5 Reasons Why Every Single College Ranking Is a Pile of Crap

It’s almost back-to-school time, which means now is the season to be inundated once again with the annual lists ranking colleges and universities. But in this guest post from Zac Bissonnette, author of the upcoming Debt-Free U: How I Paid for an Outstanding Education Without Loans, Scholarships, or Mooching off My Parents, he explains why these lists are all a complete crock.

Almost weekly, it seems, consumers are introduced to yet another annual ranking of the “best,” “worst” or “biggest party” colleges in America.

US News & World Report produces the most widely-read college rankings, but Forbes, The Princeton Review, and several other publications have produced their own rankings. The problem is that every single one of these rankings is just absolutely, completely, and totally full of crap.

This probably isn’t the smartest thing to say for my career as someone who writes about colleges, but whatever. Let’s look at just a few examples of the problems with these rankings:

1. College rankings are often based on opinion and not actual data
US News & World Report is now producing a list of schools that have the “best undergraduate teaching.” How did they do that? According to their description of their methodology, the magazine “asked top academics as part of the regular U.S. News peer assessment survey to name the schools that they think have faculty with an unusually strong ‘commitment to undergraduate teaching.'” Got that? They measured the quality of teaching at one school by asking people who work at other schools how good the teaching is. It would be like basing the Fortune 500 on just the opinions of other CEOs instead of things like revenue and profit.

2. Rankings can be based on factors that have no demonstrated impact on academic results
Many college rankings – including US News & World Report – rank colleges based on the proportion of faculty who are full-time. The problem? According to a report from The Delta Cost Project [PDF], “in higher education, in contrast to K-12, there is no consistent research showing that access to full-time faculty pays off in greater student learning, student retention, or degree attainment.” Oops.

3. The benefits of attending a more selective college might very well be canceled out by the benefits of attending a less selective college
Most of the major college rankings are based in part on selectivity: either by looking at the acceptance rate or by looking at the high school GPAs and SAT scores of students. But a savvy student might be better off attending a school with a bunch of students who are dumber than he is. Why? A recent study of law school grads found that the correlation between class rank and salary is stronger than the correlation between school prestige and salary. “Under-matching” – that is, attending a law school where you’re smarter than many of your classmates – is likely to result in better grades and a better class rank and a higher salary. Princeton economist Alan Krueger has theorized that this phenomenon may explain why students who get into elite colleges but attend less elite colleges earn as much money as students who attend elite colleges. Krueger found that students who graduate seven percentile ranks higher in their class tend to earn about 3.5 percent more money.

4. Rankings that look at career earnings fail to consider the aptitudes of students
Payscale Inc. gained a lot of press when it published a ranking of colleges based on a return on investment calculation: Taking the earnings of graduates and comparing them to the sticker price of the colleges. The problem with this ranking is that it assumes that the only difference between an MIT grad (the #1 ranked school by return on investment) and a Black Hills State grad (which Payscale ranked dead last at #852) is that one went to MIT and the other went to Black Hills State, and that the return on investment has nothing to do with the talents or intellect of the students.

5. Real experts — as opposed to people trying to sell magazines full of car ads — who look into this stuff have realized you can’t compare colleges in any meaningful way
In September 2005, Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings convened a meeting of 19 top education experts to study college accountability and outcomes. The study reported that colleges provided “no solid evidence” of their value that consumers could use in comparing one college to another.

But the largest problem with all these college rankings and guides is this: A student’s success or failure in college and in life will ultimately be determined by who they are, not which college they attend. Successful people attended all kinds of colleges – only three CEOs of the top 20 Fortune 500 companies attended “elite” colleges, and 12 of the top 20 attended public colleges.

Zac Bissonnette is the author of the upcoming book Debt-Free U: How I Paid for an Outstanding Education Without Loans, Scholarships, or Mooching off My Parents and is currently a senior at University of Massachusetts Amherst, where he majors in Art History.

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  1. dragonfire81 says:

    And that exactly why I didn’t pay a shred of attention to such rankings when I was choosing a school.

  2. RandomHookup says:

    Though I don’t put a ton of faith into them, the ones ranking similar programs (MD, MBA, PhD) seem to make a little more sense.

    But I’m a voter (as a corporate recruiter) in at least one of the MBA rankings and there aren’t really any standards for what’s “best’ — the best for my company (which may just be the ones we can afford or who are willing to work for us) or the best overall (the ones everyone might want if they could afford them and attract them).

  3. sonneillon says:

    Here is how colleges are ranked when you apply for a job.

    1. The college the hiring manager went too.
    2. Colleges that the hiring manager has heard of with prestige.
    3. Accredited Institutions
    4. Everyone else

    In the end though having a degree even if it is a fluff degree from University of Phoenix is better than having no degree.

    • KyleOrton says:

      1. The college the hiring manager went too.
      2. Colleges that the hiring manager has heard of with prestige.
      3. Accredited Institutions
      4. Everyone else
      5. Colleges that Employ John Calipari.
      6. Michigan.

    • SerenityDan says:

      Wow, that is so spot on. That needs to be sent to every High School so they can hang it in the Guidance Counselor’s office or something.

    • mythago says:

      So true. I went to a “regional” law school while my buddy, who is about ten times smarter than I am and harder working, went to a “nationally ranked” law school in the same area. I got job offers, he didn’t. The only reason is that my school had a huge local network of alumni who were happy to look at hiring a fellow alum, whereas his just assumed everybody would talk to Daddy’s friend the federal judge or hiring partner (no go; he came from a working-class family) or would go off to a big firm in New York (he didn’t want to leave the state).

      • UCLAri: Allergy Sufferer says:

        What percent of your friend’s school are currently unemployed? What percent of your school?

        Average salary upon graduation?

        Percent that passes the bar?

        I can’t help but wonder if you’re both rarer than you believe.

        • mythago says:

          I don’t think networking as the key to finding jobs, particularly locally, is that rare an event.

          • UCLAri: Allergy Sufferer says:

            You didn’t answer any of my questions, though.

            You’re arguing low-probability events in order to prove the higher-probability events. It’s just bad use of statistical reasoning.

            • mythago says:

              Does this mean you, too, are going to be providing statistics to back up the arguments you’ve made elsewhere in the comments?

              That said – as I recall, there was no real difference between our respective law schools’ employment rates or bar passage rates (the latter is especially unsurprising; everybody took BarBri). There WAS absolutely a difference in average salaries – because he went to a T10 school, which is a basic entry qualification for BigLaw and its attendant salaries.

              There was also a huge difference in tuition rates. Mine were far lower.

              If my friend and I had both been trying to get a job at a NY law firm, I’d have had zero chance. But we were both looking for jobs in the regional job market – which was disproportionately filled with grads of my school. My school also hit up practicing alums to give seminars, run clinics, teach, etc., and so graduates from our school had many greater opportunities to network locally.

              Again, this doesn’t mean nobody should ever go to Presitgious U. It just means there’s a balance, and “OMG BIGNAME U” is not the only consideration; sometimes it’s a very bad consideration when you balance cost vs. benefit.

              • UCLAri: Allergy Sufferer says:

                You’re the one using anecdotal data as an argument. An n of 1 using two different samples to argue anything is just poor form.

                I asked for your school-wide data because that tends to tell a better picture.

                It’s one thing to be the student at local school who got the plum job and argue in favor of local school if most students do the same. It’s another thing if that school has a high unemployment rate post-graduation.

                The reason schools publish the data on employment following graduation is because it provides context.

                I just don’t like, “I’m a success and I went to _____” arguments alone. Tell us how likely that is given all the other variables.

                • oneandone says:

                  I just don’t like, “I’m a success and I went to _____” arguments alone.

                  That doesn’t seem to be what mythago is arguing. Instead, it’s something like what I’ve always thought – figure out what you want to do, and find the college / grad school that will help you do it. Like she said, if you want to work in Fancy NY Law Firm, you should probably go to a top law school – but if you want to practice in a particular region of the country, you should find out what people hiring there are looking for, and what they think is important. It might be Big Name school…. but it might not be.

                  I’m not familiar with the law, but what I have seen in the industries where I work (mostly agricultural) is that graduating from an Ivy League school is a lot less useful than going to one of the larger state schools with strong ag and water management programs. There are also a lot of smaller and schools with less popular name recognition that have fantastic focused programs or specific research centers – so going to them may not mean a lot to random people (or members of your extended family) but to the people in those industries, it carries a lot of weight. The fact that it might be ranked as 200th nationally doesn’t matter at all – does it deliver the education you will find useful? That’s what’s important.

                  • UCLAri: Allergy Sufferer says:

                    oneanddone,

                    Yes, that’s correct.

                    Unfortunately, it’s also far riskier.

                    How many students actually follow through with their career plans through college? Most students change majors in undergrad at least once (around 80%). If you are at big-name U, and you change majors– oh well, at least you have other fantastic departments to study in. If you’re at “has one great department U,” then you’re kind of hosed.

                    Or you transfer if you have the marks.

                    My point is that “top” schools are a hedge. Arguing that you’re the great success from your relatively unknown school doesn’t speak well of the school– it speaks well of you. But it’s also a risky proposition. Having access to the resources of a top school means less risk in the short- and long-run.

    • sleze69 says:

      100%, dead on correct.

      +1

    • BurtReynolds says:

      My first boss out of college didn’t even research my school, nor was she familiar with it. I just had a degree that got me in the door, did well in the phone interview, and did well in person. The fact my school has a good ranking and reputation (regionally) did nothing for me down here.

      My degree could have been from the South Harmon Institute of Technology. They key was having coursework/experience that was relevant, and being able to back it up “on the fly” during an interview.

  4. Bob Lu says:

    Using “CEOs of the top 20 Fortune 500″ as a measurement of successfulness makes as much (or little) sense as college ranking.

  5. somedaysomehow says:

    On the other hand, my boss has said multiple times that one of the major selling points of my resume was the elite school I attended. It wasn’t the SOLE factor my hiring was based on, but it was one of the biggest.

    • UCLAri: Allergy Sufferer says:

      Exactly. All else being equal, having a top-notch school on your resume will give you an edge, however small, in many jobs.

      It won’t get you the job, but it will help. There are many companies who will not even give you a second look if you don’t come out of a top university. Does it suck? Yup. But that’s how it goes.

      • Skankingmike says:

        Who are these companies because they sound like they will fail.

        • UCLAri: Allergy Sufferer says:

          Top i-banks (Goldman, Morgan Stanely), top consulting firms (McKinsey, Bain), top tech companies (Google) are all notorious for putting significant weight on top universities.

          When I applied to McKinsey, one of the fields was university attended, and not even UCLA was considered high-ranking enough to be looked at seriously.

          It’s damn near impossible to break into major i-banks without being in a certain tier of school.

          And I don’t think I’d say that Goldman or McKinsey are on the fail list any time soon…

    • mythago says:

      Sure, but the question is balancing the cost of your Elite U degree vs. the lower cost of a Modest U degree, and whether that cost will be paid off in the kind of jobs you can get. It’s true that there are some places that only hire Elite U grads. On the other hand, after a few years in a field employers are more interested in experience rather than in just where you went to college, and it may be more profitable to have gone to Modest U.

    • shaft711 says:

      Likewise. It didn’t get me the job, but it got me to the top of the applicant/resume pile. My manager said applications went into two piles – college grads and non-grads. The non-grads got pushed aside. Then, they whittled down the college grads from there. I went to a state school, but one that usually cracks US News’s Top 25. That got me a call-back.

    • Perpetually Pregnant Papist says:

      But there are other ways to get an “elite” label that subtly points out the intellectual assets you bring to the table. For example, Mensa membership on a resume would probably get you points in the “this candidate is smarter than average” category, and membership is much cheaper than the difference between a middle of the road college to which you have a scholarship and an elite college. And Mensa membership can cut your car insurance rates by a good margin.

  6. UCLAri: Allergy Sufferer says:

    Hey, something I know quite a bit about (used to be a moderator for a college admissions site.)

    I agree in part, but disagree in part.

    Rankings provide little help for deciding between two similar schools. However, they can help college-bound student to figure out how schools perform within large bands. For example, there is likely to be little difference between Michigan and Berkeley in real life for most students, but there will likely be a large difference between Michigan and UC Merced.

    Rankings are also useful in figuring out bands of schools in providing strategies for which schools a student should apply. If your SAT score is ____ and you have a GPA of _____, then you should be looking at certain schools in order to maximize your chances of being accepted to the best possible schools for you.

    Now to move on to each item on the list.

    1. Yes, I agree. A lot of it IS opinion. However, rankings also take into account student bodies, endowments, faculty-to-student ratios, and other less fudgible measures that often correlate with student experience.

    2. Correlation is not always meaningful. Having gone to a university that has a number of part-timers teaching lower division classes, I can say that many of them were not on par with the full-time faculty. Your mileage may vary, but it can also be demonstrative of other problems with the school (quality of faculty programs, etc.)

    3. This is a poor argument because law school job markets and undergrad job markets ARE NOT THE SAME. While this may be true in cases where someone wants to apply to professional schools (law school, med school) where GPA is a massively important measure of success in admission, by not attending the top school you are forgoing the networking and resources that top schools often provide.

    That is not to say one should always choose the “better” school by rankings, but I would rather have a 3.3 at Brown than a 3.7 at Cal State Northridge.

    4. That’s because for the most part the student bodies at schools like MIT will be uniformly of higher quality than Podunk U. Harsh, but true.

    5. Yes, this is true. However, attending a top university can provide you with advantages that cannot be had otherwise. It’s silly to argue otherwise. And for the record, I don’t believe that “public” means “not elite.” Berkeley, Michigan, UVA, UCLA, Wisconsin, etc. are schools that should be on the radar for many applicants.

    However, I dislike this “I went to Podunk U and I’m successful!” argument because it ignores the fact that top universities almost universally provide greater resources than middling and lower-ranked ones.

    • MaxPower says:

      As an addendum to your last point – I went to Berkeley and I would compare coursework to friends who went to lower ranked schools and it was significantly easier. The reason that schools like Berkeley and MIT and Cal Tech are ranked so high is because although you have a lower GPA, employers know you had a much more challenging course load than you would have had at other universities.

      • UCLAri: Allergy Sufferer says:

        Exactly.

        Lower-div biology at UCLA was actual biology.

        At a nearby Cal State, it was, “This is a starfish. Staaaarfish.”

        I’m exaggerating, but only a little.

      • Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

        “coursework to friends who went to lower ranked schools and it was significantly easier”

        I really don’t buy that — The Ivy League schools have MAJOR problems with grade inflation. Just look at the number of politicians with degrees from very prestigious schools.

        As an undergrad, I went to a very large Big 10 school (Penn State) and transferred to another (though, slightly smaller) Big East school (Pitt). For grad school, I attended a prestigious Ivy League school (Penn). The graduate coursework I took was really no different than the graduate level courses I took at the large state schools. The courses I taught were essentially the same as the ones I took as an undergrad.

        College is a lot like military service — everyone thinks their school is better and more rigorous than all others.

        • UCLAri: Allergy Sufferer says:

          You’re comparing a top public with a top private and you’re shocked that coursework is similar?

          Try comparing a cruddy public and an Ivy or top public.

          • Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

            When I was in the Army, I took several courses via UMUC (University of Maryland, University College) which were taught by faculty at a very large German university (I can’t remember the name). I also briefly taught at two fairly unknown state schools — Marshall University in West Virginia and Indiana University of Pennsylvania — before getting a job in industry.

            I really don’t remember much of a difference in those schools. In general, they had less resources and somewhat outdated facilities but I don’t recall this really impacting the level of academics.

            When my kids grow up to be college age, I suspect they’d be a better fit for a school like Marshall or IUP than they would for Penn State. They’re not the most outgoing kids and I can imagine a school with 50,000 students and classes with 200 students wouldn’t be the best match.

            Then again, they have a long time before making that decision and they currently want to be either a firefighters or an Air Force pilots :-)

            • UCLAri: Allergy Sufferer says:

              What was your major? Some majors are less dependent on facilities than others.

              Try telling a science major that crummy labs don’t matter. My wife is a med student at a small private med school and complains quite a bit that the facilities there are poor enough to affect the quality of her research compared to UCLA.

          • Skankingmike says:

            I was unaware that Public Schools could suck that bad.

            I think the more important factor isn’t what rank the school is overall but what the hell do you want to study in school. You can go to MIT for a great education in science, but if all you want to do is teach it, you can find better schools often found at public U’s.

            • UCLAri: Allergy Sufferer says:

              You were unaware that public schools could suck?

              You obviously haven’t spent any time in LAUSD. ;-)

              Joking aside, when you have a student body where most students are in the top 1 percentile of American students versus a student body where most are… not… you’re going to have a difference in the curriculum. It’s just inevitable.

              And the fact that more top university graduates don’t go into teaching is unfortunate. I would rather see to it that most teachers WERE NOT from lower ranked public universities. That’s an unfortunate indictment of our educational system, if you think about it…

        • Verdant Pine Trees says:

          I object!

          I credited my alma mater for teaching me something the other day, and my husband was shocked, just shocked that I had something nice to say…

        • RandomHookup says:

          The Ivy League schools have MAJOR problems with grade inflation. Just look at the number of politicians with degrees from very prestigious schools.

          What does one have to do with the other? I don’t remember much in terms of a grade inflation scandal revolving around politicians recently.

      • Verdant Pine Trees says:

        Disagree with you there. Grade inflation is a real problem, and it tends to favor people at private schools. http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2010/03/05/grades is a good article talking about some recent studies. Here’s what one of the researchers argues:

        “[Commonly used grading systems penalize] those that enroll in science classes by giving them lower grades. It rewards, with more generous grading for a given level of student quality, those that attend private schools.”

        One of the hardest courses I ever took was at a public state university. Meanwhile, a couple of my friends cross-registered at one of the perennial top liberal arts colleges in the USNWR. They were, shall we say, disappointed by the actual quality of their courses.

    • Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

      I disagree regarding Podunk U.

      Especially in terms of graduate school, it’s often the department and faculty adviser that play the critical role in education and not the school itself. I can think of numerous virtually unknown state schools that have some very prominent faculty members. In many instances, they are drawn to these schools because of the amount of freedom they receive.

      Off the top of my head, two of the most well known researchers in my field are currently teaching at Mercyhurst College in Erie PA and the other is at Southern Illinois. I don’t know much about these schools but I suspect they’re both about average nationally. For an undergrad at either school, a letter of recommendation from either professor would open doors to just about any graduate school in the country.

      • UCLAri: Allergy Sufferer says:

        Sure. But how many people should choose their undergrad based on a solitary professor?

        What percent of students change majors? Like 80%? And so you’ve chosen to attend Podunk for one professor who does work on a field you find out you dislike?

        How many people choose a major only to find out they dislike said field after taking a few classes? Hell, I was going to law school when I got to undergrad. I took two law classes, found out I hated it, and chose something entirely different.

        Top schools are a hedge. If you decide you don’t like major X, well hell, at least there’s major Y, and the profs who teach that are also quite good.

        • mythago says:

          It depends on your major. I got my degree in a field that is so small that, literally, all the professors know one another. If I were applying to graduate school or for a professorship, it would matter enormously if I could say I had studied under Professor Expertguy, regardless of whether he was at an Ivy or at TinyU.

          Obviously, this is not applicable to every field.

          • UCLAri: Allergy Sufferer says:

            Again, how many people go to college knowing they’re going into said small major, and that they’re going to actually stick to it?

            Top universities are a hedge. That’s my point. Let’s say you’re studying at Stanford, and you drop out of rare major– well, at least you can still get your degree in history and still get access to a super powerful job network locally, nationwide, and worldwide.

            It’s all about hedging. That’s all.

            • mythago says:

              They can be a hedge, but one that bites you in the ass. You have a Stanford degree – and the Stanford-level debt that goes with it. If you’re in a field where having a Stanford degree is a huge advantage, that’s probably OK. If you’re not, then you might well have been better off at UC Davis, or USF, with a smaller debt load.

              If you want a really irritating and whiny sample of this phenomenon, go hang out on one of those sites like Above The Law where people with Top Ten law degrees can’t get jobs and have to pay off $100K worth of debt.

              • Powerlurker says:

                Schools at the top end with large endowments tend to have far more generous financial aid than lower end ones. I the average graduate at my private alma mater had less debt than the average graduate at the flagship state institution in the same state.

                • UCLAri: Allergy Sufferer says:

                  This is another thing that people often overlook to their own detriment. Need-blind schools like top privates will often provide far better financial aid packages than similar-tier public universities. A friend of mine, when it came time to choose between Harvard and Berkeley, said that Harvard cost him and his family less because of financial aid.

                  I don’t see how you could turn that down.

                  Other than the Cambridge weather, of course. Brr!

              • UCLAri: Allergy Sufferer says:

                mythago,

                Yes, that’s right. Life is risky.

                But I bet you there are just as many people with degrees from no-name law schools with tons of debt who are wondering what the hell they did it all for, no?

                Do you think people graduating from Loyola in LA are all feeling toasty warm with the fact that they might have $10K less debt than their unemployed Stanford brethren?

                And what percent of either group ends up in the soup lines?

                Arguing not to go to Stanford Law because some are unemployed is silly. 95%+ are employed after graduation. Very very few people get out of t14 without at least a living wage (controlling for loans, I mean.)

                And yeah, it can suck to graduate from top schools with debt. But what’s the difference between graduating with $40K in loans from Harvard vs. $40K in loans from UC Davis?

    • Consumeristing says:

      UCLA just got outranked by USC in US News for the first time ever. I am disappoint.

    • Ziggie says:

      I totally disagree. From my experience the more prestigious the school, the worse the career services are. My undergrad institution was in the top 25 ranked according to US News and World report but had a horrific career services. I graduated in 2002 — and the best they could do is encourage many of my peers to go work for the government. I would have been much off from a career standpoint if I had go to a state school near major employers. The local networking opportunities are far more important. Impressing people with where you went to undergrad does not get you a job. Very few schools are prestigious enough that you’ll get a shoe in the door based on that alone (I’d say probably only Harvard and maybe Yale, Stanford, and Duke does that happen).

      Even for graduate degrees, I’d say figure out where you want to live/ultimately end up and choose schools based on that because you’ll have far more meaningful networking opportunities.

      • UCLAri: Allergy Sufferer says:

        Ziggie,

        Having now moved around the country and world, I can say that without a doubt one of the best things about having a “famous school degree” is that I have very little work to do when it comes to convincing people that I didn’t get a paper mill degree.

        Furthermore, it’s not just about the career services. That’s one of the biggest mistakes people make. It’s about being able to attend alumni events, and network through alumni in prominent positions worldwide.

        The better the school, generally the more high-powered the network. I guarantee there are more Harvard grads in the highest offices than there are Podunk U. Having that sort of connection is quite helpful when it comes to job hunting outside of one’s neighborhood.

  7. milkcake says:

    The reality is though, I rather go to MIT for $40,000/yr than go to Polytechnic for $40,000/yr. But if I’m not smart enough to go to MIT, then I rather go to State School for $10,000 than go to a non-prestigious school for $40,000. As for me, I went to Cooper Union for $0.

    • UCLAri: Allergy Sufferer says:

      Exactly.

      Between the phenomenal school and the average school, it’s almost always better the choose the top one if all else is equal.

      • mythago says:

        Except that you’re confusing “US News and World Report rankings” with “actual quality of the school”.

        • UCLAri: Allergy Sufferer says:

          Not necessarily. I don’t think for a moment that USNWR is necessarily accurate if we’re talking about high resolution differences (top UCs vs. Michigan vs. UVA). However, if we’re talking about low resolution bands (top 50 schools vs. middle-ranked schools), then USNWR is pretty useful and accurate.

          It’s damned near impossible to argue that Cal State Northridge is a better school for engineering than Caltech, Stanford, Berkeley, or UCLA.

          But good luck if you want to try.

    • Chmeeee says:

      Polytechnic what?

  8. dr_drift says:

    Say whatever you want about college rankings being absurd, but I’ll never stop telling people that I go to the 1,083rd best school in the entire country. The ENTIRE country, folks! I hope they keep ranking colleges. I can’t live without that prestige.

  9. Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

    In my field, unless you go to a top school, it really doesn’t matter where you went as long as you have MS after your name. Even top schools might have average departments — going to MIT or Carnegie Mellon is a wise choice for engineering or computer science, but doesn’t make a lot of sense for social work or English Lit.

    In many instances, those little state schools that no one has ever heard of can have some very stellar departments and very well known faculty. They can also often offer very good funding packages to draw in good students.

    • Tardis78 says:

      I agree with you and for the most part that’s very true. It’s the same thing in my field, doesn’t matter where you got the degree as long as you have, in my case, an MA. Though in many cases it all depends on where you live. The fact that I got my BA, at a small school, in Iowa set me apart while I lived in California, because I was one of the few job applicants who did not have a degree from a school in CA. That’s alone set me apart.

      The only time the school doesn’t really matter is graduate school. When I did my MA at a unknown school for many people, but very well know for my field, and the people in the department are all well respected.

    • trentblase says:

      Obvious CMU troll.

  10. jessjj347 says:

    Other stupid criteria that they use include freshman retention rate and how much construction the school has. Also, a lot of time it can be more important to judge the program you’re entering, and not the school itself. However, sometimes just having a degree from an ivy-league can be in your favor even if your program sucked.

    • UCLAri: Allergy Sufferer says:

      Freshman retention rate is actually a great metric for a lot of quality of life and student support. It’s a much better thing to have high student retention than low student retention, at any rate.

      • jessjj347 says:

        My issue with it is that if the school has a less selective retention rate, then there are going to be a lot of freshman transferring because they actually weren’t smart enough to hack it. So, the school’s academics may actually be good but they get points against them because they let some people in (in my experience because some universities are greedy) that they shouldn’t. It kind of like a double-edged sword ratings-wise.

        Additionally, if you’re going to a school fro graduate or other such studies, then who cares about freshman. Silly undergrads.

        • jessjj347 says:

          *less selective addmission rate

        • UCLAri: Allergy Sufferer says:

          Two things.

          1. Most of the schools with the highest retention rates also have the toughest academics. Ivies and Stanford, MIT, Caltech, etc. all have fantastic retention rates (90%+) Caltech is an exception, but it’s still well-above average.

          2. Having TAed in grad school, I can say this much: good undergrads are really important to the TA experience. Teaching smart students is really nice. Teaching the others? Not so nice.

          This will not matter in professional programs as much, but that’s a separate issue.

          • jessjj347 says:

            “1. Most of the schools with the highest retention rates also have the toughest academics. Ivies and Stanford, MIT, Caltech, etc. all have fantastic retention rates (90%+) Caltech is an exception, but it’s still well-above average.”

            Yes, I like you point. Also consider this:
            Didn’t you mean have the biggest price tags? Ha just kidding…
            But for real, what if the students in those schools stay because for example, they have more money. And what if one of the reasons students from other schools transfer/ drop-out is because they can no longer afford their school or school at all?

            • UCLAri: Allergy Sufferer says:

              Better undergrads also often have good financial aid programs. I paid next to nothing for my undergrad education thanks to scholarships and grants.

              Also, who pays for graduate school? Especially for a PhD…

              • RandomHookup says:

                Depends upon the program. Specialized programs with shortages of qualified people, no problem. A JD or MBA or MBA? Better start taking out loans.

                • Powerlurker says:

                  People who go for a professional degree typically don’t say they’re going to “grad school”, they usually say they’re going to “law school” or “med school”. To most people, the term “grad school” implies a Ph.D or MA/MS.

                  • UCLAri: Allergy Sufferer says:

                    Exactly.

                    Besides, taking out loans to attend med school? Almost always worth it. Law school? Well, if you’re at a top 14, it’s usually worth it.

                    People on this site sometimes recoil at the very notion of debt, but in the case of schooling debt can often mean better returns in the long-run. If the choice were no debt and a glorious career as a lab flunkie at AmGen/Baxter or an MD, I think financially it’s almost always better to eat the debt and have the MD.

                    In time-weighted terms, of course. Assuming interest rates hold, as well… C’mon inflation! Let’s inflate away my loans!

          • jessjj347 says:

            Also, didn’t think about the TAing thing. You can still get an academic graduate degree and not TA (my experience).

        • Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

          Retention rates can also be skewed due to the location of the school. An urban school may have significant pressure to increase local enrollment and give preferential admission to those who grew up in the city. This can result in a disproportionate number of incoming freshman who received a grossly inadequate K-12 education and then subsequently drop out with in a year.

          • UCLAri: Allergy Sufferer says:

            But how much of the total retention rate will be affected by that?

            I mean, sure, many of the URMs (under-represented minorities) at UCs drop out, but since they are often only a small percent of the overall student body, it may show strength otherwise.

            I wouldn’t sweat the difference between a 90% and 85% retention rate. But when you have situations with

            • Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

              This was a huge issue at Temple about 15 years ago. I was at Penn during the same period and can remember them desperately trying to improve minority retention rates. Temple was also predominately a commuter school (for obvious reason) and had absolutely horrid graduation rates.

              I’d consider Temple a very good school but the fact that it caters heavily to students who had a very low quality K-12 education and to returning adult students (who have their own challenges) leads to some misleadingly negative data in terms of rankings. Many community colleges run in to the same thing. They’re fine schools but they get many students who either aren’t ready for college or are juggling many personal and career issues at the same time.

              I’ve never seen the data but I suspect graduation ranks are also linked to the economic status of students at the school.

              • Verdant Pine Trees says:

                True, but in some ways you might not consider…

                At my liberal arts school it was the wealthy kids who were the most likely to wander off and float on the breeze for a year or so. Those of us on scholarship, we *needed* that degree so we had more incentive to finish on time. My buddies who did take a semester or so, it was usually some paid internship or the like.

                I would bet that this would be echoed at other expensive, more selective or highly selective schools, even though it’s the opposite of what you see at less selective or community colleges.

          • RandomHookup says:

            I went to a rural state university with a pretty low entrance standard. Only 1/3 of the students graduated in anything close to on time. Lots of resources wasted on people who were just there to test out a semester or two.

        • Verdant Pine Trees says:

          Do you mean less selective acceptance rate? Selectivity is a weird thing. It’s as much about psychology as anything. Generally, the more selective you are, the more prestigious you are assumed to be. Harvard turns away lots of kids with 4.0s or better, who have high SAT scores and lots of activities. Many of these kids would probably succeed.

          Less selective colleges (“we accept the top 100%”) are all about success rates, unless they are predatory and really about chomping up kids’ Pell grants (which we taxpayers subsidize). They’re the ones who have mandatory orientations, special developmental classes for people needing remedial help.

          Harvard, may, however, seek to diversify their class, or actively change the student body … I’m not just talking race, but also gender, intended major/area of study, geographical location, etc.
          That doesn’t mean, however, that people drop out there or anywhere else just because they can’t “hack it”. There was a recent study done that indicated happiness had a huge part in whether a kid sticks in college. That could be something like depression, family drama, maybe high school romance going sour, or maybe someone just isn’t ready to go on to school.

    • Verdant Pine Trees says:

      Hold on cowboy (cowgirl)! Got to disagree on freshman retention rate… which I think is one of the only useful things about the list! It tells you something about how well the school manages to hold onto students, and often, about the quality of their administrative support, as well as the education the students are receiving.

      For instance, I went to a liberal arts school with a notoriously bad retention rate. Many, many of my cohorts – folks I entered school with – did not graduate with me – about 40%. Why? Many reasons, including an inefficient administration, political atmosphere on campus (not liberal, but radically left), students who were unhappy with the social scene, students who were unhappy with their education or advisors, lack of support for first generation students, etc.

      Interestingly, I just read an article – trying to find it now – here it is: http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2010/08/10/gaps

      The gist is, there are schools that have the same proportions of white to ethnic minority students (black, Hispanic/Latino, etc), but at some schools, let’s say, white and black students graduate at almost the same rate, and at other schools, black students graduate at a rate 20% lower. That tells you there’s some sort of problem. Maybe advising sucks, maybe the racial atmosphere on campus is tense, or they’re accepting first generation college students and not addressing their culture shock.

      Most of us who went to college know someone who dropped out, or maybe transferred. Someone who transfers from a community college with an associate’s is a successful student; someone who transfers after one semester to another, is someone who needed to find success elsewhere. That says loads about the atmosphere at a school.

      • jessjj347 says:

        I think you bring up some good points, in that low retention rates in that the school may be due to poor administration and other such things.

        However, my main argument, which I didn’t really take time to explain is that many schools accept more students than they should for financial reasons. kb01 brought up one good point in that urban schools often try to get local enrollment. Another thing you have to consider if that freshman can be big “money makers” if you will. Freshman typically are required to have meal plans and live on campus (aka overpriced dorms). They are also more likely to buy books at the uni book store, have money from their parents, and other such anecdotal things.

        Also, I still disagree that retention rate says anything about the education students are receiving. The points you bring up do not necessarily mean that the education is lesser. For instance, less black students graduating could be due to a number of factors like racial unrest, prejudice, etc but it does not make the academics sub par. If anything, that just adds to your “overall university atmosphere” argument.

        Essentially, to have a atmosphere that is not desirable does not mean that the academics or education or lesser. I could go to a school that spoon feeds me the material, gives me a cushy campus, good admin support, etc, but have a lower quality education.

        • Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

          Also… schools that cater heavily to commuter and non-traditional students tend to have abysmal retention rates. Adult students tend to either do very well or very poor and the ones who do well, often take a very long time to graduate. This can further skew the retention rates.

          For a regular 18 year old who goes off to college and lives in the dorms, his or her experience would be very different than a 30 year old single parent who goes to school part time.

        • Verdant Pine Trees says:

          Thanks… this is interesting.

          Ed professionals who work in areas such as student affairs (which I did, briefly, years ago) would argue that the overall atmosphere of the school – i.e. advising, student activities – *is* a part of the college learning experience, that it primes the pump for learning in the classroom.
          That’s also a conceit that matches well with a learning theory called constructivism, which essentially says, students construct their own understanding from everything around them, including learning outside the formal classroom.

          There’s a whole school of thought regarding “living-learning communities” – i.e. that students who go into language intensive dorms or who are part of a residential college at a large state university – appear to be getting a different, more rigorous education than those who are not in those scenarios.

          Living on campus is a big part of it. It’s one thing if you’re a commuter student (which I am currently) and have a life of your own. It’s another if you’re living on campus and you don’t fit in, no one around you likes to study or stay sober for more than five minutes, etc. You’re a lot less likely to stick around even for absolutely stellar classes. Does a party culture impact the academic level of your classes? If the school becomes known as a party school, and faculty members are pressured to dumb down the curriculum by a weak or misguided administration, then yeah, I would say the culture does impact academics. Same thing if you’ve got a lot of helicopter parents or whiny grade-grubbers… I just downloaded a syllabus for one of my classes. It’s 93 pages long. 93 pages! Because the teacher has to cover her ass by writing a detailed rubric for every assignment, and then add other language about course expectations, due to grade-grubbers who fight for A’s.

          Does racism etc. impact academics or is it just a cultural thing? If there’s a culture of racism, how free are students going to be to discuss that issue, say, in an urban studies or sociology class?

          I had an incident in which an undergrad professor suggested I not take one of his classes because he didn’t think I was “prepared”. I learned later on that he had issues with women – literally, he had entire classes with no women. Did his prejudice impact, empirically, the quality of academics in the class? Well, yes. Academics relates not just to the lectures and course materials, but to the quality of the discussion, activities, projects, cohorts, etc – which come from the students. He kicked out a perfectly viable person for his class, with some valuable experience in his field (that would be me) apparently for a petty reason (I don’t have a dick; I may be a dick sometimes, but I don’t have one). I can give you other stories happening to friends where the teacher or other students were liberal but still managed to be racist or otherwise make it uncomfortable for people who were in the minority (i.e. “Jamal, would you like to give us the black view on this topic?”)

          Or to put it in short, if you’re surrounded by motivated, interesting people who are interested in what you have to say, regardless of whether you’re short, purple, thin, or good-looking – you’ll probably get a better education. Some schools, life might suck for you just because you’re not a Greek (and I don’t mean “Greco-American”).

          I can see what you’re saying, I wouldn’t call it wrong, so much as I would say, in my experience, all these intangible things are far more entangled in the academics of an institution. If you read the old blog “Rate My Student”, I think you’ll see that there are a lot of instructors and professors trying to hold the line at all kinds of institutions, but the atmosphere does play a part in the kind of support students *and* faculty get in academic pursuits. A Louisiana science professor, for instance, was taken off a first-year class because too many of the students were getting Cs or Fs. She has former students and other faculty members saying she’s a great instructor but the atmosphere is one that rewards lameness.

  11. np206100 says:

    Top 5 Reasons Why a “Top 5 Reasons of Why Every Single College Ranking Is Pile of Crap” is a Mound of Poop List, anyone?

  12. eccsame says:

    I would think that it does matter in terms of networking and access to alumni. For example, someone who went to film school at UCLA will have a better shot to “break into the industry” than someone who attended film school at the University of Pittsburgh based solely on the number of UCLA grads who are working there. The same thing could be said for medical school and law school.

    Also, I don’t think I’d trust this guy’s assessment of the college ranking system. He can hardly be an expert since he hasn’t graduated from college yet and he’s getting a degree in art history.

  13. Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

    The kid is still IN college and writing a book about being an expert at how to not pay for college.

    I’m exceedingly skeptical.

  14. FatLynn says:

    The OP is not saying you shouldn’t compare colleges and go to the best ones, he is saying the “Top Colleges” lists put out by major publishers are crap. They consider a lot of factors that may not be important to you. You should, instead, decide what factors ARE important to you, and compare those.

    • UCLAri: Allergy Sufferer says:

      I agree. But his arguments against the lists are poor.

      Putting schools into relative groups can be incredibly helpful, and may also help students to discover schools they may not have considered otherwise.

      I know at least a few students who “discovered” smaller liberal arts college via USNWR that they would have otherwise ignored.

      • FatLynn says:

        Okay, that’s also fair. I went to one of the “public ivies”, but I know a lot of friends who wanted tiny schools, and if that’s what’s right for them, so be it.

        • UCLAri: Allergy Sufferer says:

          I’m a huge proponent of small schools for people who want that environment. My cousin is graduating from Brown, and when I visited him he seemed to know pretty much everyone on campus. I went to UCLA (duh) and was lucky to run into anyone I knew any given day.

          I loved it though. He would’ve hated it. And that’s why he was better off at Brown than, I dunno, Penn?

          • mythago says:

            But that’s sort of a reason these lists are bad, yes? They aren’t about finding the college that is the best fit for you AND offers the best cost-vs-usefulness-of-degree balances; they’re about the circle jerk of getting into the highest ranked college which is the highest ranked because everybody wants to get in.

            • UCLAri: Allergy Sufferer says:

              Yes, it’s a vicious circle: top schools stay on top because they attract the best students, which means that they become top schools and…

              So what? Given the choice to be with the smartest people in the world I can possibly associate myself with, if only for four years, and “saving money,” I’d rather take the former.

              Are the rankings flawed? Hell yes they are. But they at least give students the opportunity to compare schools and figure out schools they can apply to, where they have a good shot of getting into, and similar schools to the ones they already know.

              Sure, rankings suck, but they also gave a whole new generation awareness of great schools that were not as famous before like WUSTL. That’s of some value.

  15. psychometrician says:

    Regarding #5…The only reason prospective students couldn’t compare schools pre-2005 was that the schools did not publicly report the necessary data (not because it’s impossible to “compare colleges in any meaningful way”). There are lots of resources available for making direct comparisons of colleges (even on learning outcomes). See: Voluntary System of Accountability, IPEDS College Navigator, and University and College Accountability Network.

  16. scoosdad says:

    I used to work for a university that through some fluke, found itself in the top twenty of US News and World Report’s rankings of our category one year. Talk about marketing hype going into overdrive– that fact was shoehorned into any kind of public communications and press release for the next twelve months. We all were sick of hearing about it.

    But the more interesting thing to those of us on the inside was how the school applied spin to the following year’s ratings, where we dropped like a rock in the ratings. Somehow even that position was made to sound like something to crow about with no reference to how far we dropped from the previous year.

    It’s all crap.

    • lihtox says:

      When I was looking at graduate schools, my undergraduate advisor told me that the main advantage of going to a top school is not the faculty or the facilities or whatever, it’s the students: top schools attract smart students, and being surrounded by people who are smarter than you is good stimulus. In this way, ratings and reputations are somewhat self-fulfilling.

      • UCLAri: Allergy Sufferer says:

        lihtox,

        But that implies that everyone isn’t an equally unique beautiful snowflake!

  17. AllanG54 says:

    College, like any other school is what you make of it. A guy who I grew up with graduated the same college I did. He’s now the head of music for a huge company and is also on the committee that selects the Grammy Awards. I, on the other hand, did not do as well.

  18. dragonvpm says:

    Wow, this is a nice bit of advertising for that book but I’m really kind of bothered by it showing up on the Consumerist. Basically you have someone how hasn’t even earned a degree yet talking about how to pick a school and a major and he’s basing his advice on statistics (“There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics.”) derived from “little-known studies”? That’s like getting advice on building a race car from a guy who’s read a whole lot about them and is almost done building one but hasn’t actually ever raced one.

    1. So basically rankings suck because they’re based on people’s opinions and yet I wonder where HR folks are going to get their opinions. Maybe it’s a bit of a chicken and egg problem, but if/when you apply for a job somewhere there is a decent chance whoever is making their decision will quite possibly be aware of those rankings and graduating from a highly ranked school will quite possibly be more notable than graduating from a school no one has heard of. Sure it’s not the ONLY thing that they’ll look at but your kidding yourself if you can’t accept that it WILL matter.

    2. Sure some things may not matter to academics, but some things do. Dismissing rankings because not everything there has a proven statistical benefit seems convenient for someone selling a book that justifies the author’s decision to go to a “so-so public college” (his words). Most rankings I’ve seen tend to have breakdowns that can help you decide what things matter more or less to you regardless of whether they matter academically.

    3. Wow, so basically go to an easier college so you get better grades instead of going to a harder college where you’ll be challenged more because you may make more money for being “under-matched.” Personally I chose to go to the hardest school I possibly could because I wanted the challenge and I’ve never regretted it. As an added bonus though since it was known to be such a hard school in my field it’s made getting hired a lot easier over the years. My dad and I used to argue over this a lot when I was in high school. Sure a good student can do well at any school, but you’ll have to try harder to prove that you are a good student and not just an average student who went to an easy school.

    4. This point also fails to take into account that one reason that there is a larger return on investment from going to a place like MIT vs Podunk U is that companies will and do hire the MIT grad faster and pay them more than they do if they graduated from some no-name local college.

    5. So instead we should take advice from a guy trying to sell a book targeting kids who are a bit wishy-washy or unsure about what to do about college and might be inclined to take the “easy” way out. Now for $10.88 they can make a case why they don’t need to try to get into a “better” school.

  19. mythago says:

    The one grain of truth in the rankings is that, in some fields, they ARE taken very seriously and will limit your career chances. Which means that you need to determine well ahead of time whether you want the kind of job where that matters.

    For example, in law, if you want to be a Supreme Court law clerk or work at a big-name New York law firm, you pretty much have to go to a top-ten ranked law school, period. Of course, this also means you will rack up six figures in student loan debt, which you will need that high-paying firm job to pay off – which also means you better be at the top of your class at Yale or Stanford given the current market.

    On the other hand, if you just want to be a DA or work at a nice local firm in your Midwestern state, you’d be an idiot to pay Harvard tuition instead of going to a cheaper accredited state school, where you will also get plugged into the network of fellow state-law-school alumni who are the ones doing all the local hiring.

  20. tbax929 says:

    As others have already mentioned, I’ve found that being an alum of a college with a large network of graduates is most helpful. I still live in the city in which I went to college, and there are tons of U of A alumni here. It’s a decent school, anyway, but I know it helps that I went here instead of some obscure school that may be “better” but isn’t well-known in my area.

  21. abhiroopb says:

    These rankings seem to be tilted more towards the “brand” rather than the actual academic credibility of an institution.

    Basically, going to Harvard or Yale and doing a “fluffy” degree just gives you a better “brand”. Let’s be honest when someone tells you that they went to an Ivy League college you will be impressed.

    I remember a friend was very proud of the fact that he had never applied to Oxford or Cambridge (UK universities). Why would you be proud of that? The only reason that comes to mind is that he did not want to get rejected and by not applying that option was nullified.

    There are two groups of people who go to university. The first want a good education. In some sense this would be a continuation of school. The other group do it to get a degree and then find a job. I don’t think there is anything wrong with either groups of people, but clearly if you just want to go to university to get a job, it is infinitely better to go to a university with a better “brand”.

  22. Christina M says:

    If you’re only looking for increased pay, your best bet is usually to go to a college known for its program in the field you’re pursuing. Harvard MBA is pretty well known, but if you’re studying engineering, you’re much better off at Cal Tech.

    If what you’re looking for is a good education, reputation is only a tiny part of gauging the value of a school. You’ll get a better education, invariably, at a “teaching” college than at a “research” college, because you have actual teachers, rather than researchers who view students as one of those stumbling blocks they must endure to keep their research jobs. I’ve been to a lot of colleges of both kinds, and the rule held like rock. The other thing you want to look at is class size. You can’t ask questions, or even ask for clarifications, in a class of 200. Study after study has proven that instructional quality and student learning outcome is exponentially influenced by class size.

    Again, if all you want is a name to help make money, ignore things like class size and reason for existence. But if you put yourself through four years of higher education with no aim toward learning or growing, you are wasting a tremendous opportunity.

  23. consumerd says:

    For me…. I went to Ranken Technical College in STL. It wasn’t as famous and on TV like ITT tech but my education only cost about $30k. I also get lifetime placement assistance. On the surface I would say Ranken was better for me as I now make about 60k a year working for a fortune 500 company. Granted I have a associates of technology degree, but it doesn’t limit me to my potential. I think Rankings are just nuts, if I had went with “ranking” sure I could have went to WashU, SLU, or SIU-E. I didn’t I went to Ranken Tech for my Technical training and I feel better for it. I got to talk with employers first hand. What gave me a clue that the college was worth a bit more than the prestige was the fact they consider anything below 75% failing the course. That’s huge, and important I feel, because at 75% you know that student had to work to keep that at minimum. They also have a Work Ethic grade, which at first I kind of scoffed at but realized later how important it is.

    For the 30k I spent, I can safely say Ranken Technical College in STL was a good choice for me, and my salary doesn’t disagree with it at all.

  24. km9v says:

    Image is everything.

  25. Jen says:

    The Princeton Review doesn’t make any claims about ranking schools- they compile ranking lists about specific aspects of the school entirely based on student surveys. They’re pretty clear about the fact that their lists are by students, for students.

  26. TouchMyMonkey says:

    Price, proximity to home (commuters save big $$$), availability of desired major. That’s it. College is college.

    • UCLAri: Allergy Sufferer says:

      How about a school that provides you with access to better resources, good study abroad programs, good variety of classes, a strong network, and support programs?

      How about a school that you’ll have fun at?

      College is not just college. It’s four years of your life and one of the most formative experiences of your life.

  27. highjump says:

    Another reason not to trust these college rankings – institutions misrepresent themselves. Last year the University of Nebraska- Lincoln reported 100% of their faculty was full time even though Department of Education data showed they had hundreds of adjuncts and almost 2,000 grad students (many of which teach undergraduate courses). Discrepancies for more institutions reported here: http://www.aftface.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=733&Itemid=63

    Oh wait, you guys don’t consider full-time faculty to be an important factor. I guess you never had a professor who didn’t have office hours because they didn’t have an office, or a professor who was gone the next semester – just when you needed that letter of recommendation from them. Studies have shown that students who have taken a lot of classes from contingent faculty are less likely to graduate. http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2008/11/06/adjuncts Students of full-time or tenure-track faculty are more likely to take more classes or major in that subject area. Link to that report here: http://www.aftface.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=blogcategory&id=71&Itemid=53

  28. Bob says:

    Actually the key to success are these things:

    1. Talent. The ability to do something to stand out from your peers. College can help you do develop this factor.
    2. Hard work. A good college, for what you want to do, will motivate you to accomplish this hard work. A good college will require it of you. This will also require planing. But you must accomplish this hard work, which means results. Effort alone it not sufficient. Lots of effort with few results is not hard work, it is simply lots of effort. If you don’t understand this, take one physics course.
    3. Opportunity. College helps you to network. I suggest joining groups. Technical groups, social groups, etc. You will expand your opportunities that way.
    4. Avoid foolishness. Pissing people off left and right will hurt your success. Joining groups in college will help you learn to get along with lots of people.
    5. What’s a good college? One that will get you where you want to go. Going to MIT for a Literature Major makes no sense. MIT will not take you to where you want to be in that case.

    So the equation of success is: Success = “Good for you” college (to get in the door) + Talent x Hard Work (lot of results) X Opportunity / Foolishness (for lifetime of success).

    It is the hard truth that people that have the same talent and have done the same hard work will likely do better in a good economy than a bad one, as long as they don’t blow it. The hard work and foolishness part is under your control and so is the college part.

  29. ma1234 says:

    And here is where it does matter: if you want an elite job, say at an I-Bank, consulting or law firm – you better come from an elite school.

  30. vanqwert says:

    Most people I met out of the US do not even know Duke University, but I guess it is still has a little prestige in the US, right? Maybe some rankings still have their value.

  31. mdovell says:

    Just a few things here…(I concur with mythago)

    “The reason that schools like Berkeley and MIT and Cal Tech are ranked so high is because although you have a lower GPA, employers know you had a much more challenging course load than you would have had at other universities. “

    Not really… I have know a professor that is adjuct that teaches at state schools and MIT..I’ve had him a number of times. The professors can be more known in a field than the schools themselves. If someone studies in a given field it can matter more in terms of who they have been taught from rather than that of where. The professor doesn’t “dumb” things down for public schools.

    Ivy league isn’t exactly worth it…why not…debt for starters. Although it is illegal in a large number of states that employers cannot ask for credit checks it can be true out of the country. In many fields there are raises for simply a bachelors degree…reguadless of major or school or even gpa. I personally know someone in the airforce that became an officer and he probably had a gpa in the 1 range..

    A bachelors degree today is the new defacto standard..it is what a high school diploma was decades ago.

    Can it be argued that some schools are better than others? Well yes and no…I don’t think it would make logical sense to say an entire school scan be better or worse than another. Now if there are different majors that excel or lag that can stand out but even then eventually it can change.

    Networking in top schools doesn’t always jive either…how much networking did bill gates do after dropping out of harvard?

    “However, I dislike this “I went to Podunk U and I’m successful!” argument because it ignores the fact that top universities almost universally provide greater resources than middling and lower-ranked ones.”

    Not always… if that were true then MIT wouldn’t have a student suicide rate. Sometimes the arguments with money do not really work well. For example it is often citied that public school systems with higher funding have better results. But yet private school teachers actually make less money than public school ones. Private colleges don’t exactly have to be that open with records..just look at tenure for starters.

    If you REALLY want a debate within academia simply look at tenure. One one hand it helps because if there is research to be performed and long term planning (will there be professors for class xyz in a few years?) but on the other hand it could restrict professors from teaching at other institutions. In short they are tied forever.

    I would say school rankings don’t really work well because it makes the assumption that people only get jobs in their major..that isn’t the case by a long shot. Heck many don’t even graduate to start with.

    • UCLAri: Allergy Sufferer says:

      mdovell,

      There’s a lot here, so pardon me if I take it piece by piece.

      - “The professor doesn’t “dumb” things down for public schools.”

      I’ve talked to professors who have said they do just that when they teach at lower-end schools. I remember a professor of mine at UCSD saying that he deliberately speeds up the material compared to when he teaches at USD.

      ” Ivy league isn’t exactly worth it…why not…debt for starters. Although it is illegal in a large number of states that employers cannot ask for credit checks it can be true out of the country. In many fields there are raises for simply a bachelors degree…reguadless of major or school or even gpa. I personally know someone in the airforce that became an officer and he probably had a gpa in the 1 range..”

      Hold on a second.

      First off, you can get considerable debt from any private school. Tuition is tuition whether or not it’s from Harvard or Regent University.

      Also, how did your friend have a GPA in the 1 range when pretty much all universities require at least a 2.0 to graduate? That doesn’t make a lot of sense, unless that school had strange grading policies. Either way, what does that have to do with Ivy League and debt?

      “Can it be argued that some schools are better than others? Well yes and no…I don’t think it would make logical sense to say an entire school scan be better or worse than another. Now if there are different majors that excel or lag that can stand out but even then eventually it can change.”

      Sorry, but you’re going to be hard-pressed to argue that Harvard, Stanford, Yale, etc. are not overall better institutions than the worst CSU. It’s just silly to argue otherwise.

      “Networking in top schools doesn’t always jive either…how much networking did bill gates do after dropping out of harvard?”

      You’ll have to remember that Gates also met many of his future company C-level employees at Harvard. That kind of networking matters.

      “Not always… if that were true then MIT wouldn’t have a student suicide rate. Sometimes the arguments with money do not really work well. For example it is often citied that public school systems with higher funding have better results. But yet private school teachers actually make less money than public school ones. Private colleges don’t exactly have to be that open with records..just look at tenure for starters.”

      Suicide rates are a non-sequitur.

      You’re all over the place with public vs. private. The fact is that private university professors almost universally make more money than their public brethren. This is not a well-hidden fact.

      http://www.bls.gov/oco/ocos066.htm#earnings

      In fact, it’s considerably more.

      Sadly, the best professors are often at the top, richest schools. And for the most part, those are usually BIG FAMOUS U.

      “If you REALLY want a debate within academia simply look at tenure. One one hand it helps because if there is research to be performed and long term planning (will there be professors for class xyz in a few years?) but on the other hand it could restrict professors from teaching at other institutions. In short they are tied forever.”

      You really don’t understand how tenure works. Tenure doesn’t mean that a professor is necessarily required to work at a university. It means that he has job security. In short, a professor with tenure at a top university can go to other universities as long as he is offered a job. Harvard poaches tenured professors from top publics all the time.

      “I would say school rankings don’t really work well because it makes the assumption that people only get jobs in their major..that isn’t the case by a long shot. Heck many don’t even graduate to start with.”

      Non-graduation is a rare event at top schools– 10% or less. Furthermore, what does major have to do with the overall quality of the school? If you don’t get a job in your major then it REALLY behooves you to go to the best school you can because you’re no longer riding on the quality of your classes, but your individual and school quality.

      • mdovell says:

        “I’ve talked to professors who have said they do just that when they teach at lower-end schools. I remember a professor of mine at UCSD saying that he deliberately speeds up the material compared to when he teaches at USD.”

        That’s nice but that is simply my story against yours. Professors don’t get paid more money to teacher higher ranked classes. They can get paid more to do over the contract (summer classes). Once one is tenured it’s basically just extra anyway.

        “Also, how did your friend have a GPA in the 1 range when pretty much all universities require at least a 2.0 to graduate? That doesn’t make a lot of sense, unless that school had strange grading policies. Either way, what does that have to do with Ivy League and debt?”

        Huh? As long as someone passes the class they can pass graduation. Departments certainly can take different steps if it’s more within a major (i.e. a english major has to have a higher gpa in english classes than others to pass etc)

        “Sorry, but you’re going to be hard-pressed to argue that Harvard, Stanford, Yale, etc. are not overall better institutions than the worst CSU. It’s just silly to argue otherwise.”

        Overall meaning what though? Bill Gates is a Harvard drop out. How much of the Forbes 400 went to Ivy League? There are plenty of other good schools within the country (William and Mary comes to mind) This isn’t a taste test here. Unless you can provide actual empirical data of graduates in terms of how they fare after graduation going say 5, 10 and 15 years out then the argument falls flat.

        “You’ll have to remember that Gates also met many of his future company C-level employees at Harvard. That kind of networking matters.”

        Ok so now it isn’t about graduating ivy league but simply attending it for a semester or two and then dropping out…nice change there. Or maybe it is simply worth it to just hang out around the schools rather than actually go to them.

        “Suicide rates are a non-sequitur.”

        Perhaps but when I went there to see the laser museum it was also a graduation day…and a suicide was mentioned in the student newspaper…not exactly good PR. It’s a nice school and all…2600 hackers meet there every month..it isn’t nearly as left wing as people assume it to be.

        “The fact is that private university professors almost universally make more money than their public brethren. This is not a well-hidden fact.

        http://www.bls.gov/oco/ocos066.htm#earnings

        Wow that isn’t a half truth…look at what is said
        “In 2008–09, full-time faculty salaries averaged $92,257 in private independent institutions, $77,009 in public institutions, and $71,857 in religiously affiliated private colleges and universities.”

        You are factoring out religious schools. Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Brown..etc were all originally affiliated with a religion…also you reference full time rather than adjunct. About 25% of professors don’t make tenure (about 2% of tenured get terminated..it’s not a bad system…certainly hard to fire but also hard to get). Leaving out 25% of professors certainly adjusts the numbers a bit.

        “Sadly, the best professors are often at the top, richest schools. And for the most part, those are usually BIG FAMOUS U.”

        best meaning what? You are not using empiracal data. Simply because someone might teach at a 4 year school in a private one doesn’t mean they are a good teacher.

        “You really don’t understand how tenure works. Tenure doesn’t mean that a professor is necessarily required to work at a university. It means that he has job security. In short, a professor with tenure at a top university can go to other universities as long as he is offered a job. Harvard poaches tenured professors from top publics all the time”

        Um no. Tenure isn’t portable I just finished a paper on it. I interviewed a provost. They stay at the institution.

        “Non-graduation is a rare event at top schools– 10% or less. Furthermore, what does major have to do with the overall quality of the school? If you don’t get a job in your major then it REALLY behooves you to go to the best school you can because you’re no longer riding on the quality of your classes, but your individual and school quality.”

        When is 10% rare? If someone made a drug that killed 10% of it’s patients and you were brought into court and simply said “Well it’s causes rare death” you’d be sent to jail or sued.

        Huh? This reminds me of someone I know that goes to harvard and yale extension courses. Doesn’t have enough to actually attend the schools but banks on simply slapping the name on his resume…

        • UCLAri: Allergy Sufferer says:

          “That’s nice but that is simply my story against yours. Professors don’t get paid more money to teacher higher ranked classes. They can get paid more to do over the contract (summer classes). Once one is tenured it’s basically just extra anyway.”

          So, you honestly believe that classes at MIT will be the same difficulty as classes at a lower-ranked school, despite the fact that MIT’s student body is going to be in a different ability class almost across the board?

          Have you ever taught? I have: at both the primary and university level. Smarter students mean that you teach more difficult material. I mean, look at the difference between students taking AP classes vs. regular classes in high school.

          “Huh? As long as someone passes the class they can pass graduation. Departments certainly can take different steps if it’s more within a major (i.e. a english major has to have a higher gpa in english classes than others to pass etc)”

          I looked for schools allowing students to pass with a D-average, and could not find any.

          http://www.uic.edu/ucat/catalog/GR.shtml#e

          http://www.csufresno.edu/catoffice/current/degreereq.html

          http://registrar.berkeley.edu/Records/UGdegreereq.html

          I cannot find a university that allows you to graduate with a 1.0. Besides, since when is a D considered “passing?”

          “Overall meaning what though? Bill Gates is a Harvard drop out. How much of the Forbes 400 went to Ivy League? There are plenty of other good schools within the country (William and Mary comes to mind) This isn’t a taste test here. Unless you can provide actual empirical data of graduates in terms of how they fare after graduation going say 5, 10 and 15 years out then the argument falls flat.”

          How about access to better facilities, better faculty, and a stronger overall student body?

          I’m not admittedly thrilled with this site’s methodology, but here’s some rough evidence of how salaries differ by alma mater: http://www.payscale.com/best-colleges/top-us-colleges-graduate-salary-statistics.asp

          And keep in mind that I consider William and Mary a “top university.” I think all of the USNWR top 50 are roughly equal in terms of opportunity, but that the top 10 or so are in a class of their own.

          “Ok so now it isn’t about graduating ivy league but simply attending it for a semester or two and then dropping out…nice change there. Or maybe it is simply worth it to just hang out around the schools rather than actually go to them.”

          Hang on: you argued first that schools don’t matter because so-and-so dropped out. You’re the one making this argument. I’m saying that even he DID drop out, he still benefitted by being a student there.

          And just “hanging out” is not the same. Being a student at Harvard or similar schools gives you cachet that just being that dude that hangs out there does not.

          “You are factoring out religious schools. Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Brown..etc were all originally affiliated with a religion…also you reference full time rather than adjunct. About 25% of professors don’t make tenure (about 2% of tenured get terminated..it’s not a bad system…certainly hard to fire but also hard to get). Leaving out 25% of professors certainly adjusts the numbers a bit.”

          Uhh… Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Brown, etc. are not considered “religious schools” for these purposes. Read the damn study. You can have a religious affiliation and still be considered a private school: like Georgetown.

          Here’s another article that says the same thing as I did: http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2008/04/14/aaup

          Gaps are also visible between public and private institutions. The top paying 15 research universities (as well as the top liberal arts institutions) are all private. Of those institutions paying six-figure average salaries to associate professors, only one is a public institution (New Jersey Institute of Technology).

          And if you scroll down, you’ll notice that lecturers make, on average, $10K MORE at private universities!

          Now try to tell me that private universities don’t pay more.

          “best meaning what? You are not using empiracal data. Simply because someone might teach at a 4 year school in a private one doesn’t mean they are a good teacher.”

          I’m saying the people who are trendsetters in their fields. The award-winning leaders in their fields. The top professors at research universities, the top professors at top liberal arts colleges. The people who are making the major discoveries in the sciences, in math, in engineering.

          All else being equal, I’d rather study economics with Ken Rogoff or Amartya Sen.

          “Um no. Tenure isn’t portable I just finished a paper on it. I interviewed a provost. They stay at the institution.”

          Yes, it is.

          http://www.thecrimson.com/article/2006/7/14/star-nyu-history-professor-poached-new/

          http://volokh.com/posts/1160892359.shtml

          http://www.observer.com/node/51978

          (This last one is funny) http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/article834840.ece

          Poaching is common, and as Dan Drezner points out: “There is most definitely a risk that a school with good scholars will be “poached” by higher-ranking institutions.”

          When I left UCLA political science, they had had at least a few of their top talent poached by Stanford. It happens all the time.

          “When is 10% rare? If someone made a drug that killed 10% of it’s patients and you were brought into court and simply said “Well it’s causes rare death” you’d be sent to jail or sued.”

          It’s a pretty damned good figure when nationwide only 60% of four-year college or university students will graduate: http://www.aei.org/paper/100019 (I couldn’t find a non-AEI source… sigh.)

          • mdovell says:

            “So, you honestly believe that classes at MIT will be the same difficulty as classes at a lower-ranked school, despite the fact that MIT’s student body is going to be in a different ability class almost across the board?”

            It certainly can be. Naturally a higher level class is going to be harder than a lower level but from professors I know they don’t make it any less or more difficult based on where they are teaching.

            “I have: at both the primary and university level. Smarter students mean that you teach more difficult material. I mean, look at the difference between students taking AP classes vs. regular classes in high school.”

            You are making a few assumptions here. One is that people in ivory league schools have higher test scores (or some metric..gpa etc) Secondly you can’t exactly use the same concept AP classes in a high school because that’s the same institution but just a higher level. Let me ask you this. To get into ivory league you need what exactly? Naturally it is argued that it costs more money. Now if there are grants and endowments certainly it can be lower in price. If you make the argument that they need top scores in grades then what exactly is the purpose of it then…an intelligent person in AP classes becomes an intelligent person with an undergrad degree…so the names of “Harvard” and “Yale” mean what then? Higher grades? Shouldn’t we have say…Mensa for that?

            If you were to give a Mensa test to someone that went to a public college vs a ivory league and the one in public scored significantly higher on the test would that be a greater barometer for you than the degree?

            “I looked for schools allowing students to pass with a D-average, and could not find any.”
            I didn’t mean ivory league. The argument in question was that you didn’t need sky high grades for it to matter to many institutions. Actually it was 2.0 gpa but that still technically allows students to get lower than a c in classes. In terms of the military what matters is having a four year degree. Not the major..not the gpa…2.0 is worth the same as 3.0 is worth the same as 4.0

            “I cannot find a university that allows you to graduate with a 1.0. Besides, since when is a D considered “passing?”

            D’s are passing. I suggest you look up more policies in schools. They certainly aren’t good and I’m not defending the practice. If someone fails a class the only recourse is to take it again. Certainly there are schools that ask for standards for people within their major. I’ve heard in many they don’t allow lower than a 3.0 so it varies.

            “How about access to better facilities, better faculty, and a stronger overall student body?”
            As I said before how strong is a student body when there are suicides? Facilities meaning what? Dorms? Computers? Most schools are pretty well developed with technology now. I could see your argument 15-20 years ago but not now. Faculty again would vary..I think that within academia any bad college professors are weeded out. If someone is bad I doubt they’d get tenure. If someone is bad and they are adjunct then they simply won’t get another contract.

            “I’m not admittedly thrilled with this site’s methodology, but here’s some rough evidence of how salaries differ by alma mater: http://www.payscale.com/best-colleges/top-us-colleges-graduate-salary-statistics.asp

            I’m sorry to tell you but I know some that make more than some of those rates. One I know that went to a public school for engineering make significantly more. I’m not sure if those rates are all low of if the data is old. One right out of a public had a starting of more than 20% more than any starting rate..he went to a school not even on that list! A mechanic I know (going to school I should add) makes what is inline with midlevel schools for starting pay. I’m not arguing that higher education should automatically mean more money but anyone thinking that it should needs to look at more reports. I know of a place that would pay 40K just as long as you have a bachlors and walk in the door.

            I found what you mean though as this explains a bit more on the numbers
            “This means Bachelor graduates who go on to earn a Master’s degree, MBA, MD, JD, PhD, or other advanced degree are not included.
            For some highly selective schools, graduates with degrees higher than a bachelor’s degree can represent a significant fraction of all graduates.
            Careers that require advanced degrees, such as law or medicine, are not included.”

            “And keep in mind that I consider William and Mary a “top university.” I think all of the USNWR top 50 are roughly equal in terms of opportunity, but that the top 10 or so are in a class of their own.”

            Ok.. but how many “tops” can one have though.

            “Hang on: you argued first that schools don’t matter because so-and-so dropped out. You’re the one making this argument. I’m saying that even he DID drop out, he still benefitted by being a student there.”

            I NEVER said that schools don’t matter. What I argued is that the idea that ivy league isn’t always an automatic leg up. So even people that drop out of school should cite school on resumes? I’m sorry but generally I would expect people to discuss and talk about degrees..maybe certificates…because those show proof of not just attendance but graduation. Graduation is an accomplishment because there are standards. If I ran a business and someone told me the only were at harvard or yale for a half year frankly that wouldn’t mean much to me. It is fine to transfer to other schools as long as the net results is the same (the degree)

            “And just “hanging out” is not the same. Being a student at Harvard or similar schools gives you cachet that just being that dude that hangs out there does not.”

            Given how open campuses are I’m not so sure on that. Most campuses even post 9/11 are pretty open. At MIT you can walk in the building and hang out..2600 has meetings there every month and NO ONE actually is a student there.

            “Uhh… Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Brown, etc. are not considered “religious schools” for these purposes. Read the damn study. You can have a religious affiliation and still be considered a private school: like Georgetown.”

            Exactly and the study shows religious ones (which are technically private given separation of church and state) aren’t making as much as public. Your argument would be better put as private non religious schools do well.

            “Gaps are also visible between public and private institutions. The top paying 15 research universities (as well as the top liberal arts institutions) are all private. Of those institutions paying six-figure average salaries to associate professors, only one is a public institution (New Jersey Institute of Technology).”

            That’s fine you have established that the professors make more. But that’s not an indication that they are actually better professors. Wouldn’t a greater metric of this be the actual professor evaluations by students (not ratemyprofessor but actual feed back)

            “I’m saying the people who are trendsetters in their fields. The award-winning leaders in their fields. The top professors at research universities, the top professors at top liberal arts colleges. The people who are making the major discoveries in the sciences, in math, in engineering.”

            Well that’s interesting because I sense a split in this. Would you say the purposes of college is to educate or to do research or both? Research is fine don’t get me wrong but it doesn’t exactly mean that someone can actually reach the students.

            “All else being equal, I’d rather study economics with Ken Rogoff or Amartya Sen.”
            Sen’s book I found to be a bit dry. I prefer Easterly or Collier myself. Sachs I think gets it now though.

            http://www.thecrimson.com/article/2006/7/14/star-nyu-history-professor-poached-new/
            ok

            “http://volokh.com/posts/1160892359.shtml”
            Nothing in that states that

            http://www.observer.com/node/51978
            ok

            But can you find something within AAUP that actually states that this is an actual practice. As far as I see it’s just two incidents out of how many schools. I understand the concept if a professor wants to tour or be adjunct at another school. The reason why I’d tend to question it is how does it factor into union contracts and budgeting.

            Perhaps I should have stated my argument a bit better. Certainly if they want to opt out of what they have they have the freedom to do so. What I mean is that if a professor earns tenure at an institution they can’t simply transfer as tenure in one and then come back or at least not with permission. It’s not a free pass to teach at all institutions at a whim.

            “It’s a pretty damned good figure when nationwide only 60% of four-year college or university students will graduate: http://www.aei.org/paper/100019 (I couldn’t find a non-AEI source… sigh.)”

            Well aei like a broken clock can be right 2x a day.
            I think your argument runs a bit thin here. If you make the argument that ivy leagues are good schools (which they are) but in doing so imply that it is worth it because of all the teaching and the staff and the environment that’s fine…but I would certainly expect given the maturity, price and essence that it would be much lower than 10%.

            http://www.forbes.com/2009/08/07/college-graduation-rate-opinions-colleges-09-aei.html
            It brings up a interesting issue
            “Moreover, high graduation rates are not a uniformly good thing; low graduation rates might reflect a rigorous curriculum and a high level of quality control. After all, a foolproof way to increase graduation rates is to give diplomas out like candy to anyone who shows up”

            It reminds me I’ve had a professor before that grades on improvement. Everyone fails the first paper. I had another that A’s are impossible…B’s are only really given if you’ve had him awhile. Try as hard as you can regardless of stature you’ll probably get a C.

            If we take things up a step I think we can find ourselves actually in agreement. In graduate school unfortunately since the late 1990’s there’s been paper factories pushing out MBA’s. So much so I think it’s to the point where most masters programs have to either be affiliated with a top school (say harvard business school) or a national accreditation (NASPAA). I almost got into a verbal argument with someone that implied as if it’s just a easy 9 month thing with no comprehensive test or thesis…just deposit 20-35k and whammo there it is..

    • Powerlurker says:

      There’s a very good chance that you’d graduate with a far lower debt load at an Ivy League institution than even your local flagship state school. They have very generous financial aid that they tend to distribute mostly in grants instead of loans.

      • mdovell says:

        “There’s a very good chance that you’d graduate with a far lower debt load at an Ivy League institution than even your local flagship state school. They have very generous financial aid that they tend to distribute mostly in grants instead of loans.”

        Not always. I’ve met a doctor and lawyer that both graduated and both owe about 100K. It will be years if not decades before they pay it off. The doctor moved out of the boston area because it was too expensive. The lawyer I’m not totally sure but I assume she’s looking for a firm.

        I actually just finished a grants class and since the meltdown of 2008 grants have decreased quite a bit overall.
        http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/22/opinion/22lehecka.html

        “In 2004, Lawrence Summers, then Harvard’s president, pointed out that three-fourths of the students at selective colleges come from the top income quartile and only 9 percent from the bottom two quartiles combined. And as Donald Heller, a professor of education at Pennsylvania State University, has shown in a number of studies, colleges are increasingly awarding grant money in the form of so-called merit scholarships not based on financial need. More of this assistance is going to students in the top income quartile than to any other income group.”

        Keep in mind where Lawrence Summers is now. If someone says they went to a ivy league school

        NPR had a interesting article about rankings as well
        http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2010/08/17/129248940/what-do-best-college-rankings-tell-us

        http://www.usatoday.com/news/education/2010-01-14-college-admissions_N.htm
        It is interesting that with the economy the way it is some schools are actually kicking some out for doing nothing wrong.
        “The University of Florida, which has about 35,000 undergraduates, is seeking to reduce enrollment by 4,000 students by 2012, said spokeswoman Janine Sikes.”
        How does a school “shrink” the student body by more than 10%?

        Lastly is that grants themselves are actually shrinking
        http://www.walletpop.com/blog/2010/08/17/state-grants-are-still-not-enough-to-pay-for-college/
        Grants are naturally better than loans but loans themselves are going to be pursued much more heavily than before in terms of collections. I worked collections in the past and recently they received incentives from the federal government (remember the middle man was cut out) to give to employees. A collector is now going to get roughly 25-33% more now to collect student loans.

  32. SpruceStreetPhil - in a new Pine flavor says:

    all i care is that the new rankings put my school 2 in front of my little sisters top boston school that was previously tied with mine… now I can rub it in her face.

  33. RandomHookup says:

    I live near Harvard and MIT and used to do college recruiting for a tech firm (hiring entry level candidates off campus) and the difference in schools for most companies ends up being depth. The top students at lesser ranked schools would do fine elsewhere…but the quality of the class tends to run out quickly. Recruit at some of the tougher schools and you’ll find more potential hires even if the class is smaller (though there are duds everywhere).

    One thing I have seen is that the quality of the experience is very different. Go to Harvard and you’ll have famous professors and famous speakers and famous classmates and high powered alumni hanging out at Head of the Charles. As an undergrad at Harvard, you’ll be in a fairly selective bubble and have access to opportunities lots of us don’t (such as helping out a big name professor on a book). Go to one of the grad schools at Harvard (like Kennedy School of Government) and you’ll have access to all these high powered politicians (and a spy or two) and get opportunities you might not otherwise and the school has lots of money to spend on events and fellowships. Heck, when I retire, I’m just going to hang out at Harvard and MIT going to the events they have (often with an open bar or food) that the public can attend free (one of the best kept secrets of these places).

    • UCLAri: Allergy Sufferer says:

      RandomHookup,

      Exactly. It’s all about the distribution of the student body.

      Look at the student body at Harvard or MIT. Look at the distribution of their scores. Pretty much all tightly packed in the top percentile or so. The bottom ranked Harvard student is practically (from a statistical perspective) the same as the average student.

      And yep. Harvard gives you access to THE TOP. I remember as a grad student at UCSD how we made a big to-do about getting Amartya Sen as a speaker. Nobel Prize economist! Woohoo!

      Only guess what? He’s at Harvard full-time. It’s not a big deal there. It’s business-as-usual.

      That’s the difference. Sure, I may have gotten great learning opportunities at UCSD and might be almost as qualified, but I didn’t get access to the best people in the field. But hey, that’s just how it is.

  34. Jay Wiese says:

    Attended to 5 different colleges as an undergraduate, from a prestigious private school to one of the top public “party schools” in the country. Best one in terms of academics & career prep? My local community college!

  35. scence says:

    I say go wherever the hell you want. In the end, the person needs to figure out for themselves what’s good for them. If a student only looked at prestige, went to Cal, and got a 2.8, then sucks for him, but honestly, he wouldn’t have listened to anyone back then telling him to go to an easier school when he got into Cal.
    Instead of giving advice to people, just do well for yourself is what I say.

  36. Willnet says:

    Its not the articles that make this site awesome. Its the commenters.