a different list, of course.
The top-15 university list in terms of technological strength (and higher salaries) yields a different list. It is also well to keep in mind that these research-oriented schools generate more than one billion dollars a year for themselves from patents.
The top schools in this category are:
Each year U.S. News & World Report ranks "America's Best Colleges." Recent top choices were:
The top-ranked liberal arts college for 2010 was Williams College.
If you are considering a variety of colleges, let's look at five questions you should consider.
1. Given your SAT scores and high-school grades, what schools will admit you? Don't just assume you won't have a chance to get into a top university. Check out the possibilities. You might be surprised.
2. What is your economic situation? Without the aid of hefty scholarships, out-of-state tuition at public universities and at private colleges is often prohibitive.
3. What do you want to major in? Some universities are noted for being strong in certain areas and not in others.
4. Relocation Issues. This covers the whole range of issues from travel distances to where you can afford to live.
5. University Environment This also covers many things. Included are:
The latter primarily refers to colleges with specific religious orientations. I do not have much personal experience with these schools and strong religious beliefs would undoubtedly prevail in many cases.
Even so, the academic standards of colleges with strong fundamentalist perspectives are assumed to be lower than so-called "mainstream" colleges. Although this is not always true, you need to know this perception is common among employers.
The college years are some of the most significant in a young person's life. Lifelong habits and coping abilities are learned.
Young people need to be challenged to develop necessary understandings and skills. They must learn to make informed decisions from a smorgasbord of options. They need to learn to successfully deal with rigorous demands—even with uncompromising, cantankerous, demanding professors who seem to have unrealistically high standards.
Again, you need to consider which university among your possible choices would command the most attention and respect on a resume or an employment application? Some universities immediately attest to your abilities. Others could be seen as suggesting that not many options were open to you.
Remember, that university will be a part of your resume for the rest of your life and the average young person will be changing jobs about eight times during his or her lifetime.
College is the biggest investment in time and money most people will make in their lives, and it can pay the biggest dividends.
As we've previously noted, selecting an easy path does not provide the best preparation for success in today's highly competitive world. This understanding is clearly reflected in the colleges being considered by highly capable and motivated high school students.
So the bottom line is: try to find the most challenging, stimulating and thought-provoking university you can attend. Not only is this what the university experience is supposed to represent, but it will provide you with the best return on your investment and the best preparation for lifelong success.