3 years ago
Admissions Advice

Elite colleges or not?

Let's say you are advising a student who has a good chance of being admitted to a number of elite schools, but would be a very middle-of-the-pack student there. The same student would be a top student at lesser colleges and probably could receive a fair amount of attention from faculty. Let's also assume that costs would be the same for either type of school. What advice would you give? Is an elite credential worth more in the long term? Or is it better to be at the top of your class, even if it isn't that great a class?


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Accepted Answer
3 years ago[edited]

For some, this is a huge dilemma for other a no-brainer.

To be honest, I think it depends on your level of maturity, pragmatism, and long-term goals, and let's not forget your own ego. If you truly believe that you can get an excellent education at any of the Top 100 colleges, then you should be completely agnostic about where to go to college if it comes to academics. But college is not only about getting an education in 2022. It's about finding your people, connecting with professors, networking with alumni who can hook you up with internships and jobs. It's about where and how and who you want to spend your free time with. It's about access to culture, like museums, and theatre and dance and shows. It's about parties and having brunch with your pals. It's about homecoming and team spirit and cheering on your team. It's about having access to resources and millions of books and rare book rooms. It's about clubs and secret societies and frats and sororities and dining clubs. It's where you emerge one step closer to being the best version of yourself.

So if you are a one-dimensional academician, yes, you have a point. You are not going to have much competition with peers to get face time with professors who can help you become a better student. According to Malcolm Gladwell, you should never want to apply and attend Harvard because there are too many smart people in the cohort pool. If you trying to be a great chemist or physicist or mathematician, you will be passed over and 5 or 10 or 20 people will have a better Senior Thesis' than you. You will be ranked in the middle of the pack, and if you are going to apply for a Ph.D. program, you won't be impressive because you are number #50, not number #1 or #2 or #5.

So what I'm trying to bring to light is that each person has their own unique idea of what their expectations of college are and we can't guess as humans as to what motivates them from day today. Some incoming Freshmen look at college as a right of passage because their dad went there, and before him, his dad went there. For legacies, attending their family Alma Mater is not about making a mark for yourself but a continuation of tradition. Whether they graduate with a 3.5 GPA or a 4.0, it doesn't really matter, because it hasn't mattered until now anyway. They are going to get pushed along into great internships, and get into their 1st or 2nd choice of Law School or Business School, or Medical School because that's how the system works. For them, they are just fulfilling their destiny and roles.

For the rest of us, we have a 1000 extra variables to weigh in on and that can be challenging.

I feel that if undergraduate college is only a stop along the way, and you want to go to graduate school, then it's very important to do very well in school and get good grades and have time to prep for your MCATS or LSATS or whatever. You don't want to go to school that sucks the soul out of you. I wanted to go to MIT, but I got into Columbia. In hindsight, I would have had a lot of mental stress trying to keep up at MIT and probably would have had a mental breakdown. At MIT there is severe grade deflation and no matter how brilliant you were in HS, you are humbled and pulverized into powder during your first few semesters. Even though Harvard is a couple of miles away, the opposite is true there. At Harvard, you live in a super comfortable house with its own library and dining halls and get tons of support. There is no grade deflation but rather grade inflation, so it's really really hard to drop out of Harvard once you get in. I think the students are brilliant at MIT but maybe they are not the happiest.

You need to figure this problem out for yourself and make a list of the pros and cons of all the schools you are interested in applying to. There is more to life than academics. When you are a working adult and go to a dinner party, no one cares to hear about what you did in the lab last week or how many papers you've published. They want to hear about what you think about current events and other things that affect the world and the community you share. It's important to figure out what kind of person you want to be and that will help you decide where to go to college.

Good luck and I'm sorry that I can't tell you what to do.

I'm posting 2 videos, one in favor and one against. Make your own choice after viewing them.



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Duke University
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Unweighted GPA: 3.7
SAT: 720 math
| 800 verbal


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