Kevin McMullin is the president of Collegewise and the author of If the U Fits: Expert Advice on Finding the Right College and Getting Accepted. This is his blog. He also speaks at high schools and conferences, and generally tries to spread the word about saner, smarter college planning.
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If the U Fits: Expert Advice on Finding the Right College and Getting Accepted.
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According to Harvard Business School’s website, “A diverse background of undergraduate learning adds to the richness of the HBS experience. The classes of 2009—2011 are comprised of close to 500 institutions,” including:
Arizona State University
Ball State University
Bryn Mawr College
Case Western Reserve University
College of Charleston
College of the Holy Cross
De Paul University
Delaware State University
Eastern Kentucky University
Florida State University
Franklin & Marshall College
Iowa State University
Kansas State University
Michigan State University
Missouri State University
Mount Holyoke College
Ohio State University
Oklahoma State University
Oregon State University
Pennsylvania State University
Saint Lawrence University
Saint Louis University
Saint Olaf College
Salisbury State University
Southern Methodist University
St. John's University
St. Petersburg State University
State University of West Georgia
Tennessee State University
Texas Christian University
The College of William and Mary
The George Washington University
University of Arizona
University of Arkansas
University of California, Davis
University of California, Irvine
University of California, Santa Barbara
University of Cincinnati
University of Dayton
University of Delaware
University of Florida
University of Georgia
University of Hawaii
University of Houston
University of Iowa
University of Kansas
University of Kentucky
University of Louisville
University of Maine
University of Maryland
University of Miami
University of Minnesota
University of Mississippi
University of Missouri
University of Montana
University of Nebraska
University of New Brunswick
University of New Mexico
University of Oklahoma
University of Oregon
University of Pittsburgh
University of Puget Sound
University of Redlands
University of Richmond
University of San Diego
University of Tennessee
University of Texas, El Paso
University of Utah
University of Victoria
University of Vienna
University of Washington
University of Wisconsin
Washington & Lee University
Weber State University
West Virginia University
William Jewell College
It's not your college's prestige that matters; it's what you do while you're there.
I met a couple at a dinner party this weekend who have been married for 51 years. They met the first night of freshman orientation at Lewis and Clark College. The husband had been planning on attending UCLA, but chose Lewis and Clark because they gave him a scholarship.
Stories like this are just one of the countless reasons you’ll likely never meet anyone who says that what they value most about their college experience was where the college was ranked on the US News list.
…I will argue until I die that good connections are NOT the result of going to a brand name college but are the result of energy applied at whatever college you do attend. All colleges have influential alums in many fields. If you devote some time and sweat to finding out who they are and how to reach them, it will yield great rewards. I am familiar with many Harvard grads who couldn't bother, and found that they had fewer choices than they thought they were entitled to given the name of their college."
Jay Mathews (posted as a comment in the post "Why getting in to Harvard is no longer an honor")
I had my little rant last week how I wished the press would write stories this month about colleges that are accepting plenty of their applicants, instead of eagerly recycling the annual news that the nation’s most selective colleges got even more competitive this year.
Then I learned that those less competitive schools don’t make it very easy to find those statistics. I tried to find the class of 2016 admissions stats for over a dozen schools featured as Colleges that Change Lives, great schools that accept plenty of kids who aren’t necessarily at the top of the class, and I couldn’t find any information. I know they’ll all eventually publish profiles of the freshman classes, but you’ll need to dig into their websites to find those. That information is less likely to show up in a major news story.
It’s a public badge of honor when a school claims they rejected even more qualified applicants this year—it makes the school seem more desirable. Maybe the less selective colleges don’t want major press outlets announcing that they take B students with average test scores?
My question is, why not? To schools that are accepting lots of applicants, why not create that story? Tell the press and anybody who wants to listen:
We just offered admission to 52% of our applicants for the class of 2016. We admitted two quarterbacks of state champion football teams, 24 club presidents, 2 flutists, an oboe player and 62 students who worked part time jobs after school. We admitted one published author, a student who makes ceramic pots and sells them at flea markets, 14 students who wrote for their high school papers, four yearbook photographers and one poet who posts her work on her blog. We admitted three debate champions, one trainer of guide dogs for the blind, a pilot, several competitive equestrians, and a student who’s going to make it his life’s mission to beat his mother at tennis. The average high school GPA of our admits was 3.42 (we are test-optional because we don’t think SAT/ACT scores help us find the right students) and we couldn’t be more excited to see who joins us this fall.
Start creating those stories and you’ll change the way people think about college admissions.
Juniors, here’s a good way to focus your college search, find colleges that are right for you, and improve your chances of getting in: as you’re looking at colleges, pretend the names have been replaced with serial numbers. Your future college sweatshirt and decal on the car might be “0873.”
Now, there’s no pretense of name-brand cache. You can’t be drawn to a college just because it’s prestigious. You have to identify what you really want from a school, what type of environment is best for you, a place where you could be happy and successful for four years.
If you go through your entire college search consistently imagining that the names have been replaced, you will have much better answers when applications and interviewers ask you why you’ve decided to apply. You’ll have a better chance of getting in and being happy once you get there. And when you buy the real sweatshirt, the name on it will be the right school for you.
...what you actually do in college will matter much more than where you do it. There are 74 undergraduate institutions represented in Yale Law School's class of 2014. Here are more than half of them:
Birmingham Southern College
Brigham Young University
California State University-Long Beach
Columbia College (note: different from Columbia University)
Florida State University
Louisiana State University-Baton Rouge
Ohio State University-Columbus
Patrick Henry College
Purdue University-West Lafayette
Saint Peter’s College
Seoul National University
University of Delaware
University of California-Santa Barbara
University of Georgia-Athens
University of Maryland-College Park
University of Massachusetts-Amherst
University of Miami
University of Pittsburgh
University of Rochester
University of Texas-Austin
University of Toronto
University of Wales
University of Washington
Washington and Lee University
I’ve met a lot of students and parents who think particular colleges offer “great connections” for their graduates. And yet, I have never once met a person who got a job just because he or she went to the same college the boss attended.
You might think that attending a school like USC, Duke, Michigan or another school with a strong alumni network will guarantee you job opportunities when you graduate. But the world doesn’t work that way. Real connections are born from the work you do to earn them, not by sharing a loose affiliation with a person of consequence. And you can do that work at lots of colleges that aren’t famous.
When you work closely with a professor on a project and impress her with your work, you can later ask her for advice or to write you a letter of recommendation because you’ve earned that connection. You can do the same thing with the supervisor at your internship, the housing director who oversaw your work as a resident advisor, or the director at the non-profit where you volunteered. Wherever you go to college, you’re going to have virtually unlimited opportunities to earn those kinds of connections. But it doesn’t matter whether it’s Princeton or Prescott.
Is there any value to attending a college with a large, national alumni network? Of course. If you take a job in a new city where you don’t know anybody, you can go to a local alumni meeting. You can tailgate at the football games with the other alums. Wherever you go, you’ll have a home base of people with whom you share at least one common interest.
But don’t expect any of those people to give you a job just because you know the same fight songs. You’ll need to have earned some connections along the way, and keep earning them once you meet these new groups.
Don’t pick a college just because you think they’ll give you connections when you leave. Pick a college where you think you can do your best work to earn them.
Andy Doctoroff interviews applicants for Harvard, and he's got a good piece in the Huffington Post today, "Dear Eighth Grader: So You Want to Apply to Harvard? Some Words of Advice..."
The central message is that good grades, high test scores, and impressive activities alone aren’t what impress him during an interview. “Intellectual ambition, drive and zest for discovery” are, especially when they’re genuine, not just being forcefully presented in an effort to get into Harvard.
And make sure you don’t miss this part near the end (and remember, this is a guy who went to Harvard).
Frankly, it's not really that important whether you go to Harvard. There are a lot of Harvard graduates who do not lead productive lives. And, of course, Harvard and other comparable schools have not cornered the market on success."
Anybody who claims that attending a less prestigious college hurts your chances of getting into a prestigious graduate school should check out this list of the 261 undergraduate institutions represented by all students enrolled at Harvard Law School for the 2010-2011 school year.
Yes, all the Ivy League schools are listed, along with Duke, Stanford, Northwestern, Rice, UC Berkeley, West Point, the Naval Academy and other schools that reject almost everyone who applies. I don’t dispute that a lot of graduates from highly selective colleges go on to do great things. It’s not surprising considering that you’ve got to be an exceptionally smart, motivated, hard-working kid to get into one of those schools in the first place.
But the list also shows that exceptionally smart, motivated, hard-working kids can go to places like Adelphi, Arizona State, Beloit, Cal State Northridge, Dickenson, Eastern Kentucky, Florida State, Gonzaga, Hampton, Indiana, Knox, Louisiana State, Mary Washington, Northern Arizona, Oregon State, Pacific Lutheran, Queens College, Rutgers, San Jose State, TCU, University of Delaware, Western Washington University, and dozens of other not-so-name brand schools and still go on to Harvard Law School.
It’s not where you go. It’s what you do while you’re there.