Choosing The Right College

Colleges will soon begin to send out applicant acceptance letters. Choosing the right college is an important challenge to students who will spend a lifetime living with their decision and parents who'll pick up the tab. Suppose your youngster plans to become a physician and receives acceptance letters from Franklin & Marshall and University of California at Berkeley, which college would you choose? Many students and parents would see that as a no-brainer and choose UC Berkeley. Why? Berkeley is a far more prestigious college, that can boast of having a faculty of world-class professors, Nobel Laureates and winners of other distinguished awards. Franklin & Marshall can't begin to make that claim. But here's what Franklin & Marshall can claim: its graduates score higher on exams to get into medical schools than UC Berkeley graduates. Why? Franklin & Marshall places its emphasis and resources on providing an excellent undergraduate education while UC Berkeley places more of its emphasis on graduate education and faculty research. Thus, a preferable strategy is for your youngster to attend a college like Franklin & Marshall and attend a prestigious university like UC Berkeley for post-graduate education.

My colleague, Dr. Thomas Sowell, has pointed this out in several of his publications, the most recent being in the American Spectator (April 1999). For example, deans of graduate schools of engineering rank graduates of Harvey Mudd College and of the Rose-Hulman Institute over the graduates of prestigious universities like University of Pennsylvania, Duke and UCLA. In fact, graduates of Harvey Mudd College are far more likely to go on to earn advanced degrees than graduates of Harvard University. Deans of leading law schools have ranked graduates of Davidson College over graduates of most Ivy League colleges.

Admissions offices of prestigious universities use bait-and-switch with parents and prospective students. They'll boast of having this professor who's a Nobel Laureate and that professor who's won the Science Award. Parents think their youngsters will be exposed to these great minds and joyfully (perhaps not so joyfully) fork over $25 or $30 thousand annual tuition and board fees. But when classes start, the youngster finds part-timers and graduate students teaching courses, not those distinguished professors. At some colleges, up to 50 percent of their undergraduate classes are taught by part-timers and graduate students.

Choosing a college can be even more troublesome for black students and parents. Well-meaning but dishonest and cowardly college administrators admit black students whose academic credentials (SAT score and grade point average) are far below that of the general campus community. That's a prescription for disaster as demonstrated by black students having lower grade point averages, more often on academic probation and having the lowest graduation rates, at some colleges as low as 20 percent.

No parent, black or white, should allow his youngster to attend a college where the average SAT score is 150-200 points higher than his. Black students and parents might want to check out some of the non-prestigious black colleges. For the sixth year in a row, Xavier University in Louisiana has led the nation in the number of black alumni who have gone on to medical schools. Of the top six colleges, in terms of the number of alumni who go on to become scientists, all six are black colleges.

The bottom line is that parents should not be bamboozled by prestige and admissions office hype. In addition to getting off their butts and finding out what goes on at colleges, there are some excellent independent sources that can assist parents such as Choosing The Right College published by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute and Thomas Sowell's Choosing A College. Making the right college choice is worth the effort.

Walter E. Williams
January 21, 2000
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