Yale alums of television and film include: Rory Gilmore (The Gilmore Girls), Simon Stiles (Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip), Sideshow Bob (The Simpsons), and Niles (Frasier), Walter (Tom Hanks) and from The Money Pit, Kat (Mystic Pizza).
What is it about the 'brand' colleges that so compel and attract us? Is it the education?
My husband and I are both products of Ivy League colleges. Our kids are not (though they had the option), and I am NOT convinced that these institutions are the 'ultimate' college destinations - nor are they necessarily THE top educational institutions. In my experience, the 'college experience' is all about what is taken out of available opportunities: classes, information, work opportunities, arts and leisure, exploration of self, and yes... the social connections... all of this.
In deciding what colleges your child might attend, there are two 'first' questions you need to ask:
- What does "college education" mean?
- What are your personal expectations of the college experience?
- The Free Dictionary defines college as "an institution of higher learning offering courses and granting degrees in a particular field"
- The Radom House Dictionary of the English Language (Second Edition) and Dictinary.com define college as "an institution of higher learning, especially one providing a general or liberal arts education rather than technical or professional training"
- On the lighter side, one visitor to Urban Dictionary.com defines college as, "the place where you enter inexorbitant (their spelling) amounts of debt to 'learn' things you never apply once to your actual occupation..."
A college education is one which provides opportunities for personal, educational, and social growth. These opportunities are in part provided via college courses, required readings and through various resource centers on campus, but mostly come from opportunities (jobs, internships, personal interactions with professors and mentors, school and professional clubs) sought after and actively participated in by students.The questions one needs to ask though are: Is college necessary for these experiences, and if so, what type of college. For many (see my post on the Uncollege) college may not be necessary as the skills and connections they need for the career paths they've chosen are actually better served out of college. For others who are aware of themselves and their paths and prefer more attention and smaller classes of students, a small college may be best as they have many more opportunities to connect with professors who can provide research opportunities that in larger universities are given to graduate students. Larger colleges also have pros in that there are often more social opportunities and greater varieties of classes offered.
Do the 'brand' colleges offer more exclusive opportunities? For some students, maybe, but for most the answer is definitively, "no."
For many who aspire to Yale, there is WAY TOO MUCH pressure to get into these 'brand' schools while there are truly exceptional opportunities for all kids outside of these institutions. Furthermore, there really is "that Yale thing..."
In my opinion, what you get out of college depends to a large part on your goals and expectations, and the maturity the student has for meeting and sustaining them. And, each of these aspects are highly personal.
Once, however, you answer all these questions, talk to your child about various options, check them out online, discuss them with a guidance counselor, talk to alum you may know, and visit the schools. Each school, be it a 'brand' school, a college, university, or tech school, has its distinct culture. See if you and your child are comfortable with it. And, when you need a break and a laugh, The Onion has some excellent advice for "Choosing A College" (although be warned, this is The Onion and it's content is for 'mature' audiences).
Here are just a few of The Onion's suggestions, although it is worth clicking on the link above:
- "You can never go wrong choosing a college you saw advertised on public transportation"
- "Schools that boast about their outstanding academic reputation are probably insecure about their inadequacies in other areas"
- "Be wary of colleges where the chair of the history department keeps using the phrase 'olden times'"
- "If you are having a hard time deciding between Princeton and Yale, cry me a ******* river, Fauntleroy"
... And to all of my readers, I wish you all a wonderfully happy, healthy, and successful 2012. May this be a year of record-breaking peace and prosperity for all.