Note: Michelle Kretzschmar of Do It Yourself College Rankings and I will be holding our next college webinar at 4 p.m. PDT this Sunday (July 7). You can discover what we will be covering by clicking on my webinar link. We will also be answering your questions. We hope you can attend! Lynn O’Shaughnessy
I want to thank everyone for such thoughtful and helpful responses to the dad who is stressing out about encouraging his daughter to walk away from an expensive acceptance from Boston College and instead trot off this fall to the honors college at the University of Pittsburgh.
I think it’s safe to say that there was an overriding consensus that the daughter made the correct decision, however, reluctantly she might have arrived at it. I too agree that she made the right choice.
If you missed the original post and what many other parents had to say, including those whose children have attended Pitt’s honors college, click the link below to can catch up on the discussion:
Here are some of my thoughts on the issue:
1. Paying $60,000 for 34 weeks of college
Unless money isn’t an issue and it almost always is, I don’t think it is worth paying $60,000 for 34 (give or take) weeks of schooling!
According to the College Board, Boston College’s tuition and room/board costs are $58,506 and that doesn’t include such expenses as books and travel. Boston College provides few merit scholarships – just 22 freshmen scholarships in that last statistics I saw – because the school has no trouble attracting rich students.
Boston College doesn’t need to offer carrots because the school has a high enough ranking to impress parents, it’s got a recognizable brand name and it’s located in a city on the East Coast.
2.Worrying about the rankings.
I had a visceral reaction when I read that the dad was worried that Boston College’s ranking as the 31st best university according to US News & World Report makes it a better choice than University of Pittsburgh which is ranked at 58th. (Pittsburgh is actually tied with University of Maryland, Syracuse U., Fordham University and Southern Methodist U.)
It’s incredibly unfortunate that so many parents and teenagers believe that a higher rank automatically means a better school.
The rankings methodology is famously unsound. The rankings were started back in the 80s simply as a way for US News to sell more ads. With its rankings, US News (it’s not even a magazine anymore) does not even attempt to measure academic quality.
I devote an entire chapter of my book (The College Solution) to the rankings. Meanwhile here is a post that I wrote last year for my college blog over at CBS MoneyWatch that explains why the rankings are flawed:
3. Awarding scholarships to teenagers who don’t need them.
For many of its own residents, the state universities in Pennsylvania are financially out-of-reach. When you look at the federal list of state schools that charge the highest tuition, the University of Pittsburgh is at the top of the list along with Penn State and some Penn State satellites.
The federal government released its newest lists of hall-of-shame price offenders just this week. The lists reveal the state and private schools with the highest tuition and net prices.
Nation’s Most Expensive State Universities for Residents
While the Pennsylvania state schools have been become increasingly unaffordable to many of its own residents, they award merit scholarships to residents and outsiders who don’t need the assistance. I find this a craven practice, but it is a widely practiced one at state universities across the country.
Teenagers who are top achievers, as measured by test scores, class rank and standardized test scores, should have little difficulty finding state universities beyond their borders that will award them at least a modest merit scholarship.
4. Failure to use a net price calculator.
The drama that the dad and daughter have experienced could have been avoided if the family had explored what schools on her list would have cost BEFORE applying.
The parents should have run the net price calculator for each school and then had a discussion about how much they could afford. By doing so, schools like Boston College and the University of Virginia, which is prohibitively expensive for outsiders, would have been eliminated and replaced with schools more inclined to give the teenager a scholarship.
5. Don’t bank on graduate school.
Pursuing a PhD in the humanities, in particular, can represent financial suicide and a bad career move.
For starters, there is a 50% attrition rate among students pursuing PhDs. The survivors face this cruel reality: the number of professors who are tenured or are on the tenure track has dropped dramatically over the years. Many PhDs are teaching as adjuncts making $2,000 or $3,000 a class without any benefits.
Andrew Roberts, a professor at Northwestern University and the author of The Thinking Student’s Guide to College, devotes one chapter of his book to providing excellent advice about graduate schools. He suggests that there are seldom strong reasons to go to graduate school immediately after college. Students often pick graduate school because all they know is how to be a student.
Many students apply to graduate school without seriously considering whether they really want to pursue the limited group of careers in which a particular graduate program culminates.
What do you think?
If anybody has any further thoughts on this topic, please feel free to share them below.