What’s in a Name?

Greetings all and Merry Christmas!

Now that all that the cheer has been dispensed with, I will proceed to write a potentially discouraging post, though I suppose it’s really up to the reader to decide whether what I’m implicating is depressing or not.

By this point, everyone (excluding those who haven’t seen me in a while) has pretty much given up asking me where I’m going to college. Previously, the default answer went something like, “I suppose, *sigh* wherever they will let me in.”  I’m rather a good one for cheerful conversations. My modified response when talking to people who actually wanted to know and who were not just making conversation was to list the names of six possible universities. If I was talking to someone who worked at an educational institution that wasn’t on the list, I’d throw in that name too, in the hopes that they might be able to offer me something. On one memorable occasion, a recruiter for a college (which didn’t actually have my major) asked me who else I was considering. Now, however, I actually have to decide. Both colleges and the inquisitors are terribly preemptive. For example, the deadline for priority admission with the possibility of a scholarship into one likely college was October 15th. The deadline at another fine institution is June 1 of senior year. No I’m not kidding.

So I decided to ignore the ratings as much as humanly possible.

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”

Who makes these ratings anyhow? The quality of the instruction is measured mainly by the quality of the student who comes out. Wait. The ratings determine the kind of student who goes in. Only the elite get into Harvard and the big Ivies right? So generally they tend to crank out elite students. Obviously, this isn’t going to be true to the extreme. Ivies can afford to be picky about their professors. A community college probably isn’t going to be as good. But there is a general threshold, and past it, where one goes doesn’t really matter. Harvard isn’t going to turn people into a good students unless they’re already good students.

Not everyone knows this. As a result, the big university still have comfortably padded programs even during a recession. So yes. There are more grants, the salaries for graduate researchers is higher than average (one would hope). So money talks students. Big universities have more money. Money also talks to universities.  Will you be paying a high tuition to support their level of excellence? Will you be bringing in the big bucks to keep their program afloat after you graduate? Unless you will, offering a scholarship might not be worth it. Unless they happen to be independently wealthy, willing to work of loans, or just very smart, most people need not apply.

Most universities boast that x percentage of graduates get jobs or go on to grad school. Yes. It’s true. But if someone’s really good at what they do, being at a humble university isn’t going to stop them–so long as the university really is legit.

Money may speak to the professors, but will they speak to students? Seriously, will you mind if there’s no way the professor is going to recognize you? On the other hand, some students may find it just a bit freaky if the professor knows all about them. In my experience, most big name schools tend to skew toward the big side. And honestly, at a lot of places there just isn’t any academic help.

So it all boils down to atmosphere. That’s what the brochures are full of anyway. “Look at our iconic clock tower/bell tower/record breaking self-supported concrete dome.” The thing is, I’ve gotten enough solicitations that I’m almost positive the brochures, emails, and applications are all written by the same firm. Who cares about a clock tower? Are the faculty bearable? Visiting your top picks is really what makes the final decision.

What I’m saying is that prestige doesn’t matter. I want to be happy whether I’ve got prestigious credentials or not. Do what you love at a place you love. People tend to be good at what they love anyway.

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