I would be curious to read your thoughts about choosing a college. Particularly the perceived benefits of trying to go someplace like an Ivy or MIT or Williams. My DH and I both went to our flagship state school and have well-paying jobs and live happy, quiet lives. Honestly, is there any reason to do anything other than that if we think that’s what’s in store for our kids? Meaning, we hope they have well-paying jobs and happy, quiet lives. I have one child who has special needs and I’m not sure what higher ed will bring for him, one who loves math and science and may be interested in engineering, and a 3-year-old. Obviously, I would not try to stop a kid from going to a prestigious school if said kid really wanted to go, but it seems like so much stress for… I’m not sure what benefit.
Disclaimer: We gave DC1 a Fiske Guide and said you can go to any college you want to with the following rules: 1. It has to be in this book. 2. It has to have at least 4 little academic desks out of 5. 3. No out of state state schools– if you go out of state it must be private. (This bummed DC1 out because the UCs are attractive, but we’re not paying private school tuition for a public school when zie can go to the honors college at our flagship at a fraction of the cost.) This is such an important and personal decision that I don’t think we can make it for DC1. Plus I feel really guilty for all the people I pushed into Caltech when I was a teenager. (One of them is now a nurse, another is mid-level management at a large brewery after a stint in the marines, I’m not sure what happened to the other, but she also almost dropped out.)
Most ivies are pretty easy and have lots and lots of grade inflation. The education is about the same as at good Flagship state schools. But you get cachet and connections. In terms of the academic research, going to an ivy over a state school benefits life outcomes for low SES kids but doesn’t have any effect on life outcomes for high SES kids. (There’s a lot of research on this topic going at it from a lot of different directions. I think the Carolyn Hoxby/Sarah Turner field experiment has an extensive literature review.) Ivies also tend to have extensive support networks in place and just more resources more generally. (They may also cost less if you’re eligible for financial aid!)
Top graduate programs like taking students from ivies, but they also like taking them from top SLACs and top flagship schools. If you’re in a state with a good flagship, it’s still possible for your kid to get into the #1 program for whatever graduate field they are interested in. It may not be possible from a regional state school or a less prestigious SLAC. But it will still be possible to get into a top 10 program and definitely a top 30 program, most likely. Life is easier when you’re graduating from one of the top schools, but if you work hard and demonstrate awesomeness you can still do very well from a top 30 program if you’re in an in-demand field. (I cannot make any claims for Humanities where the labor market is much weaker.) Basically working harder in high school and going to a top ivy can make the rest of education easier if you plan on going that route. But most people don’t.
I didn’t get into Williams (waitlisted *sob*), but there are benefits to (prestigious) SLACs in terms of the college experience. It is NICE to have small classes and professors who know you and all the cute little traditions these schools tend to have. I have school spirit for my undergrad even though our sports sucked and nobody cared about them. One potential problem is that they sometimes have limited classes and if you want to take a specific course if only one (married) professor (with adult kids) teaches it and goes on leave or has a fist fight at a local restaurant with another professor because he’s sleeping with that assistant professor’s extremely young wife* and you can’t handle taking a class from him, you’re kind of SOL.
I also think that consortiums are really great– if a bunch of small schools get together and allow cross-enrollment, you can get the benefit of a small school but also not have to worry so much about getting the classes you need for your major in the exact semester you need them into your schedule (this is also a problem at large state schools– classes you need can fill up and make it difficult to get required classes when you need them).
We are not honing our kid to get into an ivy. If we were, we wouldn’t have skipped. Zie would have taken high school classes during middle school (meaning we’d have to drive every day to drop hir off). We would have forced hir to do competitions. And I’d probably be forcing hir to coauthor papers with me or DH would be pushing DC1 to get programming things out into the world. Not having those special things doesn’t mean a person can’t get into an ivy, but having them makes it more likely.
A small part of me wishes I’d gone someplace like MIT or Caltech as a college student (though not really Caltech because it’s so brutal). In high school and college I was searching for like-minded peers who just loved learning for learnings sake. These two engineering schools have lots of them as undergrads. Students at my fancy SLAC were way more interested in the OJ Simpson trial than in thinking or tinkering. (Not all of them– I did have my people in the math major, but not the econ major.) Any large enough school is going to have like-minded people, but you have to find them– you won’t necessarily get placed with them, and if you’re like DH or me and tend to hang out with people who are geographically close you may not connect with them. It’s easier if you go to a school that draws more people who share your interests.
Grumpy Nation: Are there any benefits to choosing an ivy? Do you have a better answer for Chelsea or any interesting reminiscences?
*Did I mention that drama may be a problem at small schools? (I think it’s hilarious that Wikipedia has locked said professor’s wiki page with a note about slander– if no charges were pressed, it couldn’t have happened, right?)