Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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March 21, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

ADMISSION SEASON....I happened to be talking to a friend about this the other day, but I still don't get it:

A generation ago, high school seniors applied to three, four or five colleges. But now students aiming for the most selective universities frequently apply to as many as 10 or 12; a significant number of students, especially in the last three years or so, apply to many, many more, guidance counselors and college admissions officials said.

The main reason for this, guidance counselors and admissions officials say, is a growing anxiety about admissions, stoked by college ranking guides, the news media and, often, parents. Some students are desperate to do anything to get into a brand-name institution including applying to many of them.

Aside from the expense and time it takes to fill out all the forms and write all the essays, who writes the recommendation letters for these kids? Do they really have teachers who are willing to write a dozen letters each? Or don't they do that anymore?

The reason I applied to only three universities during my senior year was because (a) I had a pretty good idea of what I was after though I turned out to be completely wrong about that, of course, and (b) one of my choices was a safety school that I knew I'd get into. I just didn't see the point in applying to a dozen schools, and I still don't.

And what's up with top schools being so much more competitive than they used to be? That really does seem to be the case, but why? Are there really that many more kids applying for the same number of slots? Are there a lot more smart kids than there used to be? Or what?

Kevin Drum 1:46 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (89)

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Don't underestimate the insanely invidious effect USnews rankings have had on colleges and the admission process. Schools are happy to encourage this behavior because they get to increas their score in the "% of applicants admitted" category (by getting a lower %) and the students feel like they will just die if they get into a "quantifiably" second tier school.

Posted by: luke on March 21, 2006 at 1:54 AM | PERMALINK

You're living in a different world. (I'm a freshman in college -- the system has changed quite a bit.)

The way it now works is it that teachers photocopy their letters of recommendation twelve times. References are statements about students, and while often specific, teachers do not (and, to my knowledge, never had to) answer specific questions about students apart from checking rating boxes.

Likewise, the process for students is far more standardized -- ever heard of the Common Application? (This comes with a unified teacher recommendation form too. The teachers check some boxes indicating certain qualities about you It's a grid, with ratings like "Exceptional, Strong, Fair, etc." across the top and qualities like "Intelligence, Ability to Work With Others, Maturity, etc." on the side. The teachers then answer some general questions about you -- like a sentence long -- and are then asked to write a one page letter.) With regard to the CommonApp, mmost universities -- and 6 of the 8 Ivies, with Penn joining today -- accept it, though some require a supplement.

So perhaps this greater standardization, which makes it physically possible to apply to so many schools, is actually one of the causes of the increasing number of places that students apply. Also, remember that the Internet greatly reduces the amount of paperwork: students today simply type their info into web bubbles, save their data along the way, click the button to generate and view the PDF of their final application, and press "Sumbit."

And this greater efficiency is equally true with financial aid paperwork. Nearly everyone fills out the FAFSA and CSS profile online -- I asked for a paper FAFSA just to see what it required at my high school last year, and my counselor laughed at me.

Posted by: p on March 21, 2006 at 2:04 AM | PERMALINK

A few thoughts:
1) More schools have gone national, and more students are looking nationally: when I was applying to school, not more than 20 years ago, there was a strong tendency to look in the region where I was from (the Northeast). Very few of my peers thought about looking to the South, or the West, or the Midwest. I suspect that has changed.
2) The economics of attending university, in the middle class, has changed. I have no hard evidence to back up this claim at all. But when my parents were applying to school, or my sisters (about 15 years older), the expectation was that university would be largely self-financed. I think fewer college age students finance as much of their educational expenses these days. Not that they emerge with less debt, but because tuition has grown so quickly that middle class parents are almost required to step in.
3) The New York Times bias: I'm not going to harp on this too much, but there are a lot of navel-gazing vanity pieces in the New York Times. New Yorkers, particularly the ones Times writers hang out with, are probably more well-heeled than average folk. That a measureable portion of the NY Times readership has high-achieving, under pressure kids who apply to many schools I have little doubt. But that may not be the case elsewhere in the country.
4) Tangentially related to 3): Again, something I have no evidence for, but I suspect may be true -- kids from states that have strong public university systems apply to fewer schools. NY's public university system is kind of strange, with no real dominant, nationally-recognized flagship and strong university system in general (nothing on par with Michigan or Virginia or Texas or California or Wisconsin). In states where there is a strong public university system that can serve as an affordable, reputable "safety" (I'm not saying those universities/states listed above are "safety schools). But if you live in the Northeast, where the state universities are as strong, you might be inclined to apply to 10 or 12 private schools (where admission might be more difficult for any number of reasons) and see who throws the most financial aid your way.

As I noted, I don't have supporting evidence for any of the above, but those are some initial impressions...

Posted by: Andrew on March 21, 2006 at 2:10 AM | PERMALINK

I think more kids go to school these days and that could account for this phenomenon. That's certainly true in Nevada. UNR, until recently, was open enrollment. I could be mistaken, but I think that's changing next year. The only reason is that there aren't enough spots. Makes sense kids would start applying to more than a few schools.

Posted by: Scott Herbst on March 21, 2006 at 2:11 AM | PERMALINK

Are there a lot more smart kids? No. But there are a lot more students with mediocre minds having earned great GPAs and co-wrote great student essays and massaged great resumes touting massive extracurricular achievement. And these "motivated children" are all competing for a slot at Princeton or Stanford or Penn or Rice or Haverford or Amherst -- all schools that my brilliant first son applied to but didn't get into because while he possesses a truly brilliant mind, he didn't have all that other stuff. So off he went to his safety school offering a full-ride scholarship for all four years of his undergraduate degree. He's now two years away from his PhD in organic chemistry at a prominent university that recognized the value of his perfect GRE's, offering full tuition waivers along with $25K in assistantship support per year. Who needs Ivy League?

Posted by: HRlaughed on March 21, 2006 at 2:17 AM | PERMALINK

I was hearing the same complaint 10-15 years ago from universities advertising postdoc positions, when they saw the usual pool of 50 applicants explode to 500.

A lot of it is the result of access to a PC plus the laser printer, making it so easy to print out a fresh copy of your resume, or your statement of interests, or your essay, or whatever. Ever so slightly tweaked for whomever it's being submitted to.

The marginal cost of submitting an extra application (or five, or ten) is so low that you when someone doesn't submit the extra application, it's because they've already been accepted where they want to go.

Posted by: sock puppet on March 21, 2006 at 2:18 AM | PERMALINK

A lot of the Unis dont even require letters of rec. Also in some cases its easy to apply to many different Unis using the same application. For the UC schools you just fill out one application and check how many schools you are applying to. So theoretically you can apply to Cal, UCLA, UCSD, UCSB etcjust using one application. Also students are applying to more schools for financial reasons as well, the students who tend to apply to soo many different schools are usually academic high achievers, and different private Unis may offer them different amounts of scholarship money/financial aid. And anyway, there is no real downside to applying to so many different schools so why not?

Posted by: Lasky on March 21, 2006 at 2:18 AM | PERMALINK

How much can be made of this "trend" really, when this is the data presented:

"An annual survey of college freshmen indicates that students bound for all kinds of institutions are filing more applications these days. In 1967, only 1.8 percent of freshman surveyed had applied to seven or more colleges, while in 2005, 17.4 percent had done so, according to the Cooperative Institutional Research Program at U.C.L.A., which conducts the survey."

Given the above, fewer than one in five seniors actually apply to more than seven schools. So all the anecdotal reporting in the article (21 schools, 23, etc.) is great, but it's reporting on a trend that seems to be affecting really only a minority of applicants. Sure, it's a huge increase over the numbers from 40 years ago, but like Scott noted in the last comment: obviously college applicant pools have changed a lot over the past 40 years (heck, women weren't even admitted to several Ivy League schools 40 years ago).

Posted by: Andrew on March 21, 2006 at 2:20 AM | PERMALINK

I just filled out one of those Common Application recommendation forms for one of my students. That form can go to any of the several dozen colleges that use the Common Application. As for students who ask me for a recommendation other than the Common Application recommendation, it's not a problem: I save all of my student recommendations in document files that I can call up and edit as necessary for other schools. It's all in the computer.

Posted by: Zeno on March 21, 2006 at 2:37 AM | PERMALINK

I wonder how much of this is just the march of technology.

It's not terrifically hard to replicate an application nowadays, or an essay, or letters of recommendation. So why not apply to a dozen places, if your parents can afford the fees? What's the real downside?

It mostly sounds like application spam.

Posted by: frankly0 on March 21, 2006 at 2:38 AM | PERMALINK

I'm applying to law schools right now. The pressure to get into a "Top 14" (pretty important and well known distinction in law admissions circles) school is enormous.

Posted by: La Brea on March 21, 2006 at 2:46 AM | PERMALINK

Another thing, law schools, at least, actively encourage a high volume of applications by handing out fee waivers to prospective students based on data compiled by LSAC. It decreases the yield and makes the school more selective, thus moving it up in the rankings.

The pressure on a student to get into a top ranked school is bad, but the pressure on deans of admission to move the school up the rankings but be unbelievable.

Posted by: La Brea on March 21, 2006 at 2:51 AM | PERMALINK

C'mon, Kevin, this is the age of the Internet. A lot of kids are cribbing admission letters from there, just like high school or college essays.

They fill in the blanks in the appropriate "personalize" slots and that's that.

Posted by: SocraticGadfly on March 21, 2006 at 2:59 AM | PERMALINK

Another example of how far off on the wrong track this country is. It is a sham, the idea that a good life requires going to the top brand name schools.

I like what Joseph Campbell said. People spend their entire lives climbing the ladder of success. They get to the top and find out the ladder is against the wrong wall.

A friend paid for his son to go to Swarthmore to study psychology. Why psych? He couldnt think of anything better. Four years and a thousand cans of beer later, son decided hed rather be a graphic artist. He learned it in an internship. Whats your guess, A hundred grand? wasted.

My daughter sort-of-kind-of wanted to be a photographer. I couldnt afford to send her anywhere. She got some cheap jobs, fell into an occupation therapy job, found she loved the work, got a degree, appreciated every minute of her learning, has a career she loves and not a cent was wasted.

We need to do things differently.

Posted by: James of DC on March 21, 2006 at 3:42 AM | PERMALINK

When I got my brains pickled in college forty years ago, one was assured of a job in my field of choice. Headhunters used to call you up at work to recruit you.

Nowadays the competition is cutthroat, including outsourcing, offshoring, tsunamis of immigrant crud, so everybody is looking for an edge.

Posted by: Myron on March 21, 2006 at 3:45 AM | PERMALINK

Do the math- those selective schools are not getting any bigger compared to the number of graduating seniors.

Posted by: Pinko Punko on March 21, 2006 at 4:23 AM | PERMALINK

Andrew, above, has it right: I'm skeptical. Looks like yet another NYT article that tries to concoct a trend from anecdotes and adverbs: "students ... frequently apply to as many as 10 or 12 ... a significant number apply to many, many more ... At Milbrun High School, students routinely apply..." etc etc.

There are only two facts in this article: the 1967/2006 comparison (not clear how that's useful), and a survey that found that the share of students applying to 12 or more colleges rose 50% from 2001 to 2005. So did it rise from 1% to 1.5%? From 20% to 30%? What is the trend over 10 years, 15 years, 20 years? Again, a useless statement.

Another example of a point Brad deLong frequently makes: I'll believe the MSM's claim that they contribute to public debate by providing solid facts once they actually start providing solid facts.

Posted by: BC on March 21, 2006 at 5:23 AM | PERMALINK

OT (forgive me):


In a rural, conservative town, Feingold received sustained applause on his censure motion. This area is right-wing -- like militia, Posse Comitatus right-wing.

Just sayin'

Posted by: SombreroFallout on March 21, 2006 at 6:30 AM | PERMALINK

When I applied, close to - *gasp* - 20 years ago, it wasn't uncommon to apply to 5-10 schools; I know I applied to something like 7 or 8, including 2 Ivies, and I got accepted everywhere (except the two Ivies; I got waitlisted at Brown). It doesn't sound to me like there's much of a different story here, except that I think parents are more anxious than even parents of my generation to see their kids catch the brass ring, based on the assumption (go see Ezra's college post) that a college degree from the right school will have you set for life. The sad, hopeless thing about it is, they're not wrong. And so many applications helps the entire industry - it breeds more of a notion of exclusivity, it means the "best and the brightest" can claim to have run the gauntlet, and it means that those who didn't "make the cut" can be excluded from things in the future. What saddens me is that I tend to think I'm the only one who finds this state of affairs highly depressing. The message that it's okay to leave some folks behind because some people are just better than others is pervasive and extremely damaging in the long run.

Posted by: weboy on March 21, 2006 at 6:49 AM | PERMALINK

When my daughter applied to my and my husbands Alma Mater, there were four times as many applicants for about the same number of spots.

Admission at top colleges can be extremely unpredictable. The year before my daughter applied, Brown admitted one out of three straight A applicants with boards over 1550.

As ordered by her high school, she applied to only three "dream" schools. We figured that the chance that she would be rejected by all three by simple randomness was 8/27ths.

Population growth accounts for some of this but I think that a major development is that we have a national market. When I applied there was a Catholic market and, I think, a southern and a Lutheran market. There were substantial differences in tuition. Now everyone wants Harvard.

Posted by: Andrea on March 21, 2006 at 6:52 AM | PERMALINK

Many of the commenters have mentioned the ease of the common application. The world of admission is not so easy at the top where schools pride themselves on their individuality. I particularly remember my daughter designing a stamp (hers honored the chocolate chip cookie and was round) for one application.

Posted by: andrea on March 21, 2006 at 7:00 AM | PERMALINK

The common application is a lame idea because it forces students to write generic, vanilla application essays. Students love it because it's easy to apply to multiple schools, and schools love it because it inflates their stats (number of students applying, acceptance ratio), so the common application is here to stay. But the whole "problem" of more students applying to each school is overblown. They get tons of unqualified applicants, who they can summarily reject. The number of serious, qualified applicants hasn't really increased that much.

Posted by: Dave Munger on March 21, 2006 at 7:26 AM | PERMALINK

InsideHigherEd.com had a story yesterday about this: http://insidehighered.com/views/2006/03/16/carey

Their writer tends to confirm Andrew's skepticism above, noting that "only 11 percent of college-bound seniors apply to schools that reject a majority of their applicants."

Posted by: Jason on March 21, 2006 at 7:30 AM | PERMALINK

I agree with a lot of this analysis, and also I think that one of the keys is that a lot of colleges have many more applicants, so the fact of the matter is, it is more of a crapshoot, so some students apply to a lot of schools to be assured of a couple of desirable choices.

I do also think our culture has changed--the soccer mom syndrome so to speak where parents are much more involved in the process. Partly because it is more competitive, but it's also probably a self perpetuating thing--the more parents are involved, the more high stress it is, the more kids feel the need to apply to certain schools, etc.

I think the mobility of our culture has changed also in the last twenty years, and I agree with the above comment that students are more likely to look farther from home.

Even with the common applications mentioned above, the number of detailed forms to complete when doing multiple applications is a little staggering.

It is unfortunate for kids how stressful and competitive the application process has become though, in my opinion. It conveys the idea to them that there is nowhere to attend, or that prestige is everything and I believe students can get a great education at so many of our colleges. And statistics show that even if a college isn't a good match, students who start the first year, are more likely to finish at some point in their lives. So to me, that is the critical thing--to get them into a college somewhere!

Posted by: cf on March 21, 2006 at 7:43 AM | PERMALINK

A lot of the schools don't always charge an admision few in certain circumstances. That's how my sister's frien ended up applying to 24 schools this year. When it's free, why not?

We still think she's crazy.

Posted by: Boombo on March 21, 2006 at 8:24 AM | PERMALINK

That's certainly true in Nevada. UNR, until recently, was open enrollment. I could be mistaken, but I think that's changing next year.

When I applied to University (1967) Ohio State had an open-enrollment program, in which they would accept anyone who graduated from an accredited high school in Ohio. They had a huge freshman class. The many who were insufficiently prepared for college work were culled out very quickly, and the sophomore class was much smaller.

Posted by: raj on March 21, 2006 at 8:32 AM | PERMALINK

We are in the process of commodifying higher education. Students view the application process as market research. The marginal cost of applying to a few more schools is relatively low. When the come to college and don't have the experience they had imagined they were buying, they and their parents will treat faculty and staff with the same contempt and condescension they treat those who work the returns counter at Target.

Posted by: Pudentilla on March 21, 2006 at 8:39 AM | PERMALINK

Umm, when I was applying to university 20 years ago most of my friends were applying to about ten schools. Things have probably gotten somewhat more intense, but I don't think it's as different as all that. I also distinctly recall a spate of articles around then about how many more college applications high school students were making, and how stressed out we were about it.

Posted by: yusifu on March 21, 2006 at 8:40 AM | PERMALINK

Maybe there are fewer spots open to competition, as a certain number are reserved for Affirmative Action candidates.

Posted by: Freedom Fighter on March 21, 2006 at 8:53 AM | PERMALINK

I suspect that another difference is that the college you attend has become much more important. In 1967, a college grad could count on being part of the upper-middle class; today, it takes an Ivy or comparable degree to have that be fairly assured.

Posted by: SamChevre on March 21, 2006 at 8:53 AM | PERMALINK

The reason for the increased competitiveness is at least partly transport costs. It didn't occur to me, living in Maine, to apply to Stanford or Berkeley when I was thinking about colleges. Nowadays kids on either coast consider either coast in play.

Posted by: jayackroyd on March 21, 2006 at 8:54 AM | PERMALINK

As with the imprisonment and national 'security' industries, American higher education has become a self-serving industry unto itself. In the process, it's become more about prestige, ego, and money, than about educating America's next generation of leaders and achievers. And a sense of scarcity, whether real or manufactured, plays quite well in that kind of marketplace.

Posted by: Chainsaw on March 21, 2006 at 8:57 AM | PERMALINK

Oh, I should add that my nephews, sons of a doctor and a lawyer, each applied to three schools, both accepted at their first choices.

Posted by: jayackroyd on March 21, 2006 at 9:05 AM | PERMALINK

Colleges have also ramped up recruiting via the Web and e-mail. Much of this recruiting seems to be outsourced; years ago colleges would send promising kids a specific brochure or two, but now *dozens* and *dozens* of colleges send pretty much identical mailings/e-mailings: a generic "How to Choose a College" leaflet (as if you are going to treasure up the one from Babson as opposed to the identical one from Grinnell) plus a web address with individual user-ID and password that allows Junior to log into the wonderful Goucher College site or whatever. Lots of continual contact breeds lots of applications, I think.

Posted by: Tim Morris on March 21, 2006 at 9:08 AM | PERMALINK

I'm a teacher whose father is a college admissions officer, so I can note a couple of things:

1) Students ARE generally applying to more schools than when I was applying. One senior here topped 20. Ten or twelve apps is common.
My dad says it's not uncommon (at one top-tier college) to get an app from a kid who's spending over a thousand dollars in application fees alone.

2) The Common App has helped the above process, but kids are applying to large numbers of colleges even when they DON'T use the Common App.

3) At our school, at least, teacher recs are made for the student, not for the college; I submit my recs to the college counselors, and they include copies in each of the apps. (This is probably not how it's done at every school.)

4) I wonder if the force driving this brand-consciousness isn't so much the students as the parents. I know parents who are horrified at the thought of sending a child to public school--imagine how they'd feel about sending a kid to a college not at the top of the US News list.

Posted by: PCashwell on March 21, 2006 at 9:18 AM | PERMALINK

Aside from the other things mentioned here, I wonder if part of the issue is a broadening of the economic pool applying to top colleges. The more disadvantaged--or simply middle-class--students you have applying to top schools, the more likely their choices are to depend on financial aid, and thus the more likely they are to need to have a field of acceptances to choose from. They can't take the chance that they'll get into their one top choice but be unable to go because the package isn't good enough.

Similarly, I applied (about a decade ago) to four top-tier schools and five mid-tier safety schools. The four top-tier schools were because I believed it would be a crap shoot and wanted to, essentially, buy as many tickets as I could (a strategy that worked; I got into Yale, but not Harvard, Brown, or Stanford--luck of the draw in action.) In theory, I could have just applied to one or two safety schools, but I didn't have the money to visit schools to investigate them. So I applied to five, figuring I'd give myself five good options and spend the money to visit just those five and make a choice if and only if I didn't end up with a viable top-tier option.

Most of my friends applied to a similar number of schools, for similar reasons.

Posted by: NK on March 21, 2006 at 9:40 AM | PERMALINK

As someone who applied to way too many colleges and to many of the wrong ones, I can say the reccomendations aren't the biggest problem. Often, teachers write something general and then say "see attached" after answering specific questions and/or writing general information. This is particularly true with the Common Application. The real pain in the ass is the financial aid forms and other general paperwork.

Posted by: Brian on March 21, 2006 at 9:42 AM | PERMALINK

I agree with Kevin, except in practice. As it exists today several aspects of the system, at least for those looking at the top tiers of schools, drive students to apply to at least 5-10 schools, and for some, maybe more. Those aspects are: 1) the publication of statistics showing that only 15% to 30% are admitted; 2) the common wisdom that even if a student is well-qualified for a school, he or she may be rejected based on intangible factors; 3) the difficulty of assessing one's chances of admission at any school because, although the test scores of admitted applicants are published, those statistics are probably not as important as school grades. The accuracy of standardized-test statistics are also warped to different degrees at different colleges by the admission of less-qualified athletes (I think that Amherst, for example, concedes that about a quarter of its class gets special consideration on this score), less-qualified legacy applicants, and to a smaller degree less qualified diversity applicants (not just affirmative action but international and regional picks).

Given the uncertainty of the process, and its apparent irrationality, it is no wonder that kids figure that applying to a number of schools, at least to a number of the very selective schools, makes sense if one is within striking distance of admission (say top 10% of high school class, above median test scores for institution).

I confess. I let my son apply to 11 schools (withdrew one application for total of 10). He's one of those good but not spectacular kids of whom there are thousands applying for college, whose grades and scores make him at least a plausible, if not overwhelming applicant, really good schools. So he applies to two Ivies and two Ivy equivalents, all of which he really liked the looks of. And he applied to four Liberal Arts colleges to which he was really attracted and two state schools, one a top school and one just in case. This, in the end, didn't seem outrageous to me.

One downside of this will be if he gets admitted to six schools he really likes -- which is possible but hardly certain. He's already said he'll have a hard time choosing, and while he wants to get into one of the most selective schools, he'll probably be glad if they make his choosing easier.

Posted by: David in NY on March 21, 2006 at 9:50 AM | PERMALINK

Oh, and I concur with statements above that the common application and technology (when I applied, we didn't even have Xerox machines!) have made this easier. If every school had an application like the University of Chicago's, the number of applications would drop.

Also, the rationale for applying to lots of schools that accept 60 to 80% of their applicants eludes me.

Posted by: David in NY on March 21, 2006 at 9:54 AM | PERMALINK

You are missing a point about getting Recommendation Letters.
Even 20 years ago, this meant someone retyping a letter. These days, after you write the first letter, you can generate different ones to additional schools in 5 minutes.

Posted by: Matthew Saroff on March 21, 2006 at 9:55 AM | PERMALINK

Here is my cynical assessment.

Now more then ever parents realize that to succeed in life "it is not what you know but who you know."

Clearly that is the case in government, and now more than ever in business.

Cronyism is at its worst. The top posts are filled by an exclusive club of insiders who scratch each other's backs and vote each other pay increases.

So how do Jane or John Doe, with brilliant minds and loads of potential get one of the few remaining good jobs? Go to a "prestigious" University and try like hell to join the club.

People aren't stupid you know. The game has changed and people are adapting.

Posted by: Tripp on March 21, 2006 at 9:58 AM | PERMALINK

My daughter, who applied to 9 undergrad schools, will be applying to medical school next year. Despite MCATs in the 92d percentile and a 3.995 GPA at an Ivy school, her college counselors are advising applying to at least 13 med schools. Ever looked at the cost of applying to med school? It includes an oncampus interview. Can we envision air fare and hotel stays? I'm having a tough time with this.

Posted by: hrc on March 21, 2006 at 10:00 AM | PERMALINK

David in NY is correct about athletes getting special consideration. The book is "Reclaiming the Game: College Sports and Educational Values
William G. Bowen and Sarah A. Levin" (Princeton University Press). I was unaware of this, and the importance of alumni preferences, back in 1968, so I sent my wonderful SATs to four elite schools that were utterly uninterested. Haverford had (and still has) the charming custom of offering most of its rejectees the option of joining a bogus "wait list" that could lead to admission in the event that all the admitted students die in a Bird Flu pandemic. I feel badly for today's kids.

Posted by: Dave on March 21, 2006 at 10:04 AM | PERMALINK

I spoke with a recruiter who yearly heads down to the University of Iowa to snag technical workers.

She was shocked, shocked I say to hear the enrollment was down.

Well no duh. IBM sold its laptop business to China and is actively offshoring as much of its work as it can. Dell is moving jobs to India. Weekly there are reports of jobs being eliminated, and what is our Govenor Pawlenty's response? He goes to Washington to lobby Congress to increase the quota of foreign tech workers to make our businesses more 'competitive,' which is a code phrase meaning lowering wages.

Like I said, people aren't stupid. Our country is willfully promoting its own brain-drain by casting aside the existing meritocracy and replacing it with crony capitalism.

Posted by: Tripp on March 21, 2006 at 10:09 AM | PERMALINK


I'm having a tough time with this.

I know, but as long as the number of med schools is kept artificially low by the AMA the gauntlet for admission will be very rough.

On the other hand if your daughter does make it in she'll be set for life in a career shielded by one of the strongest lobbying groups in the world.

Who needs a union when you own congress, eh?

Posted by: Tripp on March 21, 2006 at 10:12 AM | PERMALINK

And what's up with top schools being so much more competitive than they used to be?

I should think this rather obvious. There are fewer places at the table. As the middle-class continues its inexorable decline, the stark choice presented to more and more HS graduates (and their parents) is simply this: Top 10% or Starve.

Posted by: Brautigan on March 21, 2006 at 10:19 AM | PERMALINK

Thanks, Dave, for making me feel better about not sending my wonderful SAT's to elite schools in 1964. Also, good point about those "waitlists."

The game-playing by the top admissions offices plays a part in this. They and some of the student-applicants deserve one another. I gather that Amherst (and other similar institutions) just sent out early admission letters to its top 250 or so applicants, trying to steal a few from Harvard, Yale and Princeton. A faculty member gives the chosen few a call, etc., etc. It's sort of revolting.

And do you remember the Princeton (? I think) admissions officer who got into trouble hacking into the Yale (?) computer system a few years ago to find out whether they'd offered admission to one of the Bush twins or Chelsea Clinton or somebody like that. They're more disgusting than the applicants.

Posted by: David in NY on March 21, 2006 at 10:20 AM | PERMALINK


If you are looking for someone to blame, try Michael Dell, Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, Larry Ellison, Paul Allen, et al. The 19th century's generation of "robber barons" -- i.e., filthy rich capitalists -- founded a number of great universities: Stanford, Carnegie-Mellon, U. Chicago, etc. The current generation has founded exactly none. For $1 billion, you could endow a brand new, first class liberal arts college. For $10 billion, you could endow a competitor to a top university like Harvard or Princeton or MIT.


Posted by: DBL on March 21, 2006 at 10:25 AM | PERMALINK


Top 10% or Starve.

Don't forget the third choice - working at one of those great new "jobs" Bush has created - nurse's aide out at the home wiping Grandpa's butt.

Posted by: Tripp on March 21, 2006 at 10:27 AM | PERMALINK

Just to dot the "i" -- if ten top new universities were founded by the current generation of filty rich capitalists (I inadvertently left George Soros off that list), each with a freshman class of 1,500, that would add 15,000 seats to the current roster of the approximately 50-100,000 openings for freshman at top ranked universities. That would make a huge difference in the competitive pressures to get into a top school, probably restore the balance to what it was back when Kevin was in high school.

Posted by: DBL on March 21, 2006 at 10:32 AM | PERMALINK

David in NY: I'm supervising a few conservation biology grants to some outstanding academics. There's great faculty all over the place, including our much-maligned, underfunded state universities in Florida. And at least in the sciences, you do NOT need to go to a "name" college to get admitted to excellent graduate programs.

Posted by: Dave on March 21, 2006 at 10:37 AM | PERMALINK

That one young woman applied to 23 schools to get in to UMBC? That just doesn't make any sense.

And the kid who applied to 21 schools, from Catholic to Protestant to small to big to state to private? Obviously he doesn't know what the hell he wants.

It just sounds like these kids are getting bad advice, nothing more.

Posted by: Dave on March 21, 2006 at 10:51 AM | PERMALINK

It's clearly Bush's fault.


Posted by: mmy on March 21, 2006 at 10:55 AM | PERMALINK


I'm sorry, I hope you didn't understand me to be criticizing the less-than-"elite" schools. One thing I might say, though, is the hardest thing for a parent to judge about a school, if his kid is a really serious student, is whether the student (not faculty) culture at the school is supportive of those who are serious about studying. I think the top-ranked schools generally, although certainly not always, meet this criterion. At a big state school (sometimes even the best ones), the culture is not so different from a big high school, and one has to work to find a peer group of serious students among those who have other priorities. At a not so good smaller school, the peer group may be correspondingly small. That was really my son's criterion for where to apply and why he chose the schools he did, all of them serious academic places.

Posted by: David in NY on March 21, 2006 at 10:56 AM | PERMALINK

This is all part of our new "winner take all" society. One and two generations ago we had a growing middle class, and there was room at the table for everyone. But over the last twenty years we've shifted to a system whereby the top earners have learned how to accumulate more and more wealth for themselves, leaving less for everyone else to squabble over. Consider, for example, how wages for the ordinary worker have stagnated while corporate profits and CEO salaries have climbed.

In such a system, therefore, it makes sense for the individual to practice ruthless competition and attempt to get as much advantage as early as possible.

Posted by: Stefan on March 21, 2006 at 10:58 AM | PERMALINK


What advice there is little of for students is advice based on the kind of information you have -- what professors are good at what I want to study (and do they teach undergraduates)? The only place I found that alluded to this sort of thing was the right-wing college directory, called "The Right College" or something like that. It actually tried to find out this sort of thing. And aside from criticizing out-of-hand all African-American studies departments, Women's studies departments, etc., it was a pretty good book. Too many of the other books focus more on whether a school is a good "party" school.

Posted by: David in NY on March 21, 2006 at 11:03 AM | PERMALINK


Amen brother. Like I said, people aren't stupid. Change the rules and people will change how they play. It is common sense really.

That is one reason I am so scornful of Libertarians. They think they can change the rules and everyone but themselves will continue to operate as they do right now. How stupid can they be?

Posted by: Tripp on March 21, 2006 at 11:18 AM | PERMALINK

My daughter went to medical school at Vanderbilt. Instead of applying during her senior college year, she took a year off after graduation specifically to prep for the MCATs and prepare her applications. She funded her applications and interview travel (and wardrobe) with a full time job. She applied to about 12 places and had to attend interviews all over the country. The scheduling of her travel was difficult and there were two months where all she did was visit schools non-stop. In the end, visiting those campuses was essential to her decision making. She was accepted everywhere except UCSD (wait list) and UCLA, but chose a place because of things she learned during her visits. You cannot assess the atmosphere and lifestyle of a college, its attitude toward students, the quality of life in the surrounding city, from written descriptions.

Applying to multiple places permits the student to tradeoff different financial aid offers. My daughter's first choice was Duke but she went to Vanderbilt because they offered her a full 4-year scholarship, something unheard of for med schools. When a student applies to multiple places, the places must compete for the student (not the other way around), which benefits the student. Why should well-prepared students give the schools the upper hand? Students may be applying to multiple places to put themselves into such a situation, an outcome of greater sophistication in the application process. The point isn't to get in, but also to find the best fit for the student and the best school for the money spent.

One fallout of this situation is that schools lower down the list have greater difficulty estimating what their fall enrollments will be. Schools deliberately accept more students than they know will attend, but the percentage that actually do show up varies dramatically, affecting college planning for the Fall. Practices like early decision attempt to minimize this uncertainty. For decent public universities, economics matter because many parents don't see the point of sending a child to an expensive second-tier liberal arts school when they can commute locally to a solid school. This puts a strain on underfunded public colleges (like those in California) when too many students accept their enrollment offers.

Posted by: Nancy on March 21, 2006 at 11:24 AM | PERMALINK
If you are looking for someone to blame, try Michael Dell, Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, Larry Ellison, Paul Allen, et al. The 19th century's generation of "robber barons" -- i.e., filthy rich capitalists -- founded a number of great universities: Stanford, Carnegie-Mellon, U. Chicago, etc. The current generation has founded exactly none. For $1 billion, you could endow a brand new, first class liberal arts college. For $10 billion, you could endow a competitor to a top university like Harvard or Princeton or MIT.

With that kind of money you could provide a university with land, buildings, and an endowment to match, e.g., MITs; whether that would make it truly a competitor on academic quality is less clear, and not purely a function of funds.

Posted by: cmdicely on March 21, 2006 at 11:44 AM | PERMALINK

David in NY, A prominent Duke ecology professor explained that he was a mediocre high school student, but soon after his arrival at Fresno State, he met an English professor's daughter. He became a lot more serious and ended up with a wife, and a PhD from UC Santa Barbara. You can't plan for that to happen. But it must be possible to improve the odds. I suspect that word-of-mouth could be as good as anything. I've noticed that university professors are sometimes pretty good at identifying good colleges, in part by using their networks of friends and colleagues. In my case, a really great former roomate is provost at St. Olaf College in Minnesota, which looks like a great place, if you'd like the campus culture. I lived near Reed, in Portland, Oregon for a while and had a couple of campus contacts. The place is extremely serious, and it has a very distinctive student culture--it would be very, very different from St Olaf. I think there's an abundance of fine colleges (maybe 200 nationally) so that if you really, really want to be on the rowing team, or do whitewater kayaking on the weekend, or be in the chorus at the local opera, that can be accomodated. Daniel Duane's "Caught Inside" offers some glimpses of UC Santa Cruz.

Posted by: Dave on March 21, 2006 at 12:14 PM | PERMALINK

Dave, Thanks for the observations. We're done with this, just waiting for results. But I think it's hard for many kids to figure this stuff out, and so they go for name brands if they've got the grades and the money. One source that is helpful is a book about liberal arts colleges called "Colleges That Make a Difference" that makes the case for less well known liberal arts colleges. My son applied to eastern equivalents of Reed and St. Olaf's.

Posted by: David in NY on March 21, 2006 at 12:31 PM | PERMALINK

I don't think kids are really any smarter, but they certainly do a LOT more homework these days, and get a lot more advanced classes than I did in high school.

Not that I think it's actually all that important or valuable that they did so, since I've been pretty successful academically, with a Ph.D. from a top school. I didn't even have the advantage of an Ivy League undergrad school, either.

Posted by: Doctor Jay on March 21, 2006 at 12:35 PM | PERMALINK


If you are looking for someone to blame, try Michael Dell, Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, Larry Ellison, Paul Allen, et al.

I don't have time to do any general research right now, but I do know that some major buildings on Stanford's campus where I used to work were funded by Gates and Allen. You might want to look into this a bit more before jumping to conclusions.

I found a general background article here.

Posted by: tbrosz on March 21, 2006 at 12:47 PM | PERMALINK

What you've missed is that there's a positive feedback loop going on. Let's say that every student applies to three schools, and every school accepts half the applications it receives. Then the average student gets 1.5 acceptance letters, and most students get in somewhere.

OK, let's change things. Now every student applies to 12 schools, and every school accepts 1/8 of the applications it receives. Again, the average student gets 1.5 acceptance letters, and most students get in somewhere. But now, students read that the school of their choice only accepts 1/8 of the applications it receives! Panic! Let's send out 20 applications!

As Vonnegut said, and so it goes.

Posted by: Joe Buck on March 21, 2006 at 12:56 PM | PERMALINK

David in New York: Best wishes to your son in getting an offer from a Serious Academic Place. Whatever else they did, Reedies made an art of being overworked. Reed strongly encouraged non-local freshman students to go out and play in the rain like good Webfeet (i.e., Oregonians). That way, they'd be less likely to drop out the first winter.

Posted by: Dave on March 21, 2006 at 1:00 PM | PERMALINK

I can answer one of your many good questions. Yes, there are more kids applying for the same number of slots, at least at my school (Columbia). When I went in the 70's, it was relatively unpopular (New York being crime-ridden at the time) and it was all male. Now it's co-ed, and although the number of slots has gone up, the pool of applicants has jumped enormously, so that most applicants have only a slight chance. As I understand it, this is true for all the less-famous Ivy League schools: Penn, Brown, Dartmouth. Hence if you're a good student and want to go to a really good school, you have to apply to a lot of them.

Posted by: Kit Stolz on March 21, 2006 at 1:04 PM | PERMALINK

Clearly, the top couple of tiers of colleges are significantly more competitive now than a generation ago. As noted by other comments, I'm sure this has a lot to do with the greater availability of financial aid, as well as the growth in the number of high schools which are competitive.

When I applied to colleges (I graduated high school in 1970), my high school only allowed us to apply to 3 schools; 4 if they were Ivy League-caliber. (The reasons for this limitation were too silly to waste time on.) My parents complained to the school administration and, as a result, I believe I was the first person from that school to apply to more than 4 schools (they allowed me to apply to 6).

Posted by: drf on March 21, 2006 at 1:18 PM | PERMALINK

tbrosz - I didn't say that today's billionaires haven't made contributions to today's colleges, just that those contributions haven't added any seats for freshmen. Stanford's class sizes haven't changed much in the past 30 years, have they?

The interesting question is why haven't any great new colleges or universities been created by today's billionaires? What's wrong with them?

Stefan - I don't think the insane competition to get into elite colleges and universities today (and believe me I know all about it, I have two kids in high school) has much to do with broader changes in the economy. What it reflects is that today there are a lot more kids and the same number of schools as there were 30 years ago. Supply and demand, in other words.

One result of that is that students who would have been sure-fire elite candidates 30 years ago aren't getting into the same schools. Instead they go to schools that were viewed as second tier 30 years ago. The upside of this is that makes those schools better. So today, schools like Duke and Middlebury - safety schools for Ivy League applicants 30 and 40 years ago - are now viewed as top rank schools with first rate student bodies.

Another problem that hasn't been discussed is the impact of athletics. Small colleges like Amherst and Williams that field competitive football and basketball teams use up an awful lot of admission slots to fill those teams with students whose academics are generally far below what they expect from non-athletes. Other slots are set aside for women or minorities. The result is that if you are a white boy applying to those schools and you're not a star athlete, you better have all 800's on your SATs and all A's in AP classes if you want to even have a shot at it.

Posted by: DBL on March 21, 2006 at 1:22 PM | PERMALINK

A friend of mine encouraged her daughter to apply to a dozen or so name-brand schools and then had to endure a month full of rejections. She ended up at what they considered her "back-up" school, Emory, where she had a wonderful time, got a solid education, went on to graduate school at Brown, and is now teaching high school as she wished.

There are lots of paths through this life.

Posted by: Lindata on March 21, 2006 at 1:30 PM | PERMALINK

Someone alluded to both the shrinking middle class and the outsourching of engineering jobs, but as a parent it really also has a bit to do with how companies work these days.

When my parents were getting out of college in the 50's, you could just go out and "get a job." at a company, and rise through the ranks.

Today, the perception amoung the professional classes is that this is just not occuring, other than in sales.

If parents, as a group, think that the downside to their child not receiveing their education (however long) at a relatively famous institution has increased, then applications will also increase.

It is not as if every parent believes that there is no other way to happiness in life, its just that parents are much more conscious that how you do in high school and college can, today, can really limit your options later, in a way that previous generations were not quite so limited.

So, as a parent, you do what needs to be done to keep as many options open for your child as you can.

Posted by: hank on March 21, 2006 at 2:00 PM | PERMALINK

Aside from there be more high school seniors per available slot than a couple decades ago, doesn't the increase in applications per senior itself make admission more competitive, everywhere?

It's a feedback cycle. If everyone is submitting twice as many applications, then admission rates are necessarily going to be cut in half. Which prompts the new year's crop of senior to apply to more schools to improve their odds.

Posted by: Eric on March 21, 2006 at 2:04 PM | PERMALINK

This is not entirely new--when I applied to college in 1971(!), I applied to eight schools. Since I really wanted to go to Harvard, Yale, or Princeton (and my chances were not so great with a very good academic record and SATs, but nothing outstandingly noteworthy, at a low ranking public high school in NJ, a state that sends a million people to these schools), I needed a few backups. And coming from a blue collar family, I also needed a financial backup (Rutgers, my state school) if no financial aid was granted. I got the expected thin envelopes from Harvard, Yale, and Princeton and went to Colgate, which granted me a moderate need scholarship.

Posted by: Marlowe on March 21, 2006 at 2:12 PM | PERMALINK


Funny you should mention athletes getting special attention at Amherst, despite falling below academic standards for other applicants. Because my son was a nationally recruited baseball player who, for his own reasons (the coach), was interested in little ol' Division III Amherst. D-III schools can't offer athletic scholarships to their recruits. My son had extremely high SATs -- 1480, particularly high for baseball players -- and a 4.000 GPA with boatloads of AP courses under his belt. And yet he didn't get accepted to Amherst despite being recruited by their famous coach. Instead, between an academic and an athletic scholarship offered by another highly selective university, his college education (tuition, fees, and books anyway) was free. Along the way, he broke all the university's career and single-season homerun and RBI records. And despite being 6'-5" and athletic as they come, he still didn't get drafted by the pros. Go figure. After being heavily recruited for his intellect by five prominent university grad schools, he's about to earn his PhD in organic chemistry. Funny how stuff works out.

Posted by: HRlaughed on March 21, 2006 at 2:21 PM | PERMALINK

In the future you'll be required to deposit a semester's tuition with you application. If they reject you they'll refund your money.

Posted by: cld on March 21, 2006 at 2:33 PM | PERMALINK

It's branding. In the absence of any other information, pick the famous name or the name that has the top football team or whatever. Sure, there are college guides that talk about academics in a generic way, but undergrad admissions aren't like grad admissions, where you look for a departmental "fit." Suits the kids, who can wear Harvard or Princeton sweatshirts home on break; suits the parents, who can tell Minny and Ginny and Binny that Muffy is going to Stanford.

Of course, one problem is that you get Yale graduates like George W. Bush, which sort of debases the brand name a bit....

I think there is a nationalization phenom as well. When I was a HS senior (80-81) most of my peers applied to regional midwestern schools. The handful who went "East" were shockingly brave.

Posted by: Hemlock for Gadflies on March 21, 2006 at 2:42 PM | PERMALINK


Well no wonder you are laughing - your world is sweet!

Sincerely - congratulations on raising such a fine son. I'm sure he is a blessing to this world.

The rest of us are muddling along as best we can. I'm caught in the donut hole where I make too much to qualify for governmental help but I make too little to easily handle the cost of college for my sprogs.

They are good kids with fine intellects and work ethics but I worry about what jobs will be available for them.

Posted by: Tripp on March 21, 2006 at 2:50 PM | PERMALINK

I didn't even have the advantage of an Ivy League undergrad school, either.

My God, and you admit it in a public forum?

*muttering darkly* I thought people like you shot themselves....

Posted by: Stefan on March 21, 2006 at 3:00 PM | PERMALINK

In defense of today's billionaires, (now there's an odd intro) it made for sense for 19th century plutocrats such as Carnegie, etc. to endow universities because there was a shortage of such during that time. The field was pretty wide open, especially in the Western and Midwestern states, and it made sense to establish universities in those states so that the Northeast did not have a monopoly. In the present day, however, there's really no shortage of universities per se.

What there is, though, is a prestige shortage. Parents today still want to be able to say their child is at Harvard, Yale, Princeton or MIT, even though wonderful educations can be had at many other universities (and I say that as a Harvard man). Education aside, saying you went to an Ivy League school still gives you a certain advantage -- or, perhaps, the appearance of advantage, of status -- you can trade on for the rest of your life.

Posted by: Stefan on March 21, 2006 at 3:07 PM | PERMALINK

A lot of it is the endless chase for status combined with the parental belief that you cannot get a good education unless you go to a top college.

However, the truth is that there are quite a few smaller and lesser know colleges where students can get a very good education but which get relatively fewer applicants because they are not a "name brand" like Stanford, the Ivies, Amherst, etc.

The dirty truth that nobody likes to talk about is that going to a top college is actually a horrible econimic proposition. Not only do you have to pay $100,000 - $200,000 for the privelege of attending, but you also give up four years in the workforce, thus costing you over $100,000 in forgone wages. For most people, you will be much better off going to an inexpensive four-year college or working while going to a community college and then spending your money on a good graduate degree, as opposed to spending huge amounts of money at a top undergraduate school.

Anybody who has spent any time in the real world knows that there are tons of very smart, hard-working people out there who did not go to a top level college, and that not going to a top college does not necessarily sap your potential earning power down the road.

Posted by: MattW on March 21, 2006 at 3:07 PM | PERMALINK

The dirty truth that nobody likes to talk about is that going to a top college is actually a horrible econimic proposition. Not only do you have to pay $100,000 - $200,000 for the privelege of attending, but you also give up four years in the workforce, thus costing you over $100,000 in forgone wages.

Though you have to factor in the networking advantage you get at a top school. What's most valuable about places such as Harvard, etc. is not necessarily the education you get there but the friends you make, friends who will be with you for the rest of your life. Your friends from college will become law firm and investment bank partners, CEOs, famous authors, Hollywood directors and producers, prominent government officials, etc., and that will plug you into a lifelong network of advantage and influence. You literally can't pay for that kind of access.

Posted by: Stefan on March 21, 2006 at 3:18 PM | PERMALINK


I muddle and worry along with you. That's part of what makes me a liberal Democrat. I just wanted to point out to DBL that I seriously doubt that athletes receive special admission favors at Amherst. My deserving son sure didn't. Oh sure, I wanted to brag a bit too about my eldest. But he's succeeding despite lacking Ivy League credentials and despite having me as a father.

Posted by: HRlaughed on March 21, 2006 at 3:57 PM | PERMALINK

Of course, one problem is that you get Yale graduates like George W. Bush, which sort of debases the brand name a bit....

I've said it before and I'll say it again, Yale is hands down the finest school in Connecticut.

Posted by: Stefan on March 21, 2006 at 4:47 PM | PERMALINK

The late pharmacy mogul Jack Eckerd comes to mind as a relatively contemporary (albeit deceased) philanthropist with a college named after him. He did not found Eckerd, but basically breathed life into it and set it on the path to becoming a first-rate liberal-arts college. Actually I do wonder why somebody with a few billion to throw around hasn't followed the Eckerd lead: resuscitate a small college and fill it with strong faculty and ideas. Prestige can be generated from the ground up in such cases. But writing a check to Stanford can be easier than thinking; Stanford will do philanthropists' thinking for them.

Posted by: Tim Morris on March 21, 2006 at 5:32 PM | PERMALINK

Well, to defend the millionares, don't forget Olin College, which is funded by the Olin Foundation and opened in Fall 2002.

Posted by: motherbear on March 21, 2006 at 5:45 PM | PERMALINK

Well, to defend one millionare, or at least the foundation he started, don't forget Olin College, which is funded by the Olin Foundation and opened in Fall 2002.

Posted by: motherbear on March 21, 2006 at 5:46 PM | PERMALINK

Another example of how far off on the wrong track this country is. It is a sham, the idea that a good life requires going to the top brand name schools.

I don't know that the good life absolutely requires a top brand names school, but it sure as hell helps. People really aren't stupid, and they're responding rationally to the market signals eminating from our (increasingly) winner take all society.

I do think that families and students tend to be suckers for expensive undergrad institutions, at least to the extent that they have to borrow vast sums to pay for the sheep skin. I'd say a prestigious grad school is pretty darned valuable in our society, but I'm not so sure it really matters where you get your BA if you're headed to graduate school anyway, and you're prepared to really hit the books. Someone coming out of Big State U with, say, a 3.8 should be able to get into a top graduate program if they do well on the relevant test (LSAT, MCAT, etc.). Sure, acquiring an undergrad degree from Harvard or Stanford sure ain't going to hurt your chances of getting into Yale Law or Johns Hopkins Medical, but you still need top test schools for these kinds of places, and I think it's questionable whether you can really justify borrowing $130,000 to get your BA, when it's your JD or MD that's really going to write your ticket in any event.

Bu what I really think is crazy is to borrow that $130,000 to get a BA from a private but not distinguished university when you get absolutely ZERO advantage over Big State U. This is sheer madness, and a lot of families seem to lose their bearings when faced with the reality that an icky state school is the only one they can (truly) afford.

Posted by: Ithacan on March 21, 2006 at 7:09 PM | PERMALINK

The dirty truth that nobody likes to talk about is that going to a top college is actually a horrible econimic proposition.

I think this is largely true, but it's even more true of "expensive but not presigious" schools. I live in Boston. There are a couple of top schools across the river that are very famous, and probably will open doors. Yes, it may not make sense go into six figure debt for a degree from one of these places, but it makes a hell of a lot more sense to go into six figure debt for a Harvard or MIT degree than one from Boston University or Northeastern.

Besides, for some fields, a degree from a Harvard or a Yale really does help. If you want to do political analysis, or work for a think tank, or write for Hollywood, or have a career in the arts or journalism, a top brand degree probably doesn't hurt, and may even justify a lot of debt (and obviously, if your family can afford to pay for such a degree, who cares anyway?). As I wrote in my 7:09pm post, it is when you a) have to go into a lot of debt; and, b) you acquire this debt to finance a BA that is only a stepping stone for a required graduate professional degree, that I think the expensive undergraduate education is of such questionable value. But again, as questionable a value as it may be, it's all the more questionable when that huge debt was used to acquire a degree from a private university that someone living in a different state has never even heard of. Now that's what I call mortgaging your future.

Posted by: Ithacan on March 21, 2006 at 7:25 PM | PERMALINK

Besides, for some fields, a degree from a Harvard or a Yale really does help. If you want to do political analysis, or work for a think tank, or write for Hollywood, or have a career in the arts or journalism, a top brand degree probably doesn't hurt, and may even justify a lot of debt (and obviously, if your family can afford to pay for such a degree, who cares anyway?).

Yes, that somewhat echoes what I wrote above. There is a real network in place, and the sooner you get plugged into it the easier it will be later. I went to Harvard, for example, and lots of my friends are now televion show creators, Hollywood producers and directors, famous authors and musicians, prominent pundits, etc. (some, to my shame, are even top officials in the Bush White House). If I ever did want to do any work in those fields I'd just have to pick up a phone, or schedule a lunch. If I hadn't met those people when I was 18 years old, I wouldn't have that access and all the chances it affords me now. It's in that sense that the undergrad degree paid for itself many times over.

Posted by: Stefan on March 22, 2006 at 1:12 AM | PERMALINK

The University of California campuses are insanely competitive and students have to apply to a number of them. There's no downward slotting--it's not like everyone takes their shot at Cal, who takes first pick and hands the rejects to UCLA, who passes the rejects on to UCSD, and so on down to the as yet unknown quantity Merced.

If a student applies to a UC campus and gets rejected, he's not in a UC at all. So he has to apply to a number of them--and given the competition, the decision goes something like this:

Any student with a 2200 or higher SAT, 700+ Subjects, 12 or more honors/AP courses, and an even decent GPA (3.5+ weighted for the 2 years used for statewide eligibility) throws the dice on the top 3. They know that these campuses will probably use GPA as the deciding factor (it allows them to get around 209), but not wanting to miss out on a possible lucky break.

Then they apply to 2 of the middle 3--Santa Barbara, Irvine, and Davis--(all top 50 schools in US News) and pray. But just in case, they apply to Santa Cruz.

That's six right there.

Since the UCs give relatively little financial aid, it makes perfect sense to apply to some out of state schools who might want some Californians to increase regional diversity--and might pay for it.

It gets to 10 pretty quickly.

Posted by: Cal on March 22, 2006 at 2:23 AM | PERMALINK



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