Monday, January 2, 2012

"Y" is for Yale: How Important is it for Your Child to Attend a "Brand" College?

In Moby Dick, Ishmael explains that, "A whale-ship was my Yale College and my Harvard."  Nick Carraway in F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby boasts his Yale roots and in Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar, the protagonist's boyfriend Buddy Willard is described as being a Yale man.

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:
  1. What does "college education" mean?
  2. What are your personal expectations of the college experience?
What does "college education" mean?
  • 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 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 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..."
 While these are all reflect levels of 'truth' and accuracy, I don't find them particularly helpful.  So, I have come up with my own definition (and would love to hear yours in the comments):
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"
If college decisions are looming in your home, I wish you much luck and as little angst as is humanly possible and know that it usually works out in the end...

... 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.


  1. Good post.I went to a private University. It was toted to be one of the best and yet my college experience was horrible! I stuck it out, got my degree, and I don't even use it. I work for a great company and my career was built upon experiences after college.

  2. I think that kids should choose the university that offers the course they want to do - rather than a 'brand' or 'top' uni. I had the grades to go to the best, but they didn't have any subjects that interested me. I went to what was considered one of the lowest unis in the country (by rank) and had a great time studying exactly what I wanted to and learning a great deal!
    All I hope is that our kids take the time to research and choose what they WANT to do, not what they are EXPECTED to do by anyone!

    Great post!

    Jill @ Be Our Best

  3. we debate this endlessly! interesting that the community college credits transfer ...

  4. Glad to find your blog & I am your new follower from Tiggerific Tuesday blog hop.. Hope you will follow me back….

  5. While we talk with our children about 'when they go to college', which has created the expectation that they go to college, we do not pressure them to go to a particular college. I agree with several points you brought up AND momto8's comment!! I am a new follower from the Take Three Tuesday blog hop. Since you enjoy blog hops, you should check out the blog hops at my site: Link Rink.

  6. I went to public colleges (SUNY) for both my undergraduate and graduate degree. Would I have fared better with an Ivy education? Or would the expectations made me crack? One will never know.

    BTW, Rory Gilmore went to Yale, not Alexis Bledel.

    ROG, ABC Wednesday team

  7. My son was all the way to the pay negotiations on a perfect job a few months ago. The deal breaker was his education. He was not a 4 year college grad. He had only 2 year Jr. college grad.
    the interviewer said that was the rules of this established firm. So the company lost a prize talent because he lacked the sheepskin. It didn't matter what the diploma was for, it just had to be 4 years.
    It was a blessing in disguise though. Today, Jan.3 is his first day on a super new job that really in retrospect is an absolute perfect fit. He got the job on his merits and not on the diploma.

  8. Hopping over from Teach me tuesday.

    Very interesting. Education is a curious. I don't think that you should be judged just on a name. Isn't it what you learned? Just a thought.

    Veronica @

  9. It would be impossible for everyone to go to the same sought after colleges. That my thoughts and I'm sticking to them.

  10. I got my degree from the University of British Columbia because it was the only one in Vancouver at the time plus I was going to study to be a teacher, not get a liberal arts education. It was unheard of that I might "go away" to university (as we call it here in Canada. Colleges are "junior" where one goes in order to complete basic courses and then transfer into a university or study for a non-academic career). I got a great education in more than academics because I did get to live on campus when my Dad got a promotion and my parents moved away. I believe that one needs to look at what one's career aspirations are and research the appropriate learning environment. Happy New Year!

    abcw team

  11. Your posts are always very interesting. I think it depends a lot on the individual as to what higher education and where is best for them.

  12. I attended both and had good experiences. I think the choice is individual.

  13. I attended my MBA from my country but I am not sure if my degree is even recognize here.

    Youth is my Y, have a great year of the dragon.

  14. I think it depends on the child. For me it was important that he gets a good job which he likes.
    The best college doesn't help you in practical life !

  15. Great Post! I too think that it depends upon the individual. Sometimes I feel that money is wasted on sending your child to an Ivy League College, when they could have received the same education from a public college especially if they want to attend to party instead of learn :0)

    Thank you for stopping by and participating in the Get Wired Blog Hop. I am following you.

    Have a great day!

  16. Thank you for a refreshing point of view. Life, in my opinion, is probably the very best teacher.

  17. In UK the ambition - of the previous government, at least, is for every child who is able, to achieve a university education. Fine ambition - but the courses offered include degrees such as Hotel Management, Sport and Leisure, Golf Management - I suppose they are marginally more useful or applicable than degrees in English Literature or Art History, but they're hardly 'reading' degrees.

    I'm sure the 'student experience' is valuable but there are other ways for young people to gather and communicate that don't involve accumulating massive debt, a dubious degree and little prospect of employment.

  18. Oh boy, and I thought choosing a preschool was tough, LOL! Great share, though!

    Following you from Welcome Wednesday. Hope you have a moment to drop by Happy Hour Projects to say hello!


  19. Oh my! Where to begin with this one?! The youngest selected her college based on scholarship offerings. The oldest ended up going to three different ones, both brick and mortar and online versions. None of them were Ivy League schools but they are doing just fine all the same. Regardless of the reputations and opinions, I believe long-distance learning is going to re-define post high school education in the near future. And I LOVE the Onion! They are so wise! ;-)

  20. Thanks for linking up at Teach Me Tuesday! This is great!


  21. Following you from the friends day hop. Hope you can follow back, my blog is also about parenting. I agree totally with this article. My daughter applied to 8 schools and had to audition at 7. She was accepted at 2, but she accepted her last choice because they offered her full tuition. It turned out to be the best choice for her, a top notch school, and more opportunities than she would have gotten at any other school. Cheryl

  22. I just read an article that was about how the education you can get at ivy leagues is pretty much equal to many other, much cheaper, schools. I think that's great, people shouldn't feel that they're missing out because they (or their parents) can't afford the top "brand name" schools. Following you from the Newbie Hop!

  23. so true. i went to a less expensive school, it didn't get a nice reputation of national exam passers but I was at least one of the ones who got a national license. its the determination oriented kind of person who will succeed to what career he wants to be. and also, the God's will factor. Visiting from ABC Wednesday.