Monday, June 09, 2014
Ask the Administrator: Avoiding the Death March
Gaining admission to elite colleges is hard, and seems to be getting harder.
Applicants who are not flat-out brilliant compete against a large pool of very very well-prepared youngsters. The standard expectations of academics, sports, and (now) community service are demanding, and keep getting more so.
But suppose one wanted to do an end-run around all that, and get a high-quality education that has real credibility without the Ivy League death march. What would you recommend?
My own thinking is that it might make sense to go off and do something else after high school, so that when you do apply to college, you are not in the same "bucket" as all the prepped-to-the-hilt highschoolers. Military service, perhaps.
Have a question? Ask the Administrator at deandad (at) gmail (dot) com.
First, I'll second your advice concerning the alternative of an honors program degree from a flagship R1 state university. But it is a mistake to think that the school can provide the drive and initiative (extracurriculars are a surrogate measure of that) to achieve your goals. And perhaps way beyond your goals. A university president and a prof at a Name Brand medical school (to pick just two people I knew in college) did not have those as their goals when undergrads when I first met them, and I'm pretty sure one of them would not have gotten into an Ivy.
An education is what you make of it. You do need some top-quality options, which might not be available in your field of interest at every university (or even every selective college). That is the reason for looking at programs rather than schools.
I don't get the point about military service as a better angle into an Ivy. Every vet in my CC classroom brings life skills that most HS kids lack, but I can't see many of them choosing an Ivy where they would be much less likely to have another Marine sitting next to them. Ditto for working several years as a bartender or brewer or whatever.
1) instead of 4 years (or more) of military service, I would argue that students would be better served by a post-high school gap year program (The Franklin Project initiative of the Aspen Institute is trying a big-tent approach to public service as an expectation for the 18-28 year old cohort and does include military service as well as Americorps). At any rate, the students I work with who do a year of service, an internship, work, etc. are almost always more focused about what they want to study, more mature in their interactions with others, and more articulate about their interests and skills.
2) Curricular interests are particularly tricky at the age of 17-18. I'm sure many of your readers changed their majors (I know I did), so asking a 17 year old to commit to a college because of a specific academic course of study assumes that the student is likely to keep that interest. How many recovering pre-meds did we all know in college?
I absolutely agree that there are many paths to what you want to do. I would submit that selecting the college where you are more likely to find the experiences, people and academic breadth to figure that out is important. Beyond that, I would advocate picking the college that is both a fit for your temperament and your pocketook.
After the first hurdle, though, the exchange value of the high-toned undergraduate degree wanes pretty quickly.
In my fields (finance/accounting/programming), that's only somewhat true. If you want to be CFO of a mid-sized company, definitely; an accounting degree will let you start in a company's accounting department, and work from there. If you want to work on Wall Street, not so much; analyst jobs go to Ivy and equivalent graduates.
Similarly with programming/computer science. A lot of jobs are available to graduates generally, but Google and Microsoft seem to hire at entry-level almost exclusively from the MIT/Stanford equivalents.
In both cases, "they'll hire anyone with demonstrated passion and capability"--but really, almost all the hires come from a small network of elite schools.