Thinking Outside the ‘Ivy League’ Box

Quartz: “Well-heeled universities tout the benefits their name will give graduates: namely strong alumni networks, star faculty, and a résumé boost. But you needn’t attend an Ivy to reap those rewards. In fact, lower tier school alumni networks are arguably stronger, because fellow alumni recognize that you didn’t necessarily have an easy path to follow. They might be more willing to offer career help, because your less illustrious school denotes that, like them, you are also full of hustle and tenacity.”

“The Washington Post reported on a recent study by Princeton economists in which college graduates who applied to the most selective schools in the 12th grade were compared to those who applied to slightly less selective schools. They found that students with more potential earned more as adults, and the reverse held true as well, no matter where they went to school. Likewise, star faculty are not always found where you’d expect. Big name schools are not necessarily the best places for professors; plus, many professors split teaching time between multiple colleges and/or universities.”


Gap Year: Should You Be Like Malia?

The Atlantic: “When the Obamas announced Sunday that their eldest daughter, Malia, will attend Harvard University, they also revealed that she will take part in what is becoming an increasingly popular tradition in the United States: the gap year … Harvard in particular encourages this practice, and as a result, between 80 and 110 of their students choose to do so each year.”

“In an article on the university’s website, William Fitzsimmons and Marlyn E. McGrath of Harvard’s admissions department, and Charles Ducey, a lecturer in psychology, assert that a gap year could be an answer to the burnout faced by ultra-ambitious students as they compete to gain entrance into the ‘right’ college followed by the ‘right’ graduate schools, and the ‘right’ sequence of jobs, in order to live in the ‘right’ kinds of communities.”

However: “Students who choose to delay are at considerable risk of not completing a postsecondary credential when compared with their peers who enroll immediately after high school graduation, says a National Center for Education Statistics study … But Joe O’Shea … author of Gap Year,” counters: “The greater the resilience, grit, and tenacity of a student, the more likely they are to complete a degree … taking the time to undertake the gap year that is structured and challenging can help reform a student’s identity and … make it more likely that they’re going to go to college and graduate.”


Turning The Tide: Reforming The Admissions Process

In this morning’s New York Times, Frank Bruni writes about Turning The Tide, a report by administrators from Yale, MIT and the University of Michigan. The report details recommended changes to the college admissions process intended to relieve some of the stress it places on students.

Mr. Bruni writes: “Focused on certain markers and metrics, the admissions process warps the values of students drawn into a competitive frenzy. It jeopardizes their mental health. And it fails to include — and identify the potential in — enough kids from less privileged backgrounds.”

“The report recommends less emphasis on standardized test scores, which largely correlate with family income … It asks colleges to send a clear message that admissions officers won’t be impressed by more than a few Advanced Placement courses. Poorer high schools aren’t as likely to offer A.P. courses, and a heavy load of them is often cited as a culprit in sleep deprivation, anxiety and depression among students at richer schools.”

“The report also suggests that colleges discourage manic résumé padding by accepting information on a sharply limited number of extracurricular activities; that they better use essays and references to figure out which students’ community-service projects are heartfelt and which are merely window dressing; and that they give full due to the family obligations and part-time work that some underprivileged kids take on.”

“Colleges are … realizing that many kids admitted into top schools are emotional wrecks or slavish adherents to soulless scripts that forbid the exploration of genuine passions. And they’re acknowledging the extent to which the admissions process has contributed to this.”


Will Harvard Become Tuition-Free?

The New York Times: A “slate of candidates running for the Board of Overseers at Harvard” thinks the university “should stop charging tuition to undergraduates.” They see a tuition-free Harvard as an alternative to affirmative action, arguing “that if Harvard were free, more highly qualified students from all backgrounds would apply, and the university would no longer have trouble balancing its class for racial or ethnic diversity.”

Asian-Americans, in particular, are thought to be “short-changed” in the admissions process. In fact, a pending federal lawsuit accuses “the university of discriminating against Asian-Americans in admissions. Harvard has denied the allegations.” Both the lawsuit and the slate of candidates are seeking “disclosure of data showing how the university’s freshman class is selected each year.”

Harvard spokesman Jeff Neal says a tuition-free Harvard is not going to happen, however. “There is a common misconception that endowments, including Harvard’s, can be accessed like bank accounts, used for anything at any time as long as funds are available … In reality, Harvard’s flexibility in spending from the endowment is limited by the fact that it must be maintained in perpetuity and that it is largely restricted by the explicit wishes of those who contributed the endowed funds.”