April 11, 2005


'No thanks, Harvard. I found a better fit.': Is the pull of an Ivy school lessening - or is it just that much harder to get into one? (Teresa Méndez, 4/12/05, The Christian Science Monitor)

When she opened the e-mail that would tell whether she had been accepted to Harvard, Lin Gyi was pretty certain (99.9 percent sure) that whatever it said didn't matter. Her mind was made up: She'd found a school that was a better fit.

Come next fall, Lin will be attending Swarthmore College, a top-tier liberal arts school in Pennsylvania. It wasn't her first choice. As fine as the 1,500-student college is reputed to be, to Lin it didn't quite have the luster of an Ivy League school.

But when she visited the Swarthmore campus not far from her home in Meadowbrook, Pa., she discovered a place where she could "fit right in" - something she has decided matters more than the prestige of a Harvard degree.

College counselors have long extolled the virtue of finding the school that fits, rather than opting for the one with the best-known name. Now, there may finally be early signs that students have been listening.

That's not to say Harvard and other elite universities should begin fretting about a dearth of applicants, or that the U.S. News & World Report college rankings will go unread.

But some educators see mounting evidence that high school seniors are themselves becoming more selective about college - with fewer adopting the "apply everywhere" strategy, and a majority professing to rank a school's "overall fit" above a prestigious reputation.

They are "ever so slightly paying more attention to the quality of the college experience and how it fits with a student's learning style," says Robert Massa, vice president for enrollment at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pa.

You mean everyone doesn't use the same criteria I did: only go to a school where at least three of the facilities share your name?

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 11, 2005 11:32 PM

Oh poor Lin, choosing Swarthmore over an Ivy.

When I was applying to colleges nearly 20 years ago Swarthmore was as hard to get into as Harvard or Yale, and much much harder to get into than the lesser Ivies like Brown.

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at April 11, 2005 11:51 PM

Snippet of a conversation between a top Swarthmore administrator and a Fortune 100 CEO at a post Y2K dinner party:

CEO: How many students are studying law?

SA: About...oh....27%

CEO: A shame to see bright kids waste their lives that way.

The CEO went on to explain lawyers were easy to find. He wanted liberal arts majors for his top exec positions. Salesmen. People who could go anywhere in the world and talk intelligently with other corporate leaders on most any subject

Posted by: David at April 12, 2005 6:11 AM


Quite a few liberal arts folks wind up in law school. I didn't want to be an English teacher.

Posted by: jdkelly at April 12, 2005 10:51 AM

If you're not going to an Ivy League school or its equivalent, then it's your terminal degree that matters. If you go to Podunk State for your BS and then to MIT or Stanford for a grad degree, you're much better off than if you did it in reverse.

A CEO who prefers liberal artsy fartsy types to techies is stuck in the Stone Age. There are still people like that around but they are running the Dow components that are collapsing rather than rising. An engineering background is probably best, because then you at least know how to DO something, rather than just talk about it. There is nothing in the liberal arts than cannot be replicated by a decent reading list and a couple of weekends in a summer house by the beach.

Posted by: bart at April 12, 2005 11:24 AM


I'm not sure that's true, but it's certainly true that hard sciences are less likely to go totally off into the weeds as liberal arts programs often do - at some point you have to show you can build things that actually work.

Posted by: Mike Earl at April 12, 2005 11:36 AM

bart - CEOs are charming, it's part of the job description. When speaking to an official from a liberal arts school, you say how much you like liberal arts majors. The meat of his comment was that he didn't want lawyers & he does want salespeople. It's a gentle way of saying: you should encourage your liberal arts majors to think of careers in sales.

Posted by: pj at April 12, 2005 12:04 PM

Jim: Swat is still really hard to get into. The real problem is that Swat is no more a bastion of free thought than the peoples republic of Cambridge. The real Harvard problem is that it is a throughly horrible place to be an undergrad. The faculty disdaines undergrads, because they interfer with obtaining grants and appearing on television. As far as a liberal arts education is concerned, there are a couple of dozen state U's in the Mid-west where you can get a better one taught by more caring faculty and much cheaper besides.

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at April 12, 2005 12:08 PM

OJ: Did you perhaps mean: "What Cachet."

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at April 12, 2005 12:12 PM


Purdue, where I would go if I could do it again, comes to mind as does Illinois. Not Michigan though, which thinks it's Harvard. Wisconsin would be good too, if Madison weren't so bloody weird.

Posted by: bart at April 12, 2005 12:39 PM

Michigan State, they actually have a smallish liberal arts honors college of some sort within the university.

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at April 12, 2005 7:42 PM