If you didn’t read my college blog post yesterday, I hope you do because it focused on a lot of hot-button issues for parents and teenagers trying to navigate the college process. The post, which was actually an email from the mom of a high school senior, touched upon such issues as:
Brand name snob appeal
Mistrust of attending schools far away
It’s no wonder that the post generated lots of comments. And a big THANK YOU to everyone who did post their thoughts, which I thought were all quite helpful. If you didn’t read the post, here it is:
To sum up, Karen (mom) and Nicole (daughter) conducted their college search in a thoughtful and methodical approach that has sadly generated a lot of flak from relatives, friends, teachers and counselors, who frankly don’t know what they are talking about. The naysayers have been generally aghast that Nicole was looking at universities in the South and Texas and didn’t know why she didn’t aim for marquee names closer to home like UCLA and USC.
My Take On All of This
Here are a few observations that I promised I’d make after Karen shared her predicament:
1. I’m tired — really, really tired — of people assuming that there are only a few schools in this country that are worth going to if you want to:
- Have a promising career.
- Attend graduate school.
- Get into medical school or law school.
There is zero evidence that the “dream” schools that everybody has heard of – and some people actually worship – can work that kind of magic. Frankly, motivated students wherever they attend school can accomplish any of the above goals just by persevering and working hard.
The pressure Nicole has been feeling about attending a University of California campus or USC made me recall a conversation that I had this summer with a friend of mine, who is a chemistry professor at University of California, San Diego, which is one of those highly sought-after schools. My friend mentioned that when his former students ask him for recommendations for their medical school applications, they are deflated by his response. The professor tells the students that he doesn’t know who they are — he teaches in lecture halls and teaching assistants deal with the undergrads — so he can’t write a personalized recommendation. All he can do, he explains, is write a note describing the class content and the grade that the student received.
I don’t think that’s the advantage that people assume comes from attending an intensive research university, where professors are focused on their own studies and not on undergraduates.
A School No One Has Heard Of
Let’s contrast that with what happens at the school where my daughter graduated, Juniata College in central Pennsylvania, which is one of those schools that no one has heard of and can’t even pronounce. Juniata, where about 40% of the students major in a science, boasts a stellar track record for getting their grads into medical school, dental schools and other medical programs. As you can see from this link, Juniata’s success rate is 97%. And 100% of their students get into law school.
According to US News, the nation’s medical schools less than 9% of its applicants and law schools accept less than 35%, which makes Juniata’s stats look even more amazing.
2. People knowledge of “good” schools is severely limited and quite cramped.
During the Christmas vacation, I talked to my son’s best childhood friend about his school — Carleton College — which I originally suggested that he apply to. (Most people were urging Nathan to apply to Ivy League schools and Berkeley, but he was intrigued by liberal arts colleges.) Carleton is an elite liberal arts college, but no one Nathan has run into in California has ever heard of it. The exception was a guy with a math PhD from UC Berkeley and his reaction was the kind that Nathan had always wanted. It was something like this: “Wow, you go to Carleton. That’s an awesome school. I’m totally impressed.” The PhD knew about Nathan’s college because there were Carleton grads in his Berkeley grad program.
3. Don’t worry about what others think.
Nicole and Karen are just going to have to ignore the naysayers. Yes, it would be nice if people had heard of the schools on daughter’s list, but does it really matter? No. What’s important is that the mother and daughter have conducted a thoughtful exploration of their college choices, which should ultimately boost Nicole’s chances of attending a school that she loves and that her parents can better afford.
4. A Californian Attending School in Texas
I’m going to close by sharing the observation of another mother (Linda) who weighed in yesterday, whose daughter is currently a freshman at Texas Christian University, which is one of Nicole’s picks. Rather than just speculating what it would be like for a Californian to attend school in Texas, this mom shares her daughter’s experience:
My daughter chose a private school in Texas and it is the perfect fit. California is the #2 state for admits in all those Texas schools that Karen listed so there are plenty of kids from the coast. Both coasts in fact. She has had more opportunities already as a freshman than she would’ve ever had at USC or a UC, due to size of the freshman class if nothing else. She accepted the Honors College invitation and lives in the Honors dorm. She has a hands-on internship in her major as a freshman! She will graduate with a stellar resume full of academics AND experience — which is essential in this economy.
Additionally, the smaller size of and southern hospitality felt at Texas schools creates a cohesive community full of school spirit that the highly selective California schools couldn’t possibly have due to their diversity and size — if that is important to Karen’s daughter. Yes, USC, UCLA and Berkeley have school spirit, but it is a slice of the student population, not a comprehensive body like it was at those schools when we all attended them. Yes, my daughter is a USC legacy too and already has been approached to transfer but she has no desire. Funny how many California kids we met in Texas had parents who went to USC. For us, attending college at TCU is a match made in heaven.