Some of my most popular blog posts are generated by comments from parents whose children face agonizing college decisions.
I got an email today from a dad who is grappling with what to do with his son, who was accepted to Cornell University last year through deferred admission or guaranteed transfer option. Under this arrangement, Cornell requires an applicant to complete his/her freshman year at another school before enrolling at Cornell as a sophomore. I find this long-time practice of Cornell despicable.
The son started at Washington University in St. Louis and is thriving there, but his father is contemplating making him attend Cornell. The student’s twin sister, who was also offered the same deal from Cornell, started at the University of Wisconsin, where she is happy, but she has agreed to transfer.
The dad reached out to me to solicit my opinion. I obviously have my own thoughts on this, but I’d love to hear from you after reading the dad’s email. Lynn O’Shaughnessy
A Dad’s Letter
I read your blog post about the Transfer Option because I have been obsessed with this issue for a year now and your “cynical” suggestion about gaming the US New and World Report was one of the theories that has really bothered me.
Fact: I have twins. Both applied to Cornell (boy applied early; girl regular), and both were rejected but given the Transfer Option to the ILR School. Roughly 40% of the class is transferring into the class of 2017 at Cornell’s ILR School.
Boy was accepted to Wash U. in St. Louis and went, maintained good grades, made Dean’s list spring semester and received the offer from Cornell. Girl was accepted to Univ. of Wisconsin, maintained good grades and received the offer from Cornell.
Girl had great social experience in high school and freshman year in college, and she has confidence that she’ll be able to make the transition socially at Cornell. Boy had rough high school experience socially and found a wonderful social experience at Wash U. He is not at all convinced he’ll be happy at Cornell. Both I and my wife went to Cornell and we have strong bias toward the school and the Ivy League degree.
Wanting to Stay at Washington University
Situation: Girl is prepared to go to Cornell, leave Madison sadly but confidently. Boy is not prepared to go to Cornell, and yet he and we are struggling with the idea of turning down something with perceived value like an Ivy League degree balanced against friends, fraternity, and familiarity of his Wash U. campus. In his mind, everything is good.
We would have to “promise” him that if he were to go to Cornell he’ll get the job he wants and a better life, which of course we cannot do. That said, he would also go if we “force” him to go; that is, if we make the decision for him, he’ll go along with it because he cannot do otherwise. We’re paying every nickel of his education.
The Mystique of an Ivy League Brand Name
In my heart: Let him stay, make his way, work hard, and make this choice as an adult which will be a lasting one. Get his Ivy degree in graduate school. Or don’t, and just be a good, smart person who contributes in a meaningful way, happy and secure.
In the back of my head: He’ll regret this later. He’ll be the only one in the family not to have gone to an Ivy League school (unless he goes to one for graduate school). He’ll lose out on a lifetime of pomp and circumstance that comes with being an Ivy League graduate. (Of course, I realize these are not good reasons, but they are real, subjective feelings nonetheless.) No doubt the ILR program is good and is well-respected especially on the East Coast, and could land him a good job right out of college.
His proposed major at Wash U is every bit as challenging (probably more) and interesting to him. Wash U’s national reputation is just nowhere near Cornell’s. This college investment is what I have to offer my kids as a legacy. He’s throwing it away because he likes his fraternity brothers and feels that leaving would be betrayal? Unacceptable.
Playing With College Rankings Numbers
The reason I write: It occurred to me and your blog confirm or at least supported my suspicion that gaming is going on. It makes me angry that Cornell did this to play with scores and it underscores its susceptibility to the sort of game that has jettisoned Wash U and Middlebury to exalted places on the US News and World Report list in the last 20 years. Thirty-five years ago I never would have dreamed that Middlebury let alone Wash U would be in the same neighborhood as Amherst or Brown, respectively, yet there they are. It does disgust me.
Yet, unlike Middlebury, which would never attract me or my sensibilities, Cornell’s siren call is compelling and as the summer progresses and the day draws nigh when a decision must be finally made, I wonder if I’ll be able to really say to my boy, it’s not the choice I would have made, but I understand why it’s the right choice for you and I support your choice. Right now, I’m saying it, but I’m not believing myself.
Postscript: The son ended up staying at Washington University!
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