College fit

by Rocky Mountain Stepmom

We sometimes talk about whether our kids would be a good fit at one university or another. This author had the experience of going from a very poor immigrant family in a rough neighborhood straight to Harvard, and her experience there was not a happy one. Are there schools your kids might not fit into?

Poor and traumatized at Harvard

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154 thoughts on “College fit

  1. I became financially savvy and secure by working in management consulting, getting an MBA from Wharton, and then managing private equity investments.

    I love a story with a happy ending.

  2. It’s difficult to see how the depression she suffered during her college years could be the fault of the university or her fellow students. That’s not to minimize the pain, but it’s not clear what they could have done differently, or whether a less-competitive environment would have been better. She doesn’t give any examples of her classmates making fun of or excluding her; in fact, it seems that the opposite was true.

  3. One thing that struck me in her article was this sentence: It wasn’t normal to be real or to be vulnerable.

    Well, that’s kind of everywhere all the time. I think it’s especially true at selective colleges; Stanford students sometimes complain about how you’re supposed to get perfect grades and have a fabulous social/extra-curricular life while appearing to only ever play Frisbee. But all schools and workplaces have it to some extent, and it’s especially true for younger people because everyone’s so caught up in appearances.

  4. Stanford students sometimes complain about how you’re supposed to get perfect grades and have a fabulous social/extra-curricular life while appearing to only ever play Frisbee.

    This used to happen at my college in the home country. Older people passing by would see college students loitering before or after class, hanging out at the bus stop and assume that everyone of them were wastrels and the younger generation was no good. But lo and behold, very few dropped out and the loiterers have good Totebaggy jobs and kids of their own.
    On fitting in, my parents strongly recommended that I sign up for things that would benefit me, even though I may have been the only girl/the only kid who signed up for a language and didn’t speak that language at home and not apologize for being there. It was “I am here to learn, teach me, I’ll be very competitive, thank you”. I can’t say, I didn’t find things difficult or wished that I hadn’t signed up. I did but I came out of those experiences extremely confident that I was as good as if not better at the work than anyone else. I try to impart this to my kids as well. When I think of fit, I don’t think they would want to go small, rural schools but other that I don’t worry much about them fitting in.

  5. IME the same miserable sense of not fitting in is true for almost every kid at these schools, but for different reasons – the poorer kids over money, the athletes over academics, the rich over whether it was just Daddy who got them in, etc.

    But until you realize that everyone else is feeling horribly inadequate for some reason, it’s a very unsettling feeling to have after being the star in high school and having won the golden ticket of admission.

    There were a handful of people at my schools who either never let down their guard or really believed they belonged, but they were few and far between.

    It led to a lot of anorexia among the girls and a lot of drinking for everyone.

  6. Fitting in anyplace is difficult-I am sure she was just overwhelmed with the changes of growing up and doing so in a new and strange environment-growing pains for most young adults. I too failed to see how the school itself (or student body) were a contributing factor. Human nature is funny-especially nowadays with social media- individuals seem to think everyone else is having the best time, getting the best grades/jobs/life partner, etc. , where those individuals seemingly having it all feel stressed and anxious to keep up the façade. Personally, I never felt that I “fit in” anywhere, and after a while I stopped trying, because it just didn’t matter ultimately in the big picture, but that knowledge only came with lots of experience and age. Heck, I feel like I don’t even fit in here on this site sometimes!

  7. My oldest is very much an introvert, but her high school experience is giving her the confidence to try new activities and experiences. She has never had much concern about fitting in. If she wants to do something it doesn’t matter if she is the only one she knows or if she makes any friends doing it. I’d say she seems to assume she won’t fit in and is surprised when she does, which is more often than she expects.

    Two of her friends are experiencing health/emotional issues due to the stress of high school. We had a discussion about how much stress she feels and handles it. It is a fine line between feeling uncomfortable because you are stretching yourself, in her case intellecutally and socially, and being overwhelmed. As well as having methods of coping with the former and recognizing and getting help for the latter. But, isn’t this the case at most schools and in the workforce?

    I guess I can see fit issues, but it seems they would be more about access to money for activities and the related social situations that puts you in. I guess I’m thinking at most larger schools there is enough diversity that you will find a group you feel comfortable in.

  8. I too failed to see how the school itself (or student body) were a contributing factor.

    She seems to be arguing that Harvard might be better off with a little more economic diversity. How, for example, does one compare Amy Choa’s daughter’s violin accomplishments to this girl having to work every day in the family business out of economic necessity.

  9. I also wonder why the author chose Harvard-I am assuming she must have researched schools before applying, and she is intelligent enough to anticipate that her background would be a stark contrast to most who attend Harvard. It isn’t as though Harvard isn’t known as being where the wealthy go to become educated. The article would have been more interesting if she delved into her reasons for applying and attending, as well as her expectations socially and not just academically.

  10. “Personally, I never felt that I “fit in” anywhere, and after a while I stopped trying, because it just didn’t matter ultimately in the big picture, but that knowledge only came with lots of experience and age. Heck, I feel like I don’t even fit in here on this site sometimes!”

    +100

    I struggled hard to fit in in grade school and HS. I gave up in college – kept my head down and just tried to survive. I still have that mentality (and I’ve suffered for it professionally at times).

    But my issues with no fitting in are far “easier” to swallow than the author’s. She’s had quite a ride.

  11. Nyx – I wonder if she didn’t research that…. she attended school in a presumably poor neighborhood. She did well enough there for a guidance counselor to say “you know what, you’re too good for comm. college… let’s try for Harvard” (why not UPenn, why the jump is beyond me). Also, she graduated 16 years ago… 22-ish years ago when she started applying, the internet didn’t have a lot of websites to help students decide on schools. She may not have gotten the “insider” view. Also, I don’t think her parents may have helped. They may have known of Harvard and said “that’s a good school. we know that school. go for it” rather than, “there must be more good schools, let’s find them”

  12. I am assuming she must have researched schools before applying, and she is intelligent enough to anticipate that her background would be a stark contrast to most who attend Harvard.

    Someone could have sat her down at 17 and explained it all to her. She could have read about it. But, while she would understand the words, would she really grok it? If you’ve never experienced anything like that, it’s hard to wrap your head around what the lived reality of it would be like.

  13. Why did she attend Harvard? Because she is Vietnamese, and the dream of many hardworking Asian immigrants is to send a kid to Harvard.

  14. The author is a friend of a friend of mine and, astonishing as it seems, we didn’t have an Internet connection my senior year in high school – neither did my school (!) or any of my friends, in a much wealthier community.

    We relied on hard copy college guides that had a few paragraphs on each school, and most of our schools’ copies were a few years out of date.

    No one around her had a clue what the social issues at Harvard would be, and the school should have done a better job setting up student and faculty mentors for her.

    One of the issues at Yale this fall was the elimination of the minority student mentors program, and I agree with the protestors that that was a mistake. I would expand it to anyone on grant aid, though, because that was the biggest social divide.

  15. I had a lot of the experience of not fitting in economically when I went to college, though I was also very fortunate in being an academic brat, so knew the university culture. I fit in nicely with the professors and the grad students, not so well with the rich kids in my dorm. Being from the Midwest didn’t help. But I managed to find other Midwestern financial aid kids, and we hung out together and kind of viewed the rich kids as a strange anthropology project.

  16. “I also wonder why the author chose Harvard-I am assuming she must have researched schools before applying, and she is intelligent enough to anticipate that her background would be a stark contrast to most who attend Harvard. It isn’t as though Harvard isn’t known as being where the wealthy go to become educated.”

    I wouldn’t assume that. Given her background, I would not be surprised if she didn’t actually know much about Harvard, or colleges in general.

    Way back when I was in HS, I was accepted into a HSS, to which I’d applied purely based on research on academic programs. I ultimately did not attend, and looking back now, I don’t doubt that I likely would’ve been a fish out of water had I attended, although perhaps not to her extent.

  17. “the dream of many hardworking Asian immigrants is to send a kid to Harvard.”

    It’s also the dream of many European-Americans of various lineages, as well as of non-immigrant Asians.

    Acceptance to Harvard is considered a Golden Ticket across a wide swath of the US.

    I could see a poor, but bright, white kid from a trailer park somewhere having similar issues fitting in.

  18. I don’t think figuring out whose “fault” it is she didn’t fit in is very relevant or helpful. The point is that a lot of very prestigious schools are actively pursuing SES diversity, but if all you focus on is getting them in the door, and once they’re in they’re on their own, then you’re not doing anyone any good. This is the current focus of most diversity programs — retention is becoming a much more significant program than getting good people in the door in the first place.

    Kids like the author come in with several strikes against them — not just money, but knowledgeable family support or any kind of understanding/expectation of what it’s going to be like (I, on the other hand, didn’t have any money but did have a mom familiar with the scene, and we did have enough $ to go visit some places — and that allowed me to opt out of the NE options that struck me as stuck-up and where I just knew I wouldn’t fit). Clearly, this woman had the brains and resilience to stick it out and graduate and get a good job, so she “belonged” by any objective measure. But a little preparation or support of mentoring could have made the whole process a lot less painful.

    And to respond to the original Q, yeah, there are definitely schools my kids won’t fit into, and I will try to steer them away. I have trouble seeing DD in a real pressure-cooker environment, for ex., with teachers with strict/harsh rules for minor deviations — she periodically misses things, and if she’s at a place where a minor miss becomes a big deal, I can see the anxiety death spiral starting up pretty quickly.

  19. “We relied on hard copy college guides that had a few paragraphs on each school, and most of our schools’ copies were a few years out of date.”

    That’s what my experience was. I’d also guess that her HS did not have a large section of books on college guidance.

    “No one around her had a clue what the social issues at Harvard would be, and the school should have done a better job setting up student and faculty mentors for her.”

    If her background was a large part of why they accepted her, then yes, I think they had some obligation to provide that sort of help. That she didn’t have that help suggests that perhaps she was a pawn who helped the admissions office reach some sort of diversity goal.

    It also suggests that she is a very strong person.

  20. I grew up relatively poor/”economically disadvantaged”, and way before the advent of the internet. But I also knew that Harvard, and all the Ivy League schools were well outside my social and economic status. I was also smart, did great in HS, and definitely shied away from applying to many colleges where I thought I would stick out-even when encouraged by my advisor or parents.
    I am actually admiring her fortitude and drive to go and stick it out there. I wish I was as brave as her when I was selecting schools back then.

  21. At 17 when I was picking schools and majors, I was clueless. I thought the only thing I could do with a math major was be a math teacher, so I went into accounting. I had planned to major in engineering, but a friend and I went to enroll together, and she didn’t feel like going all the way over to engineering, so I just enrolled in the business college with her. I can easily see how she ended up at Harvard knowing nothing about it.

  22. “the dream of many hardworking Asian immigrants is to send a kid to Harvard.”
    “Acceptance to Harvard is considered a Golden Ticket across a wide swath of the US.”

    And the world – I might add.

  23. I also feel that at some level there is pressure on diversity admits to elite colleges to give back and make some sort of social statement. Am I wrong in thinking this ? I don’t feel there is this pressure on everyone else.

  24. I think there’s an interesting conversation hear about “social capital”. At 17, I would have assumed that the student populations at Harvard, Stanford, MIT, and Berkeley would have been relatively the same. They all draw for a similar group based on test scores. They also draw from all over the country. How could they be very different?

    I had two good friends from high school who went to college, and made up 67% of our state’s delegation. Though both came from highly educated backgrounds, I don’t think either of them had any real experience with the truly wealthy people of America, prior to arrival at college.

  25. ” But I also knew that Harvard, and all the Ivy League schools were well outside my social and economic status.”

    How did you know this? Do you think the author had ready access to the same sources?

  26. Oops. Voice recognition fail.

    I had two good friends from high school who went to college at Harvard , and made up 67% of our state’s delegation.”

    That makes a bit more sense. As part of the conversation about race and privilege, one must realize how so much of the information that we take for granted is not easily accessible to a large portion of the population.

    Before I was mid-way through medical school, I had never had a casual conversation with a physician. This will not be true for my kids – unsurprisingly, we have many medical friends.

  27. I agree 100% with everything that Finn is saying.

    Does Harvard have a program specifically to help students who come from poor backgrounds now in 2016? I thought that was something that a lot of the elite schools were doing to help kids from “socioeconomically diverse” backgrounds succeed. I believe that even our State Flagship has a program like this. It seems like even just having a vehicle to meet other kids from similar circumstances, money-wise, would have helped this woman quite a bit.

    I believe that I read this article about Georgetown’s program through a link here.
    http://chronicle.com/article/Georgetown-U-Builds-a/146713/

  28. Finn
    We have an Ivy here in the state where I live-and several of my classmates applied to/were accepted at/and attended ivies. We came from a poor city, but those that did attend were from the families that “had money”-relative to the rest of us (or so we assumed by outward appearances-house, cars, clothing, etc., which in retrospect was not much money at all), and 2 that I personally know went on athletic scholarships. One struggled to fit in even with her cohorts in her sport. She was the one who eventually dropped out.

  29. I doubt anyone would be surprised that Harvard has so many wealthy, privileged kids. Isn’t that sort of a “duh”? I think the surprise would be that there is no one else like you, nowhere at all that you fit in. I mean, you’d have to think that if the school let you in, with your background and neighborhood, that it would also have let in a number of other kids like you, with similar backgrounds and neighborhoods, right? So even going in with eyes wide open, I’d think the loneliness and lack of peer group would be a huge surprise, even if you never expected to be part of the majority culture.

    I am honestly bothered by the “well, what did she expect?” tone. So, what, she should have kept to her own “kind,” lowered her sights, gone to a “lesser” school, because she chose her parents poorly? We all talk about education being the way up and out of poverty, but as soon as someone points out some of the very real obstacles that keep these top schools highly segregated by SES, it’s she shoulda known better?

    More to the point, many colleges see it as their mission to help bright kids from all walks of life. But to do that effectively, they need to understand that some of those kids have more and different problems than the higher SES kids, and so they need to devote some of their very significant resources to providing different kinds of support and mentoring to those kids.

  30. I just read an article about a program at Duke that is similar to Georgetown. My friends in NJ have a kid that they’re helping at Georgetown. This goes beyond buying interview clothes, but also helping the kids get the interviews.
    The truth is that many of us will be able to tap into our own networks when our kids need an internship or job interview.

    The programs at Duke and Georgetown try to help these kids while they’re attending the school, and they try to help them into their first job or grad school.

  31. In my case, I knew Harvard was above my station and did not apply there, though I was invited to a meeting with the Harvard recruiter who came to my HS. There were 3 of us invited, and we all had been to the same heavy metal concert the night before. We had not known about the recruiter until the day she arrived, so we weren’t prepared at all. We came in wearing our black concert Tshirts as was our custom the day after a show. We were all bleary eyed and frazzled. I suspect we did not look very impressive. In the end, none of us applied there.

    I knew there would be wealthy kids where I was going to school. The suprise for me was that there were so many of them, and more importantly, that they were so DIFFERENT.

  32. It is hard to guess what kind of schools my kids would not fit in at, right now. My oldest is at the point where I could predict that he would be unhappy at a school that emphasized fraternities and sports, or at a school with very conservative politics. That is about it right now.

  33. I had no clue when applying for college. I liked math and science, my parents said go engineering and the state school with the best reputation at the time was X, so go there. The end…no visit until after admission and trying to get housing, no consideration of housing or transportation (school was growing fast, but housing was not either on or off campus), etc. I can clearly see how she could get there an be clueless.

  34. Personally, I never felt that I “fit in” anywhere, and after a while I stopped trying, because it just didn’t matter ultimately in the big picture, but that knowledge only came with lots of experience and age.

    This. Whether it’s at school, work, kids activities, etc., I’ve always felt like there was an “in crowd” that I wasn’t part of.

  35. The suprise for me was that there were so many of them, and more importantly, that they were so DIFFERENT.

    What did you find so different?

  36. Off topic, I recall that someone here went to Iceland fairly recently (maybe Meme?). We are planning a trip there this summer and I’d love some tips on things to see and what we can skip. We’ll have the kids (14 and 12) with us.

  37. This article reminds me of a Vietnamese acquaintance who achieved academically and whose father was murdered during high school in a robbery at their family’s Asian grocery store.

    I’ve commented that the people I knew who went to Harvard for undergrad (vs. a specific grad program) haven’t wound up in defined “careers.” I wonder if, at elite schools, there are academically inclined people who love to learn but who don’t take their elite educations to the boardroom (that’s where I’d fit) and a few smart, business-oriented people who are driven to excel in business more than in academia.

    I’ve often thought about Lauren’s point, that most people who succeed have family support/connections through college at some level. My family was better off than the author’s family, but I worried about potential medical bills if I got, say, appendicitis. And the only way I would get interviews was through the career placement office.

    Unlike the author, I thought the kids from better-off families and their parents respected me. When I mowed lawns to go to math camp, I sensed that parents of kids whose parents could just pay respected me and, if I had lived closer, likely would have hired me.

  38. Looking back, there was no choose your room mate when I arrived. I roomed with different people and though I couldn’t call them friends, they in their own way taught me about various backgrounds. They were also very helpful – so if I had a question or required information, I could ask or if I needed to get somewhere I was shown how to or offered a ride. I did get the eye roll sometimes but I shrugged that off. I would assume the trend of choosing room mates very similar in background to oneself doesn’t allow for this sort of interaction.

  39. Everything about them was different. Lots of them were wealthy South Americans, who had travelled to lots of chic places and wore designer clothes. The NYC kids (a big contingent) spent every weekend running back down to Manhattan to do the clubs. They had fancy hobbies (some flew airplanes) and went skiing. They bought fancy shampoo without worrying about it, and went to nice hair salons. They could go out to a bar or disco and buy drinks. I just found I had nothing in common to talk about with them, and couldn’t afford to keep up socially anyway.

    I realize a lot of you don’t see any of this as weird, and in fact, my kids wouldn’t either. My kids go to the hair salon, and have travelled a lot. Lots of their friends ski. That is something I have posted here before – my kids are in a different world than the one in which I grew up. When I went to college, believe it or not, I had never had my hair cut in a salon. When I was in college, buying name brand shampoo meant blowing my budget for the week. My kids will hopefully not have to do that.

  40. I have shared before about arriving as a first gen college student at Ivy with my hand made clothes to meet my roommate from Nightingale Bamford, and I was hardly deprived, solidly middle class, went to high school in Bethesda, albeit at the the least prosperous of the three public high schools. The men’s side of my college had relaxed its quotas and had lots of my contemporaries – big city and suburban public school grads with high test scores. The women’s side – 4-1 ratio in those days, was more traditionally elite and much wealthier (financial aid was not yet merged). I blow hot and cold about my alma mater. I am in a cold period right now since DH won’t accompany me to events – I will skip the 45th reunion, I think, and re-up for 50. I have no regrets about the choice for undergrad. I leveraged the degree later in life. I certainly had no idea about rich people and high culture and never had any money for group activities. I had serious adjustment issues, and not all that many friends, but that is who I was in adolescence and adulthood. Acquiring professional success and enough money not to worry constantly is what changed my life forever, and that wasn’t until I hit my fifties.

  41. “I am honestly bothered by the “well, what did she expect?” tone. So, what, she should have kept to her own “kind,” lowered her sights, gone to a “lesser” school, because she chose her parents poorly? We all talk about education being the way up and out of poverty, but as soon as someone points out some of the very real obstacles that keep these top schools highly segregated by SES, it’s she shoulda known better?”

    I totally agree.

  42. Interesting. She is about my age, and in the mid-90s we definitely didn’t have internet access to college info, only books, brochures, and (if finances allowed!) campus visits. I had also never seen super rich people until I arrived at college, and definitely felt like an outsider to *some parts of the community* (the super rich parts!).

    “It wasn’t normal to be real or to be vulnerable.” << I never ever felt like this at college. Everyone I knew was struggling with something – many late-night conversations about the issues everyone was having. IIRC just about everyone I knew at college was both real and vulnerable.

    There were definitely fewer resources back then for mental health, etc., and I wonder whether her initial failure to find a good peer group, plus fewer resources, contributed to her depression in college being so severe.

  43. “and (if finances allowed!) campus visits.”

    Had I attended the HSS to which I was accepted. I would’ve gone in blind. A campus visit was not something that even entered my mind.

    “my kids are in a different world than the one in which I grew up. ”

    Ditto. My kids have been to multiple college campus visits to a number of HSS. We’re currently leaving our summer plans open so we could visit a campus in which DS is interested.

  44. “And the only way I would get interviews was through the career placement office.”

    Same for me, but engineering majors all had lots of interview opportunities.

  45. I read it as a success story overall. Does anyone get through their 20’s without some pain?

  46. I think it is funny how you are all assuming she had no prior knowledge of the school-when she doesn’t address this aspect at all (it is HARVARD!). we get the sense she was poor ,grew up working class, but she never speaks to why she chose the school, what other schools she applied to, and what her parent’s influence was (or was not). Everyone here is inferring that she had minimal info based on t he time she applied (no internet), bit no where does she get into this. I don’t think thinking “what did she expect” is bad necessarily when we have no clue what she DID expect. more background info would be helpful here

  47. “I knew Harvard was above my station and did not apply there”

    I didn’t know this. According to the college guidebooks in my HS library, my grades and test scores were above average. While no one from my HS that I knew of went there, there were some that went to Yale– 3 from the class 2 years ahead, one from the class one year ahead. One of my classmates was also accepted to Yale, but didn’t go due to financial considerations. These were all kids that I looked at as my academic peers, and so I had no reason to think I wouldn’t fit in academically.

    I didn’t even consider the social part of things. The college guidebooks didn’t mention them either.

  48. “I didn’t even consider the social part of things. The college guidebooks didn’t mention them either.”
    Ditto
    I think that’s why we’re engineers.

  49. “I would have assumed that the student populations at Harvard, Stanford, MIT, and Berkeley would have been relatively the same. They all draw for a similar group based on test scores. They also draw from all over the country. How could they be very different?”

    As I’ve looked into these (and other) schools recently, I’ve seen that there are differences.

    Berkeley applicants are heavily in-state, as are all the UCs. The student population is much more Asian than the others, as the UCs are not allowed to use race as an acceptance criterion.

    Geography is still a factor for the other schools, although to a lesser extent, especially for Harvard and MIT, at least according to some of the matching tools that show that ‘students who are interested in school A are also interested in…” IIRC, students interested in Stanford are also interested in Harvard and a bunch of CA schools, which students interested in Harvard are interested in Stanford and a bunch of schools in the northeast.

    I’d also guess that MIT students are, as a group, more techie than the others.

  50. I didn’t even consider the social part of things. The college guidebooks didn’t mention them either.

    Another ditto. I didn’t know anyone back then who thought about that aspect. Everyone I knew picked colleges by major and what they thought about the campus when they visited. Nobody I knew talked about the demographics of the student body or anything like that.

  51. “I didn’t know this. According to the college guidebooks in my HS library, my grades and test scores were above average. While no one from my HS that I knew of went there, there were some that went to Yale– 3 from the class 2 years ahead, one from the class one year ahead. One of my classmates was also accepted to Yale, but didn’t go due to financial considerations. These were all kids that I looked at as my academic peers, and so I had no reason to think I wouldn’t fit in academically.”

    Again, I agree with Finn.

    I didn’t apply to any Ivies because I didn’t want to go to school that far away – I never considered that I would be a fish out of water academically or socially. The distance part was a discussion that I did have with my parents. My parents wanted to make sure that I knew that if I went to school far away that I would not have the ability to come home very often as they couldn’t afford plane tickets for times other than Christmas break, and that they were unlikely to be able to visit with limited funds and two other young kids at home. And we weren’t poor like this girl – we were solidly middle class (actually middle class, not upper middle class & pretending). When I was a HS senior, at first glance, this didn’t seem like a BAD thing, but I ultimately went to school 3 hours away, which was probably the right distance for me. I did ultimately want to be able to come home for Thanksgiving and short breaks as well as having my parents come up for Parents’ Weekend and the like.

  52. To Anon – I agree she didn’t say what she did expect, but maybe that is because she had no clear expectation. At that age, I knew Harvard was a good school, very far away from where I lived, and very expensive (so I concluded you had to be rich to go there). I am not sure I had a clear expectation of college. Hmm…I’d be living in a apartment off campus with a girl from my high school that I didn’t know well, I was taking 13 hours of classes the first semester – 4 courses plus a lab, which meant 15 hours in the classroom each week; once I went to classs I’d find out what I needed books/supplies and would have to go buy them at the book store; there were football games (tickets came as part of the package) and a lot of clubs and activities (if I could figure out how to join them). Then I went to my 2-day orientation – it was the second time I’d been on campus – and got more information that was helpful. Of the couple hundred people in my session and 25 in my small group, I only ever saw one of them again.

  53. I think the percentage of kids that receive financial aid at these schools has increased so hopefully there are more kids like the author at each of the top schools. The problem is that I think the other end is growing too, or at least is more visible. Kids are aware of the socioeconomic differences between the different groups. For example, one of my friends is solidly in the 1%, but her DD came home from college and explained that there are “really rich” kids, and she isn’t part of this clique. These are kids that go to Soul Cycle instead of the field house. She said their parents pay for on campus housing because it is required, but the kids actually live off campus in real apartments and houses.

  54. Another plus 1 for not considering the social aspects of the college I went to and I don’t know anyone who really did other than my brother that by then knew about cousins that had chosen poorly and ended up leaving after a year. This was well before there was much talk about introverts and extroverts and just when the party school ratings were coming out so I think the idea of fit beyond desired major, geographic region or overall cost was foreign to many of us. I certainly don’t think it played any part in my parent’s choice of colleges and so they didn’t think to mention it to me. I am absolutely considering it for my kids, especially since DD is an introvert and quirky. She would be overwhelmed and lost in a large flagship university.

  55. I’m older than some of you, and the hardcopy college guides DID mention some social stuff when I applied to college. There were sections about whether there was a Greek life, percentage of students involved etc. It was minimal, but there was some information about social stuff.

    California is now the leading feeder state for many of the top schools on the east coast. This is a trend that you will see if you look at the stats from Duke, Ivies, and other top 30 private schools. The second and third place states might still be NY, NJ, NC, Mass – but the growth is coming from CA.

  56. There were sections about whether there was a Greek life, percentage of students involved etc. It was minimal, but there was some information about social stuff.

    But that didn’t translate into anything meaningful. I went to a flagship state U that had one of the largest greek systems in the country, and the school promoted that 1/3 of students were involved. All that meant to me was 2/3 of the students weren’t involved, so if I didn’t want to join a fraternity it wouldn’t impact anything.

  57. “She said their parents pay for on campus housing because it is required, but the kids actually live off campus in real apartments and houses.”

    I don’t get this. I guess that’s because I’ve never been that rich and don’t think like that.

    Fortunately, I don’t think my kids think like that either. I know that one thing DS wants is a school that guarantees on campus housing through graduation. He really enjoys hanging out with his friends at school, and is looking forward to even more of that sort of social interaction.

  58. High schoolers today and in the future have so much more information at their fingertips. From the school’s own website, to College Confidential/Consumer Reports style reviews, to individual blogs. These students will have a much better idea of all aspects of the college experience. Students may be able to find a peer group before they set foot on campus – unlike the author. Sure, reality will catch up with the college students. But the slope to reality may not be as steep as it was for the author.

  59. “I didn’t apply to any Ivies because I didn’t want to go to school that far away – I never considered that I would be a fish out of water academically or socially. The distance part was a discussion that I did have with my parents. My parents wanted to make sure that I knew that if I went to school far away that I would not have the ability to come home very often as they couldn’t afford plane tickets for times other than Christmas break, and that they were unlikely to be able to visit with limited funds and two other young kids at home. And we weren’t poor like this girl – we were solidly middle class (actually middle class, not upper middle class & pretending)”

    ditto

    I did not apply to any schools more than a few hour drive away

  60. I’ve mentioned this book before, but I loved this Tom Wolfe book about a poor girl from NC attending an elite school “I am Charlotte Simmons”

    “Tom Wolfe, the master social novelist of our time, the spot-on chronicler of all things contemporary and cultural, presents a sensational new novel about life, love, and learning–or the lack of it–amid today’s American colleges.

    Our story unfolds at fictional Dupont University: those Olympian halls of scholarship housing the cream of America’s youth, the roseate Gothic spires and manicured lawns suffused with tradition . . . Or so it appears to beautiful, brilliant Charlotte Simmons, a sheltered freshman from North Carolina. But Charlotte soon learns, to her mounting dismay, that for the upper-crust coeds of Dupont, sex, cool, and kegs trump academic achievement every time.

    As Charlotte encounters the paragons of Dupont’s privileged elite–her roommate, Beverly, a Groton-educated Brahmin in lusty pursuit of lacrosse players; Jojo Johanssen, the only white starting player on Dupont’s godlike basketball team, whose position is threatened by a hotshot black freshman from the projects; the Young Turk of Saint Ray fraternity, Hoyt Thorpe, whose heady sense of entitlement and social domination is clinched by his accidental brawl with a bodyguard for the governor of California; and Adam Geller, one of the Millennial Mutants who run the university’s “independent” newspaper and who consider themselves the last bastion of intellectual endeavor on the sex-crazed, jock-obsessed campus–she is seduced by the heady glamour of acceptance, betraying both her values and upbringing before she grasps the power of being different–and the exotic allure of her own innocence.

    With his trademark satirical wit and famously sharp eye for telling detail, Wolfe draws on extensive observations at campuses across the country to immortalize the early-21st-century college-going experience.”

  61. I applied *only* to schools outside my state – I wanted to get out! Mostly within a day’s drive (or bus ride) though.

  62. Finn, I don’t get it either, but that’s the difference between the basic 1% and the top echelon of the 1%. To Mooshi’s point, some of these kids were not American when I attended school, and I think some of that holds true today. If you grew up in a home with staff, then it might not be a stretch for a parent to want to provide that in another country.

    As to Soul Cycle, I could see that with some of the girls from counties like mine would like to continue their studio classes in college because it is what they are used to in their home towns, because I see those kids in my studios around here. Some of these kids just grow up with these experiences and they don’t want to stop once they start college. I look at the young cousins that we know in college, and their experiences are vastly different and it is based on income. Some of our cousins are attending state universities in NY, and they come home by bus or ride shares during holidays. They work during the breaks. We have another set of cousins attending college and they just spent their vacation on an island. They travel with their friends on private planes or first class, and it is just a completely different part of the 1%.

  63. I only have stats from my own alma mater, but I can see the percentage of kids that receive at least some form of financial aid is 65% – 68%. I think the kids that are really wealthy are visible, or kids talk about them so it seems like there are more wealthy kids than the reality.

  64. I suppose there’s something to be said for my alma mater’s model in that I can’t imagine a system where your parents’ socioeconomic status could be any less relevant in terms of social dynamics.

  65. Hi Rhode!! Last time I visited you were about to have your baby! How is your little one?

  66. A certain proportion of that financial aid, though, is piddly amounts that are based on merit or athletics.

  67. DD- I stayed in a fairly centrally located farm house a few years ago when we went. (By central, it was about 90 min to Rejkavik and 90 min to Geysir). Had an amazing northern lights show – they came and woke us up to tell us to come outside.

    I can’t find my confirmation – I think it was this place:
    http://www.lambastadir.is/

  68. Also, found driving to be very straightforward there, and rental cars/gas to not be crazy expensive.

  69. My kids are past the college application stage, but I am reliving it on the other side of the table. As a newbie admissions reader, I am “working from the bottom” of the pile, with respect to GPA, test scores, and URM status. Even in that cohort, most of my files so far have been kids from stable families and comfortable financial backgrounds (amazing what you can figure out from what appears on the common app). Vast majority of parents are college grads, and many are professionals. Most kids have taken the SAT multiple times (and still didn’t break 1400). Most of their classmates are headed for college. Very few of them have worked full-time non-intern type summer jobs.

    It is very easy to see that a child of any color from a working class family will have a hard time fitting in with kids like these. And it is also very easy to see the huge advantages enjoyed by kids like, well, ours. I am doing my best to give a boost (as in, not immediately rejecting) the kids with OK numbers who are taking 8 APs at a mediocre public school, but, frankly, I’m just not seeing very many applicants like that. That is the problem. Those kids are out there, but selective schools haven’t yet figured out how to reach out to them before the die is cast in high school. Even the best among them are at a distinct disadvantage in the application/admissions process, and only the strongest among them will have the inner resources to thrive at those schools that may take a leap and admit them.

  70. Scarlett, are there numerous applicants with higher standardized test scores from mediocre public schools? Finn and I have talked about debaters. There were a dozen of us on the circuit who had 33-36 ACT composites and several of those were NMSF. At least some of us were from working class and/or single parent families, but at that time, financial aid policies were such that no working class kids went to prestigious private schools. One fellow debater attended a military academy and is now a professor at George Mason. I’m not sure if he is the kind of person that prestigious private schools seek or not.

  71. “Most kids have taken the SAT multiple times (and still didn’t break 1400). ”

    Is that 1400 out of 1600, or 1400 out of 2400?

    “And it is also very easy to see the huge advantages enjoyed by kids like, well, ours.”

    A big reason my kids have the advantages they do is because my parents, and my grandparents, made sacrifices that put their kids into positions to be parents that provided those advantages to their kids.

  72. WCE,
    I am too new to be entrusted with more competitive files, so I’m not yet seeing kids with 32+ ACT or 1350+ SAT from any school, mediocre or otherwise. But I’ve seen a few kids from urban public magnet schools who took 6+ AP courses and rank in top 10% of class but who have low ACT scores, poor essays, and standard letters of recommendation (nice kid, works hard, respectful, leader, liked by peers, etc.). Perhaps the kids at very top of those schools can present a stronger application, but just comparing the letters of recommendation from those schools compared to better private or public schools — it’s like night and day. The more expensive the school and smaller the class, the more adjectives in the letters….

    Rhett,

    I meant that by the time kids are in 9th grade, it is usually too late to bring the bright but underprivileged kids up to the same level as their Totebag peers. They haven’t taken Algebra in 8th grade, so without summer school Calculus is off the table. Schools like to see Calculus. They haven’t been taking Spanish or Latin since 6th grade, so they will never catch up there. Many schools require 2 years of a foreign language. They don’t have parents willing and able to help them follow their passions in sports or art, so they may be consigned to JV teams and the third-string orchestra. They don’t have a passport and probably have never been on an airplane, so they aren’t going to sign up for summer overseas mission trips, even if someone else pays for it. Etc.

    Finn,

    1400/1600. Our school, like many, pays no attention to the SAT writing score. And I totally get your point. But there are still too many kids who, because of circumstances entirely out of their control, are shut out from the best schools. And those kids among them who happen to be white, or who aren’t “first-generation” college students because one of their parents took 6 years to graduate from a directional school you have never heard of, are largely overlooked in the preferential admissions process.

  73. Scarlet,

    Most of those things seem fairly easy to discount if, per the NYTimes article, they choose to discount them.

  74. Rhett, that article concludes with “They’re realizing that many kids admitted into top schools are emotional wrecks or slavish adherents to soulless scripts that forbid the exploration of genuine passions.”

    Umm…doesn’t that describe the children of Tiger Parents, aka Asians?

  75. Scarlett, are they rockin’ the AP tests (4’s and 5’s on challenging AP tests) or do you see lower AP scores? I’m curious if people who don’t break 1400 on the SAT do well on AP tests. My school’s AP classes were, umm, not necessarily focused on the AP exams so people did well who could BS the essay questions and guess well on the multiple choice.

  76. IMO, 1400/1600 is pretty good score (about 96 %ile), and a lot of kids will never break 1400/1600, no matter how many times they try.

    I don’t see that many kids, especially those that can’t get a 1400, getting shut out of the best schools is a tragedy. After all, if the best schools didn’t take the best students, they wouldn’t stay the best schools. There are a lot of options below the best that can prepare kids for productive lives that could allow them to provide their kids with more of the benefits they didn’t have themselves.

  77. WCE, applicants can choose not to report AP Test Scores, so I don’t always see them, but I have been surprised by more than a few applicants who have gotten 4’s and 5’s on AP tests but did not excel in the underlying classes OR score well on the SAT/ACT. And I am also surprised at the number of mid-tier public schools that offer more than a dozen AP classes, as well as the inability of some AP teachers to put together a coherent letter.

  78. Finn, I agree that these are first world problems. All of the kids we reject will be accepted at perfectly good schools. My objection is that the definition of “best students” is still too narrowly focused on a handful of metrics, most of which favor the children of UMC families, and which also result in so much unnecessary and truly harmful pressure on many of those children.

  79. Speaking of the ultra wealthy reminded me about a new show, Billions. I thought I would really like it based on the promos, but I am not sure if I liked it.

  80. Finn, how do you define the “best schools”? Is it how few applicants get admitted? Is it the amount of money the grads make? Is it the quality if instruction?

  81. @RMS or others – what is the reputation of UC Berkley ? It seemed to me that at one point Stanford and Berkley were seen as being at the same level but now it seems that Stanford has more mentions. Is it also because now Berkley is seen as less diverse owing to its high number of Asian students and therefore a less interesting place than in the past.

  82. Louise, Berkeley in 1978 was already viewed as a “Chinese girls’ school”. Of course that was an exaggeration. I don’t think it will ever be homogeneous or boring. The Berkeley engineering school is very well-regarded and many other programs are currently very strong. I believe admissions are pretty selective at this point. My life experience is so horribly out of date that I’m sure others (or people on College Confidential) can give you better info.

  83. Louise, I don’t know that Stanford and Berkeley were ever seen at the same level, but it does seem like there’s more separation in perception now.

    To my knowledge, a big factor has been the cuts in state funding to UCs. The DS of a friend living in CA decided against UCB, and all the UCs, in part because the funding cuts have made it more difficult for students to get the classes they need or want to take.

    I’ve heard that the race-blind admissions policy has raised academic standards.
    I’ve not heard that it’s less diverse due to the high Asian percentage.

    The race-blind admissions that have resulted in the high Asian percentage at UCs has also boosted their positions in at least one ranking:

    http://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2015/09/university-california-top-rankings-asian-students/407080/

  84. DD– my definition is based on my perceptions. A lot of it is based on the academic standards for admission.

  85. When I applied to colleges in the 80s, several of my HS classmates were accepted to Berkeley. I even lived in a fraternity at Berkely for ten days with a close HS friend. I know that my friends that attended Berkeley wouldn’t have been able to gain acceptance to Stanford, and this was in the 80s.

    Louise, I hope you have a chance to visit both schools in person. A lot of the staff in DH west coast office have graduated from either from Berkeley or Stanford. undergrads and MBAs. DH never had a chance to visit Berkeley until I took him on a recent vacation. I think he was surprised at the vast difference between the schools. The facilities at Stanford are amazing. It is a gorgeous campus, and it seems to go on forever. Berkeley is a state school and the financial resources are more limited. Some of his younger colleagues have said that they wouldn’t send their own kids there because it can be difficult to get into certain classes due to budget cuts. I am sure that most people would get a great education in either university, but they’ve always been perceived differently in my adult life. I wouldn’t describe Berkeley as less interesting due to diversity of the student body. In my opinion based on this recent visit, it does have a diverse student body in a very interesting neighborhood. I think you also have to look at certain majors that a school excels in when comparing universities too.

  86. Growing up in the Bay Area, same vintage as RMS and from the Berkeley side of the bay, Stanford was always seen as a step above/ahead of Cal.

  87. Finn, what does a best school provide that a lesser school doesn’t? You obviously want your kids to go to the best school they can. But what is the effect on them going to be if they go to the University of Colorado instead of Harvard? And what is the cause of that effect (the difference in the caliber of the students, the faculty, reputation, etc.)?

    I don’t mean to pick on you, I just never hear people explain what actually makes one school “better” than another other than reputation.

  88. DD, we’ve discussed here before how having a degree from a ‘better’ school can matter a lot in academia, i.e., someone with a degree, especially PhD, from Harvard is probably going to have a better shot at getting a professorship somewhere than the University of Colorado grad.

    Similarly, if you aspire to the SCOTUS, your odds seem a lot better if you went to Harvard, Yale, or Columbia than just about anywhere else.

    There are numerous factors at play. One is the caliber of students; SAT stats give some idea of that. Better students mean classes can be conducted at a higher level.

    Larger endowments are a big factor, which also facilitates better facilities and, possibly, better faculty. Top schools also attract more research grants, creating more opportunities for students.

  89. Hi Providence! How’s NYC?? I have to remember to try to get in touch with you when I’m down that way. Except I don’t have your email anymore… You have 2 little boys, right?

    I had a little boy just over a year ago. He is a preemie and still working with the challenges that come with that. But he’s doing great. Crawling, furniture cruising, and just being a punk. Life is sure different. In a fantastic way. My life is very full and I can’t quite remember my life before this.

  90. Finn, I appreciate the response.

    “My life is very full and I can’t quite remember my life before this.”

    This is one of those male/female differences. I remember those child-free days very vividly and fondly. It’s the same as how I remember all the sleepless nights when the kids were little (especially with DD), and DW continues to say it wasn’t bad. Or how I remember how bad DW’s morning sickness was with DD – her daily comment was “If it was this bad with DS, we wouldn’t have had another” – and she doesn’t recall that at all.

  91. Thanks everyone for your comments. Random thoughts on colleges….
    DH and I visited the Stanford campus a long time ago and loved the architecture. We also visited Cornell and in our minds we couldn’t see ourselves going to college there, because it appeared so remote. I want to say it is a land grant university and if you were in one of those majors and from the Northeast, then I suppose it would be an option. Of course, I am partial to the colleges in the hub of the universe – Boston. I don’t know where my kids will land but as far as life outside of the books, there is a lot to do there, the T is available and there are job opportunities for young grads.

  92. The Common App already provides for students to describe community service, family responsibilities, and paid work. Admissions staff are free to use that information as they see fit. And individual schools can require additional information on anything they please. If a student has more than a “check off the box” commitment to volunteer service, it will definitely be apparent, either through the hours/tasks described, the CAE, or the letters of recommendation. It only takes a few minutes to figure that out. Most kids already list multiple volunteer spots, and most of them are standard and token. The real volunteer “stars” stand out, just as the kids at the top of the class stand out and the outstanding writers stand out. Students who have jobs or who have to look after younger sibs and have few other activities can also make that clear. I don’t know about other readers, but I look carefully at those (very few so far) applications to see if their lower scores and fewer XC may have been affected by those duties.

    Admissions staff have to sift through thousands of applications in just a few weeks in order to produce a smaller pile for discussion. Each application has 7 separate parts to review. We can spend about 20 minutes per file. There have to be some easily measured metrics, such as test scores and class rank, to thin out the pile of otherwise interchangeable students, but IMO the existing application already gives us enough information to make some initial quick decisions and to discount the metrics in appropriate cases. Each university can decide on its own priorities among academics, activities, service, work, family duties, etc. But obviously colleges face their own pressure, from various stakeholders, to keep increasing the metrics of the admitted students. Once you start boasting, “This year’s class has been the most accomplished so far, with perfect SAT scores and GPAs” it’s hard to stop.

  93. Denver, I think there is actual memory loss associated with childbirth and the early months of motherhood – at least for me :)

  94. Our family history retelling begins with DW saying “When I was pregnant with X,Y, or Z… .”

  95. Denver – Sky’s right – some memory loss. Some of it is moving so fast I haven’t had time to say, “huh 2 years ago today I wasn’t pregnant and was probably doing XYZ”. I do remember everything vividly from 2014-2015 because both years were filled with consistently high emotional states. I’m also pretty confident that the memory loss Sky mentioned is the reason women have more than one child. If women truly remembered everything, they wouldn’t go through it again.

  96. I am also pretty sure that sleep deprivation causes short-term memory loss, so you don’t remember how bad it is to be so sleep-deprived when you have a newborn. (This should apply to both parents. :))

  97. @Rhode – Brooklyn is awesome, but we’re actually moving back to RI at the end of next week!! 2 in daycare here is killing us, and we miss our family and friends! It’s bittersweet, but I can’t wait to be home! Yes, I have two boys – 3 and 9 mos. They are also major punks. :)

    I totally feel you on barely remembering life before this. Maybe it’s the sleep deprivation? After our first, DH and I would say, “what the heck did we do with all of our time before DS?”. Now we say, “what the heck did w/ all of our time when we only had DS1?”.

  98. “Finn, what does a best school provide that a lesser school doesn’t?”

    I went to name brand schools. The names of my schools were absolutely essential in helping me get a job in corporate finance. My bank would have never hired my DH (who went to a second/third tier college) because of his alma mater. My alma maters have helped me get every job I’ve had, primarily because I worked for bosses with Ivy degrees and they had that bias.

    That said, DH is well respected in a competitive field. In his field, where you went to college/grad school matters less than your actual experience. DS is planning to go into engineering and most employers in Texas don’t care if you went to MIT or UT.

    I guess it just depends on your chosen field.

  99. @Houston – But how do you know that going in? Especially when they may change majors along the way?

    My degree, not the school, got me in the door, but then it was prove yourself or you are gone. Of course, there were resources (OJT for organization specific processes, access to mentors, etc) to help you prove yourself, but attitude, work ethic, and the ability to make changes based on feedback were more critical once in the door.

  100. There’s a new report coming out today that recommends colleges place less emphasis on test scores and focus more on other stuff (how much a student truly cares?) in an effort to improve the admissions process. Fine, but I believe affluent students will continue to find ways to game the system.

    I found it interesting that there’s a subtle difference in what Frank Bruni wrote (in the NYT article) and and what he said (in the morning show interview) about test scores.

    Article:
    The report recommends less emphasis on standardized test scores, which largely correlate with family income.

    Interview:
    What standardized tests judge more than anything else is family income …

  101. Providence – welcome back! I can believe how expensive it would be. If you want to meet up again when life settles down, let me know. Somehow, I think our 3 boys would be friends! LOL!

    I think I remember one thing I did with my time – clean out my DVR. It’s perpetually at 50-75% full. I’m kinda happy that a lot of my shows are ending this year… I can catch up on everything else and then decide if I want to devote time to another show.

  102. Austin: I struggle with that question, too. DS will be applying for colleges soon, and many colleges require that you select your major and apply to that major. Of course, the admissions standards vary greatly by major. Some colleges require you to go even further–you have to apply for a Mechanical Engineering spot–not just to the Engineering College. How do kids know? How can they commit?

    Regarding investment banking and management consulting, I think it’s pretty well known that they recruit from a fixed number of schools. Of course there are exceptions, and you can probably network your way in. You can also start your career at a second tier investment bank and transition to Goldman, etc. after a few years of experience, if you want.

    However, my parents were immigrants and I came from Texas–I had no clue what these companies were or what they did. I learned because they came to campus over and over again to recruit and educate the students (and host lunches, and give out swag). This is a huge disadvantage for students from non-target schools, as they don’t get the warm welcome.

  103. I came from a very middle class family and went to a SLAC which gave me a lot of financial aid. There were definitely wealthy kids, but a lot of middle class kids too. and it was located in the middle of no where, so their really was no pressure to keep up financially because there was nothing to do. Just dive bars, fraternity parties and one clothing store in town which was terrible. I felt like I fit in from the start, joined a sorority and had a great time. I wonder if location of college matters as far as fitting in economically (going to school in a city is much more expensive). We have a few friends from school who are old Connecticut money types and I never felt like they cared about what type of family you came from.

  104. Houston: I think you are right that more than one path exists to get where you decide to go, but if you go the longer route (not the right school, no recruiters, start at second tier, etc), it will affect your lifetime income and some may always question your abilities.

    Sounds like your DS and my DD are very close in age.

  105. Rhett, thanks for that link.

    Thus, just as it was originally designed to do, the SAT in fact goes a long way toward leveling the playing field, giving students an opportunity to distinguish themselves regardless of their background. Scoring well on the SAT may in fact be the only such opportunity for students who graduate from public high schools that are regarded by college admissions offices as academically weak.

  106. It’s always a little dangerous when I try to make a sports metaphor. However, for most people choosing which school to attend based on whether Goldman Sachs recruits there, is kind of like choosing your university because it has sent many players to the NFL. For the vast majority, none of us are playing in the NFL no matter which university we attend. Similarly, Most will never hold one of the elite management consulting jobs with the potential for seven figure income.

  107. I’d gladly support my kids if it’s the direction they want to go, but a top tier school/top tier job isn’t really on my priority list for my children. I went to a pretty average private college (after spending 2 years in community college), and got a job at a great company (that I’m still with today) that offers me a decent income, with great work/life balance. I’d be thrilled for my kids to follow the same path.

  108. The other problem with shifting the emphasis to volunteer/community service is that these are kids with limited skill sets who want to volunteer at charities with limited resources. That’s great, but then some adult has to structure, organize, and supervise these well-meaning but unskilled helpers. Many organizations are already overwhelmed with the kids who have high school community service obligations. And, again, as was pointed out above, UMC kids will have a distinct advantage in snagging the “best” volunteer jobs.

    So long as there are too many kids chasing a fixed number of spots in top schools (however defined), there will be competition for whatever activities/achievements/scores support the metrics the schools are using, and the kids with the most resources will have an advantage.

  109. “It’s always a little dangerous when I try to make a sports metaphor. However, for most people choosing which school to attend based on whether Goldman Sachs recruits there, is kind of like choosing your university because it has sent many players to the NFL. For the vast majority, none of us are playing in the NFL no matter which university we attend. Similarly, Most will never hold one of the elite management consulting jobs with the potential for seven figure income.”

    I agree.

    My personal experience is also the exact opposite of Houston’s in the same field. I went to a second-tier SLAC, and I got hired into a prestigious company and program right out of school because I interned at one of their manufacturing presence recruited there. Just not NYC investment banks.

  110. “Just not NYC investment banks.”

    Precisely. For kids who want (or think they want) to go into certain IB or similar programs, usually NYC or another big city, certain schools are the way to go. But there are very few kids who focus that narrowly.

  111. “The real volunteer “stars” stand out, just as the kids at the top of the class stand out and the outstanding writers stand out.”

    Scarlett, I’m wondering how much weight is given to the application essays, and how, or if, you determine how much of the essay is the work of the applicant. I imagine a fair number of essays are ghost written.

    I’m thinking that if you want to assess the writing ability of the applicants, it would be more informative to ready their SAT essays, which are proctored and have a much more level field than the application essays.

  112. “for most people choosing which school to attend based on whether Goldman Sachs recruits there”

    Interesting that you mention Goldman. I’ve read that one or their hiring criteria is SAT scores.

  113. “But there are very few kids who focus that narrowly.”

    I would put it the other way around: why make the self-limiting choice before you even know who you want to be?

    I had ZERO clue what I wanted to be when I grew up (still don’t, mostly). So my educational and career choices were largely focused on the goal of “keeping all my options open for the day I finally figure it all out.”

    If you know for sure you want to do X, or Y is all you can afford or get into, then sure, go to that “lesser” school — there is evidence aplenty that you can be happy and successful and live a good life. But if you don’t know, and if you have the grades and the $$/financial aid to get into a top school (and the psyche and the habits to succeed there), then by all means, go for it. If the worst outcome is you don’t get that position at GS or MS, the Harvard degree is not exactly a sucky consolation prize.

  114. The only counterpoint to that thinking, LfB, is if you spend $125k above and beyond the cost of your in-state option and end up working alongside those who went to College Park.

  115. “Thus, just as it was originally designed to do, the SAT in fact goes a long way toward leveling the playing field, giving students an opportunity to distinguish themselves regardless of their background.”

    What I’ve read and heard about the new SAT suggests to me that the SAT is going away from that.

    The old SAT, e.g., going back to when I took it, did not seem like a test of what we’d learned so much as a test of our abilities to reason. E.g., my guess is that many of the vocabulary words were selected in large part due to the likelihood that they would not be part of most test takers’ vocabularies, and thus required use of things like contextual clues and similarities to other words to make a best choice from among the choices presented. Math questions were not a regurgitation of stuff from algebra or geometry, and often did not require a strong math background so much as a rational thought process based on a limited math background.

    As such, it was well suited to pick out the diamonds in the rough, the bright kids stuck in poor schools. I believe it is also why it was appropriate for programs like at Johns Hopkins to have MS kids take it, to identify bright kids.

    From what I’ve heard, the new SAT will be more aligned with the common core, and will be more of a test of what was learned, and will thus be less of a test of innate reasoning ability, and thus will not be as good at identifying the rough diamonds.

    Another example of this is the institution of the penalty on not guessing. I would guess that is one of the things that test prep courses will emphasize, and thus will put those unable to take such courses, or unaware of their existence or how to access them, at a relative disadvantage. The old test was neutral on guessing, and neither rewarded nor penalized totally random guessing.

  116. @Milo — Well, yeah, I was thinking that “all things being equal” is basically cheating, because all things are never equal. So I guess the question is how much of a delta is worth it? IDK the answer to that, suspect it is highly individual.

    Interesting data point: my niece (bright but not exceptional, probably typical UMC) was just admitted to her first-choice-decent-but-not-very-competitive regional SLAC (only place she applied to!). She did not even fill out the FAFSA, because she knew she would not qualify, and they just offered over $100K in grants over four years. Why? Because (1) they wanted her, so (2) they offered just enough in scholarships to make her cost the same as Flagship State U.

    So I tend to favor “take a shot, you never know what will happen.”

  117. I was in meetings all day yesterday and missed the conversation.

    Yes, I am concerned about my daughter fitting in at college. She has applied at a number of schools and we are playing the waiting game now. She rejected one college out of hand at a recruitment fair because of a recruiter’s comment about sustainable ag. She also rejected Yale because of a report published by some Yale researchers. She had done a better job on the topic as an 8th grader for a 4H presentation, however, it is a school on the other side of the continent and to be charitable, maybe they just didn’t have the contacts to do decent research.

    I am concerned that if she goes to a SLAC, she will be the only one their from an ag background, and four years is a long time to keep hearing that your dad is busy poisoning the planet.

    I transferred after my first year at a college because of the social atmosphere. I ended up at a land grant university where it was not cool to display wealth. I learned after a graduated that “Bill” was actually heir to a multimillion dollar international privately held corporation. He drove an reliable car and went to the same dive bars as the rest of us.

  118. On the cost question, one of the surprising things we have learned so far this year is that there are lots of scholarships out there. So far, DD has been offered scholarships that make the cost of attending each school she has been accepted at equal to state flagship.

  119. Murphy, my colleague whose child had “acceptable” grades/SAT scores had the same “scholarships make it comparable to instate university” experience with Gonzaga.

    I know you and I have similar views on agriculture and I think a commitment to organic food is a marker of a “proper” educated, liberal mom, not a decision based on science.

    I’ll be thinking of you next weekend as I drive through California for the first time.

  120. The WSJ had an article recently that said it is always important to fill out the FAFSA because it would demonstrate to some colleges that you can pay the full cost. Also, the example that LfB mentions above merit aid – you never know.

    It is interesting that the admissions officers from my university highlight how difficult it is to pull kids out of Texas. Many of the kids that they accept from Texas do not attend because they would prefer to stay in state for much less money if they can attend UT. Also, if an applicant knows that they will probably stay in Texas for their career/life, the alum network that they can draw from at UT might be more useful than an Ivy.

  121. “The WSJ had an article recently that said it is always important to fill out the FAFSA because it would demonstrate to some colleges that you can pay the full cost”

    Meaning that you (the student) would be a more desirable admit since they would be paying full freight vs. using some of the limited aid pool?

  122. On fit – my husband and daughter were both pitching to my son that they think he should go to community college for a year or two then transfer. Their thought process is that given his tendency to anxiety (and it can be significant) that getting used to college while living at home instead of a dorm would be beneficial, particularly that he just doesn’t eat if he doesn’t like the food. The logical side of my brain agrees, but I admit to feeling vaguely disappointed at the idea. He is the kid that got annoyed when we got him an iPhone 6 because there was absolutely nothing wrong with the old phone, so when he came to understand the cost savings and that all the courses would transfer, he was fine with the idea. I’m still taking him on college visits and having him apply to the school’s he’s interested in to keep all of his options open, but looks like I’m going to have to be open-minded as well. Providence – thanks for sharing your background.

  123. WCE, As you drive through California, I would suggest going down I-5 for one way on the journey and 101 highway 1 for another. Big Sur is stunningly beautiful (along the coast) and the engineer in you might well appreciate the California aqueduct and other engineering marvels in the Central Valley.

  124. WCE, yes, I know the organic/sustainable ag thing is a marker of right thinking. At that college fair, she took it to mean her kind weren’t welcome there. She has plenty of options, and if it was Harvard, maybe it would have been worth it to suck it up for four years, keep her opinions to herself.

    Back to the original article, I think it is really hard for us who are adults, have the internet at our fingertips, and have been in all manner of situations to understand how someone from her background could show up at Harvard and expect to fit in. But, 17 is just ten years from believing in Santa Claus and the tooth fairy.

  125. I have worked in three completely different fields (one of which involved several different industries as well) and I’ve never encountered anywhere where what college you went to mattered, especially for people with even one job’s worth of experience. So the idea that there are fields/industries where your alma mater is so important is just baffling to me.

  126. It has been almost 30 years since I graduated from college. People still ask where I went. Fortunately for me, the university has become much more selective since I gradated.

  127. Yes, I think I read something a while ago that discussed how some of these candidates are desirable if they can pay. I bet that is the appeal of some of these kids from other countries. They provide diversity, and they usually pay the full amount.

  128. “Also, if an applicant knows that they will probably stay in Texas for their career/life, the alum network that they can draw from at UT might be more useful than an Ivy.”

    This isn’t unique to Texas. it’s true of many cities/regions. And the more experienced you get, the less the name of your college matters, IMHO.

  129. “Meaning that you (the student) would be a more desirable admit since they would be paying full freight vs. using some of the limited aid pool?”

    Yes, for some schools! A big part of enrollment management is finding enough wealthy applicants who will be able to subsidize their fellow students. Especially for borderline students, being able to pay full freight can be the boost that gets you in.

    The Common App asks if the student intends to pursue financial aid.

  130. It has been almost 30 years since I graduated from college. People still ask where I went.

    People still ask me where I went, but just as curiosity not as a job-screening tool.

  131. “WCE, As you drive through California, I would suggest going down I-5 for one way on the journey and 101 highway 1 for another.”

    Unless you’re making some stops along the way at places like Yosemite or Sequoia, in which case you might want to take 99, at least part of the way.

    If you do take I-5 south of , you might want to consider a meal stop at Harris Ranch. It’s in the middle of nowhere, roughly halfway between the LA area and the Bay Area. It’s been a while, but when I’d drive from SV down to SC, that was a regular stop. I loved the ribs there.

  132. Oops, If you do take I-5 south of Stockton, you might want to consider a meal stop at Harris Ranch.

  133. ” one of the surprising things we have learned so far this year is that there are lots of scholarships out there. So far, DD has been offered scholarships that make the cost of attending each school she has been accepted at equal to state flagship.”

    This is what I’ve been telling WCE, that barring huge upheaval in college admissions and financial aid, her kids are likely to have a lot of options with net costs comparable to or less than that of state flagship and/or land grant U.

  134. “it is always important to fill out the FAFSA ”

    I’ve also read that filling out the FAFSA is necessary to get work-study jobs, which can be available even to kids who don’t qualify for need-based aid.

  135. Finn, the cost for my colleague’s son was lower than the list price for State U but not than the net price, since my colleague’s son also had scholarships from State U. In that range, I’d pay extra for private college that was strong in the field my child wanted to study.

    We have friends who are shelling out for religious colleges in either an unremunerative field or in a field (nursing) where you can go to Directional State U for $9000 and live at home. When I hear “private colleges”, that’s what I’m usually thinking of. You don’t make more as an RN because you went to a private college.

  136. Murphy, is your DD a senior now? I remember you mentioned her scores earlier, that they were high enough that they would not keep her out of any school, even as someone who isn’t an URM.

    I’d be interested in whatever you’re willing to post about her (and your) selection experience, and beyond that, her ‘fit’ experience.

  137. Back OT, I just saw this:

    http://news.yahoo.com/report-shows-just-unequal-college-195700765.html

    “The report recommends that selective colleges institute a “poverty preference,” a systematized boost for low-income students akin to the way affirmative action measures seek to correct historical discrimination against racial and ethnic minorities in the admissions process. ”

    The experience of the author of the article referenced in the OP suggests that such a preference, by itself, might not be such a great idea.

  138. WCE, stay off 99. It is very crowded and only two to three lanes. If you are going to Yosemite, cut across from i-5. I second Finn’s suggestion about Harris Ranch. The food is wonderful. When my kids were younger, we went to Legoland, all three kids, actually all five of us had a great time, actually more fun than Disneyland. If you like seafood, Spenglers in Berkeley is generally pretty good.

  139. @MBT (sidenote, after spending a lot of time on another message board, I’m suddenly very annoyed that I can’t tag people, or quote people to respond to them) – CC was really great for me – I was able to bang out my gen ed classes for approx $1k/semester (versus $20k that the college I graduated from was charging). I found the teaching quality to be no different from my 4 year school. I had zero interest in “the college experience”, so it was a great fit for me. That said, while I have no regrets, I don’t think it’s the right path for everyone. I think it works best when you’ve got a really clear path ahead – what 4 year school are you going to transfer to, what will your major be, and what career are you targeting after school? If you’re not sure about the first two, you can spin your wheels taking classes that ultimately won’t transfer.

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