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What is the point of the Ivies?


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To be fair, our in-state flagships are competitive and well-known in their areas of strength. So what would be the advantage of an Ivy over say, the honors program at Big State U that is a leader in it's field? Especially if the Ivy is likely to cost 3x as much (and probably more b/c Big State U will take more of her DE credits). With the lower cost of the state uni dd could take advantage of study abroad, etc.

I'm not being snarky- this is an honest discussion going on at our house right now.

ETA- I have an uncle that went to Harvard, but he is deceased so I can't ask him about it. It didn't seem to buy him any happiness, though. Also, I went to what I'm going to call a "technical ivy"- the best of the best (and most expensive) option- for my first career. It didn't seem to offer me any advantage after graduation. I went from being surrounded by creative passionate, interesting people at the top of their game, to being a boss who was supposed to supply all of that for the entire organization. I really didn't get any better jobs (or pay or career satisfaction) because of it. ETA2- but I do have interesting friends from that time... but I tend to attract interesting out-of-the-box people, although I'm pretty mainstream myself.

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Yeah, I certainly had never heard of any of the things on that list when I was in high school. I was really lucky.  I had very supportive, involved parents, but they barely had high school educat

That’s great. That kid literally reinvented the wheel. He should be accepted based on sense of humor alone.   

@Not_a_Number Not being dismissive, but being creative and designing your own courses for 8 and 4 yr olds is very low parental pressure. It is not relatable to parents with teens who are stressed by t

My DH, who went to an Ivy, says it's mostly a better peer group -- lots of smart kids who are passionate about their interests. I personally chose not to go to an Ivy, went to a Canadian school on a full scholarship, then went to a fancy school for my Ph.D. However, I will say that this meant that my discussion groups in arts classes were mind-numbingly awful, and it is definitely true that DH's friends from college are way cooler than kids I met in college myself (I don't really have good friends from college, since I spent all of my emotional energy on my then-relationship. Foolish decision, I know.) 

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For us, it would in part depend on whether the status would be helpful in the desired career.  I know that spouse didn't get one job because State U lacked the status of other schools (although we have exceed the opportunities that would have been available to us there, so...).  But, in grad school I was shocked that students from the ivies thought that grad school was hard, while I found much of it to be review.  So, from an educational perspective, my State U education rocked.  Some aspirations - Supreme Court justice, other DC jobs, etc - seem to require a prestigious degree.  But, spouse and I were talking about the group of his fellow grad students at State U - one now a department head, another heading a major group, many patents held, people in great jobs at national labs and big-name companies...I don't really see how they could have done better by being somewhere else. 

I found this link to be interesting.  

 

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50 minutes ago, Clemsondana said:

For us, it would in part depend on whether the status would be helpful in the desired career.  I know that spouse didn't get one job because State U lacked the status of other schools (although we have exceed the opportunities that would have been available to us there, so...).  But, in grad school I was shocked that students from the ivies though that grad school was hard, while I found much of it to be review.  So, from an educational perspective, my State U education rocked.  Some aspirations - Supreme Court justice, other DC jobs, etc - seem to require a prestigious degree.  But, spouse and I were talking about the group of his fellow grad students at State U - one now a department head, another heading a major group, many patents held, people in great jobs at national labs and big-name companies...I don't really see how they could have done better by being somewhere else. 

I found this link to be interesting.  

 

Thanks, I'll preview before sharing. My dd will go with whatever side of the argument that Malcolm Gladwell is not, lol. She really doesn't like his writing.

ETA- good points. Three letter agencies do heavy recruitment at one of dd's in-state options, but that's not being on the Supreme Court.

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1 minute ago, MamaSprout said:

Thanks, I'll preview before sharing. My dd will go with whatever side of the argument that Malcolm Gladwell is not, lol. She really doesn't like his writing.

What doesn’t she like?

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Dh and I both went to an Ivy and it did give us some better job prospects than we otherwise would have had. On the other hand, that's only true in a few career fields (banking for me and consulting for dh). If you're looking at other careers, I don't think they're worth the exorbitant amount of money they cost, especially for undergrad. 

I've just been through this process with dd who decided she wanted to try for a career in either a three letter agency or military intelligence. In the end, she decided that the best route for her goals was enlisting because that ensured that she'd get a TS clearance which is a major hurdle on that path. This was way off the beaten path for us but she's young and there's always grad school if she does change her plans and need a name brand degree. In the meantime, a good state school that offers online classes will have to do for finishing undergrad. 

 

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2 hours ago, Clemsondana said:

But, in grad school I was shocked that students from the ivies thought that grad school was hard, while I found much of it to be review. 

Weird. I don’t think that’s typical in all fields, and it depends on the Ivy and the classes you took, I’m sure.

I got a very good education in Canada, at least in math. I can’t complain. It’s the peers and connections that are different.

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The first is that if your family income is below about 100k and too high to get a Pell Grant, your kid may well get a better package from an ivy or other need based aid only, meets full need school than from a public school. In such cases, applying to one is kind of like buying a lottery ticket. Your chance of getting accepted, no matter what your grades and test scores and total package, is low, but if you get in, the payoff can be huge. 

 

The second is that alumni networks and school reputation matters in some fields, and if you are in one of those, it may be worth considering. This is not limited just to Ivies, but it's one reason to consider applying to an Ivy.

 

 

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1 hour ago, Not_a_Number said:

Weird. I don’t think that’s typical in all fields, and it depends on the Ivy and the classes you took, I’m sure.

I got a very good education in Canada, at least in math. I can’t complain. It’s the peers and connections that are different.

Some if it was probably class selection - I never made decisions based on likely effect on GPA, for instance - and took science classes in some of my free elective spots.  But, I had fun, too - marching band, camping for basketball tickets, met my husband. I took a summer internship at a a 'public ivy' where most of the interns were students from that school.  I had several profs comment on how much I knew relative to their students, but I had taken mostly the same classes as others in my college cohort.  I credit a lot of it to having old-school professors - they were more than willing to help, but they weren't going to make anything easier on us.  And, we were required to do senior research so by the time we got to grad school we were used to weekly paper discussions with grad students.  It was interesting - when I recently looked at the majors offered by my alma mater, they had taken a bunch of classes that I took to fulfill science requirements and as electives and regrouped them into a 'molecular genetics' program...so apparently we kind of created our own degree while studying biochem.  🙂  A lot of us got into it wanting more molecular work than general bio offered but didn't like chemistry much.  

But, there are also mentality differences.  I know students (from ivies and otherwise) who were all about the GPA, while others of us had more of a 'make the most of our chance to learn during the 4 years that we have here'.  In a way both are valid - it's mostly about what you are trying to prepare yourself for and what will help you get there - a perfect GPA making you competitive for certain honors, or a broad background knowledge that lets you pull in random anecdotes when you have the improbable job of teaching homeschooled high schoolers. 🙂  And of course some can do both, but I wasn't going to give up band to spend enough time to keep a perfect GPA with electives like Cell Biology and Recombinant DNA Technology.  🙂  

Edited to add:  It's not that I think everybody was obsessed with grades. But, biochem was popular for pre-med, and they were very grade-focused compared to those of us more interested in research.  

Edited by Clemsondana
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15 minutes ago, Dmmetler said:

The first is that if your family income is below about 100k and too high to get a Pell Grant, your kid may well get a better package from an ivy or other need based aid only, meets full need school than from a public school. In such cases, applying to one is kind of like buying a lottery ticket. Your chance of getting accepted, no matter what your grades and test scores and total package, is low, but if you get in, the payoff can be huge. 

 

The second is that alumni networks and school reputation matters in some fields, and if you are in one of those, it may be worth considering. This is not limited just to Ivies, but it's one reason to consider applying to an Ivy.

 

 

Thanks for pointing out the financial aid thing — DH says that, too, but I forgot. 

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35 minutes ago, Dmmetler said:

 but if you get in, the payoff can be huge.

This is what we are debating... where is the payoff? Is it social, academic, or financial?

To dd, it's mostly about finding peers, both academically and in life.

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1 minute ago, MamaSprout said:

This is what we are debating... where is the payoff? Is it social, academic, or financial?

To dd, it's mostly about finding peers, both academically and in life.

That was the pay-off for DH -- the peers. And having met his friends from college, they really are great. And yes, lots of them now have good jobs and connections, which is helpful later in life. 

That being said, the peers probably depend on one's major. DH was in a technical field. The vibe might be quite different elsewhere. 

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$$ controls our family's decisions, so it is really a theoretical argument for us, not a real one.   But, our ancedotal evidence is that it isn't where one attends but what they accomplish while they are there.  Connections are not limited to classroom/campus.  Ds made all sorts of connections through his on-campus research with other researchers across the globe bc it was an international collaboration, through REUs he made connections on different campuses, etc.  His U didn't limit his acceptances to grad school.  His application was built around his accomplishments as an UG, not his institution's name.  Dd has made connections through CLS and is now part of CLS alumni network.  (Has already given her a lot of connections that she is currently using.)  Don't know if it will help her in the future or not, but she was invited to join PBK.  Either way, PBK will be able to be listed on her resume as an accomplishment.  She has applied for several internships for this summer; yet to be determined.   Our freshman was just selected as one of 3 students to be nominated for an internship with NASA (she doesn't know if she has been selected, but she is excited that she was nominated.)

Anyway, the pt is that opportunities exist on all campuses.  What they actually do is what is going to make a difference.

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1 hour ago, Dmmetler said:

The first is that if your family income is below about 100k and too high to get a Pell Grant, your kid may well get a better package from an ivy or other need based aid only, meets full need school than from a public school. In such cases, applying to one is kind of like buying a lottery ticket. Your chance of getting accepted, no matter what your grades and test scores and total package, is low, but if you get in, the payoff can be huge. 

 

55 minutes ago, MamaSprout said:

This is what we are debating... where is the payoff? Is it social, academic, or financial?

To dd, it's mostly about finding peers, both academically and in life.

 I think you missed part of @dmmetler's pt.  IF accepted to an Ivy with a financial aid package that is better than any other school like a public U, then not only do you have a great financial package, you have the a huge payoff of the degree from an Ivy which can be an influence outside of the background of a low income student.  That is not the same as that the payoff is equivalent no matter what.  We could have paid between $80,000 and $160,000 for our kids to attend top schools instead of them attending for free and actually graduating with scholarship $$ banked.  But, would that have led to a different outcome?  I don't know how it would have altered their outcomes.  Ds is attending grad school exactly where he wanted to attend.  Plenty of other applicants from tippy top schools were rejected when he was accepted.  Just bc they attend somewhere prestigious does not mean that long term all of their outcomes will match.  It really matters on what they themselves do.

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2 hours ago, Not_a_Number said:

Weird. I don’t think that’s typical in all fields, and it depends on the Ivy and the classes you took, I’m sure.

I got a very good education in Canada, at least in math. I can’t complain. It’s the peers and connections that are different.

Also finding this weird. There was one person from an ivy undergrad in my law school class who failed the bar multiple times, but that was the exception—the rest of them were right at home. My state undergrad education did not give me any upper hand lol. Things vary. 

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3 minutes ago, madteaparty said:

Also finding this weird. There was one person from an ivy undergrad in my law school class who failed the bar multiple times, but that was the exception—the rest of them were right at home. My state undergrad education did not give me any upper hand lol. Things vary. 

Grad school cohorts in the sciences are small (8-12 students...an entire department might have 50 total), so it's not like it was a representative sample.  And the grad students in question did fine...most of us did.  But, prestige of undergrad institution was not a particularly good predictor of grad school success.  Every year they ranked us all from 1-50, more or less, and then they started handing out funding and the higher you ranked, the better your funding package (the $ was mostly the same, but it was a lot easier to be on fellowship or the NIH training grant than to be working as a TA if you weren't funded through your PI's grant).  We didn't know everybody's ranking, but we did know who had the top spots because of requirements for different funding sources.  I didn't see any real bias towards students who came from 'better' schools having higher rankings, especially after their first year or 2 in the program.  Like @8filltheheartsaid, what you did mattered more than where you came from.  And, in the end, the people who chose to continue in research aren't necessarily the ones who were the 'best' grad students.  Many of the top-ranked ones were women who have chosen part-time work while raising kids, and some of the best now work as instructors.  

Husband would be the first to say that he would have had access to some better classes at a better school, but he learned what he needed and has done well.  That wasn't the case for me, though.  

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10 minutes ago, Clemsondana said:

But, prestige of undergrad institution was not a particularly good predictor of grad school success. 

Oh, I wouldn't expect that to be the case at all. A good student going to a decent school that has sufficient opportunities and classes (that's certainly not all schools, but it's many big schools) wouldn't be at a disadvantage in graduate school if they chose undergraduate classes wisely. It's more that you would expect a higher fraction of kids from Ivies going to graduate school, due to the original peer selector effect. 

I really have nothing at stake here, since I explicitly chose not to apply to an Ivy 🙂 . I knew I'd get in with my credentials, but I didn't want to be beholden to my then-stepdad, who would have had to pay, so I chose the place that gave me the free ride. Between the scholarship and research in the summers, I basically paid for my own college (it's easier in Canada!) But having watched what happens after college, I do see some differences between my experience and DH, although it wasn't the kind of thing that would have made me less successful in graduate school -- and in fact, I was certainly as successful at graduate school as anyone else. 

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FWIW, my future organismal biologist has had faculty at highly competitive schools (including some Ivies, some privates at similar levels and some state flagships who are actually better regarded than many Ivies in that specific area) suggest not applying as an undergrad because they really do not have the opportunity for undergrads to be as involved in research due to their large number of grad students-and students from their schools sometimes actually have a harder time getting REU's and summer opportunities because the assumption is that they don't need the opportunity the way someone from a school perceived as a lower tier does. So, we focused our college search on three things-were undergrad students from that school regularly doing research and publishing/presenting at a national/international level, the reputation of the labs and PIs with regards to women, BIPOC, and LGBQTA students, and the likelihood of getting excellent merit aid, because we aren't going to get need based aid. 

 

We'll find out in a decade or so if this was a good choice, but overall, I'm pretty happy with it now. 

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We aren’t in the competitive college game so I’m not up to date on the Ivies but I just always feel like I need to jump in when friends IRL and here mention needing to go to an Ivy to find intellectual equals and engaged peers. 
 

I know brilliant kids at my very average state flagship. Brilliant. Turned down Ivies because of money kids. My own Ds, while not brilliant, has an ACT that puts him competitive anywhere. He was one of 400 admitted to the honors college but he didn’t get any great scholarships because there are so many there even more qualified than he is. His girlfriend, who is very bright and motivated, skipped a year and is graduating early with a 32 ACT and great extracurriculars and she did not even make the honors college and can’t even live in honors housing. He has other friends with similar stats also turned down for honors. So there is a cohort, of at least 400 admitted, at this very average state school. Is the gifted engaged student going to find his or her peeps at the frat parties or in Phys Ed classes? Probably not. But there are brilliant engaged students at state schools and they do find each other.

So there is my two cents!

 

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Absolutely @teachermom2834!  I think about the kids' friends.  One of ds's closest friends is part of the Harvard MIT PhD-MD program currently doing some bioscience study at Oxford.  One of dd's friends is in an accelerated BS-MD program.  They have a great group of peers.  The idea that only a handful schools in the country with very small #s of enrollment house all of the top students is simply a financial and statistical fallacy.  Greater concentration of wealthy top kids?  Sure.  But let's be real.  Finances play a huge role.

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5 hours ago, Dmmetler said:

FWIW, my future organismal biologist has had faculty at highly competitive schools (including some Ivies, some privates at similar levels and some state flagships who are actually better regarded than many Ivies in that specific area) suggest not applying as an undergrad because they really do not have the opportunity for undergrads to be as involved in research due to their large number of grad students-and students from their schools sometimes actually have a harder time getting REU's and summer opportunities because the assumption is that they don't need the opportunity the way someone from a school perceived as a lower tier does. So, we focused our college search on three things-were undergrad students from that school regularly doing research and publishing/presenting at a national/international level, the reputation of the labs and PIs with regards to women, BIPOC, and LGBQTA students, and the likelihood of getting excellent merit aid, because we aren't going to get need based aid. 

 

We'll find out in a decade or so if this was a good choice, but overall, I'm pretty happy with it now. 

Dh wnet to Yale. I went to a small private school in my state. He will often remark that he thinks I had a better experience as an undergraduate. I did biochem research for three years and two summers and was able to present at a national convention. I think the research helped a lot getting into med school. I also got into one MD/PhD program, but ultimately chose not to go that route. I don't think I would have gotten into that without the research experience. I was able to do research because I went to the biochem professor as a sophomore student (who had not had anything but basic chem) and said I was interested and asked if there was space in his lab. He said sure and took me on. For the summers I had to compete to get a grant to stay but it wasn't really that competitive, most people I knew got one if they had anything like a reasonable project. So I actually got paid for research for two summers. 

I also knew my professors really well personally. That Biochem professor was a huge mentor. We would all go to his house for game nights. He had us all to his lake house every summer. The entire Chem department of professors and research students went tubing together in the summer, had movie nights and went crab-picking at a different professor's river place. They knew me very personally. Which also helped I think when applying to med school as far as recommendations and things. 

Dh had a lot of opportunities as far as going to classes with well-known or even famous people. But he can't think of a single professor he feels like he really knew personally. He had a good experience, but it was mostly due to the other students. When he thinks about mentors, he thinks more toward grad school. He does feel like the name probably helped when applying to grad schools but he definitely isn't pushing or even encouraging any of our kids to try for an Ivy. If they really wanted to, it would be up to them and it would have to work out financially but it's not something he feels is necessarily the best option. 

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This is years ago, but I went to a summer program affiliated with an Ivy (a study abroad/language program) and many, many, many students were being recruited to work in finance.  Or, they wanted to work at McKinsey’s.  They said from all majors, they were recruited by Wall Street and McKinsey’s.

Not stuff on my radar at all, I notice it now sometimes (like Pete Buttigieg graduated from Harvard and worked at McKinsey’s).

It does make me think an Ivy would really help for those two careers!  
 

 

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6 hours ago, Dmmetler said:

FWIW, my future organismal biologist has had faculty at highly competitive schools (including some Ivies, some privates at similar levels and some state flagships who are actually better regarded than many Ivies in that specific area) suggest not applying as an undergrad because they really do not have the opportunity for undergrads to be as involved in research due to their large number of grad students-and students from their schools sometimes actually have a harder time getting REU's and summer opportunities because the assumption is that they don't need the opportunity the way someone from a school perceived as a lower tier does. So, we focused our college search on three things-were undergrad students from that school regularly doing research and publishing/presenting at a national/international level, the reputation of the labs and PIs with regards to women, BIPOC, and LGBQTA students, and the likelihood of getting excellent merit aid, because we aren't going to get need based aid. 

 

We'll find out in a decade or so if this was a good choice, but overall, I'm pretty happy with it now. 

I attended an Ivy for grad school. Many professors I knew there did not want their own children to attend one for undergrad. They thought it was better to go where they would get more individual attention, such as an excellent LAC, or where they could do more of their own research, as opposed to assisting grad students. Then if desired, pursue the Ivies or other top schools for grad or professional school. My undergrad at a small LAC was excellent preparation for grad school and my husband and I are still close friends with several of our profs.

For the OP, if your child wants to go directly into something like consulting or investment banking right out of undergrad, then certainly the Ivies and certain other top schools are going to make that goal more attainable.

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7 hours ago, Not_a_Number said:

Oh, I wouldn't expect that to be the case at all. A good student going to a decent school that has sufficient opportunities and classes (that's certainly not all schools, but it's many big schools) wouldn't be at a disadvantage in graduate school if they chose undergraduate classes wisely. It's more that you would expect a higher fraction of kids from Ivies going to graduate school, due to the original peer selector effect. 

I really have nothing at stake here, since I explicitly chose not to apply to an Ivy 🙂 . I knew I'd get in with my credentials, but I didn't want to be beholden to my then-stepdad, who would have had to pay, so I chose the place that gave me the free ride. Between the scholarship and research in the summers, I basically paid for my own college (it's easier in Canada!) But having watched what happens after college, I do see some differences between my experience and DH, although it wasn't the kind of thing that would have made me less successful in graduate school -- and in fact, I was certainly as successful at graduate school as anyone else. 

If you’re talking about PhD programs, top LACs, not Ivies or similar, are generally the top feeder schools for grad school. An amazing number of Ivy and similar grads follow the $ and go into consulting, tech, finance, investment banking, etc.

https://www.collegetransitions.com/infographics/top-feeders-phd-programs

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1 minute ago, Frances said:

If you’re talking about PhD programs, top LACs, not Ivies or similar, are generally the top feeder schools for grad school. An amazing number of Ivy and similar grads follow the $ and go into consulting, tech, finance, investment banking, etc.

https://www.collegetransitions.com/infographics/top-feeders-phd-programs

It'd be interesting to see this broken down by major 😄 . Like, what percentage of math majors at Harvard get a math Ph.D, that kind of thing. 

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4 hours ago, 8filltheheart said:

 The idea that only a handful schools in the country with very small #s of enrollment house all of the top students is simply a financial and statistical fallacy.  Greater concentration of wealthy top kids?  Sure.  But let's be real.  Finances play a huge role.

Finances definitely. But you know, that is not even all. There are other reasons like geography, personality, what they intended area of study is, family situations. 
 

My current senior is a standout student and engaged in the community. He could have applied to and been accepted to many more prestigious schools. But honestly, he has never wanted to attend anywhere other than the University of Tennessee. He has visited all kinds of schools, been present for widely cast college searches of his older brothers and encouraged to look outside the state. But the University of Tennessee has always been his dream school. He has his reasons and they are good ones. But I promise you he could hold his own in classes and deep conversation with kids at the Ivies. He won’t be the smartest kid or only smart kid in all his classes. There are plenty of kids like him that just aren’t interested in that Ivy scene and are populating state universities.

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4 hours ago, Frances said:

If you’re talking about PhD programs, top LACs, not Ivies or similar, are generally the top feeder schools for grad school. An amazing number of Ivy and similar grads follow the $ and go into consulting, tech, finance, investment banking, etc.

https://www.collegetransitions.com/infographics/top-feeders-phd-programs

From my perspective, the high level contest people tend to go to Ivies or their equivalents. So I constantly see the top-performing kids going to MIT or Harvard or the like. Like, here's the list of Putnam winners: 

https://kskedlaya.org/putnam-archive/putnam2019results.html

You can see where they are going to school yourself. Not that contests are everything, of course, but it does make me wonder. 

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13 hours ago, teachermom2834 said:

Finances definitely. But you know that is not even all. There are other reasons like geography, personality, what they intended area of study is, family situations. 
 

My current senior is a standout student and engaged in the community. He could have applied to and been accepted to many more prestigious schools. But honestly, he has never wanted to attend anywhere other than the University of Tennessee. He has visited all kinds of schools, been present for widely cast college searches of his older brothers and encouraged to look outside the state. But the University of Tennessee had always been his dream school. He has his reasons and they are good ones. But I promise you he could hold his own in classes and deep conversation with kids at the Ivies. He won’t be the smartest kid or only smart kid in all his classes. There are plenty of kids like him that just aren’t interested in that scene and are populating state universities.

And it’s also true that not every undergrad at an Ivy is a brilliant, deep thinker. Students are admitted for all sorts of reasons besides just academics. Coming from a tiny high school in the Midwest and a very good, but not even top 50 LAC, I was honestly surprised at the lack of academic skills of some of the undergrads I taught as a TA. And I was only teaching basic, algebra based undergraduate statistics classes, not even anything that required calculus.

Edited to add that schools like Caltech and MIT would very likely not have the type of students I encountered, as their admission criteria and core curriculum are different from the Ivies. I think they are in a special group (and there might be others like U of Chicago) when it comes to discussing highly selective schools.

Edited by Frances
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My son went to be challenged.

deleted 

I do not regret all the money we have spent. The longer he is there, the less I regret it. But if you choose to attend a top school, be careful you are not a bottom student, because that is incredibly detrimental to the psyche. My dh was bottom 5% at Duke, and he carried that around with him for 20 years. 

Lots to think about, 

Good Luck to you.

Ruth in NZ

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6 hours ago, Not_a_Number said:

Like, here's the list of Putnam winners: 

https://kskedlaya.org/putnam-archive/putnam2019results.html

You can see where they are going to school yourself. Not that contests are everything, of course, but it does make me wonder. 

Yup. Most of those kids are his friends. At this point, MIT is attracting a huge amount of the math talent in America. Not all of it, of course. But there is critical mass in the dorms. My son told me that in his half of his floor at MIT (20 kids), they had enough IMO medalists to be a top 5 country. The conversations that happen in the commons room are pretty mathy, to say the least. These kids choose to take classes together, and then do the psets together. The professors are able to make the psets hard enough that this group of kids have to work together for 7ish hours each week to get them solved before they write them up independently. Those are some hard problems! But the benefit of the group work at his level is enormous. Once again, I loop back to personal development - social, emotional, intellectual, etc. 

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6 hours ago, Frances said:

 or where they could do more of their own research, as opposed to assisting grad students. 

This is fair. My son is doing great research, but his direct supervisor is a post-doc not a professor. He talks to the postdoc most days, but to the prof only once a week. I think that you get more individualized attention at 1) a university where you stand out at way above the crowd, or 2) a small university/teaching college.

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2 hours ago, lewelma said:

Yup. Most of those kids are his friends. At this point, MIT is attracting a huge amount of the math talent in America. Not all of it, of course. But there is critical mass in the dorms. My son told me that in his half of his floor at MIT (20 kids), they had enough IMO medalists to be a top 5 country. The conversations that happen in the commons room are pretty mathy, to say the least. These kids choose to take classes together, and then do the psets together. The professors are able to make the psets hard enough that this group of kids have to work together for 7ish hours each week to get them solved before they write them up independently. Those are some hard problems! But the benefit of the group work at his level is enormous. Once again, I loop back to personal development - social, emotional, intellectual, etc. 

I’ve taught at Stanford and at UT Austin. UT Austin did have one or two really, really strong kids when I was there, but they were unique and special. It’s true that the attention those kids got at UT was far and above the attention they got at Stanford, so if you wanted to be a big fish in a small pond, that would have been the way to go. But if you wanted really strong peers, it wasn’t.

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2 hours ago, lewelma said:

This is fair. My son is doing great research, but his direct supervisor is a post-doc not a professor. He talks to the postdoc most days, but to the prof only once a week. I think that you get more individualized attention at 1) a university where you stand out at way above the crowd, or 2) a small university/teaching college.

Although having watched how this goes, post docs have more energy than full professors, and the post docs at the Ivies tend to be very good. One of DH’s advisors was a post doc and one was full prof, and I can tell you which one was more helpful to work with...

Also, the professors at fancier schools tend to have more time to do their research and more influential research programs.

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Interesting topic! I believed it was for networking only, for the most part.

I have a genius cousin who went to and ivy league medical school because they built a program around her gifts. She does brain surgery on unborn children. I've never met her, but family gossip and all. I don't see most other schools doing that.

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2 hours ago, Not_a_Number said:

Although having watched how this goes, post docs have more energy than full professors, and the post docs at the Ivies tend to be very good. One of DH’s advisors was a post doc and one was full prof, and I can tell you which one was more helpful to work with...

Also, the professors at fancier schools tend to have more time to do their research and more influential research programs.

That is a stereotype. 

Perhaps it depends on the field, but a lot of physics research is collaborative with research teams around the country/world.  My ds was directly part of his mentoring prof's research team.  He worked with his prof alongside the grad students and post-docs.  He also had separate meeting times with his prof bc she mentored him toward grad school.  His research was an international collaboration (IceCube) where he was her main contact for certain parts of the research. Even the research he is doing as a grad student at is collaborative.  Right now he is working on data with someone I think from Northwestern.  

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On 3/26/2021 at 12:24 AM, Not_a_Number said:

I’ve taught at Stanford and at UT Austin. UT Austin did have one or two really, really strong kids when I was there, but they were unique and special. It’s true that the attention those kids got at UT was far and above the attention they got at Stanford, so if you wanted to be a big fish in a small pond, that would have been the way to go. But if you wanted really strong peers, it wasn’t.

 

It was a very difficult and miserable decision to turn down the top scholarship to xxx, and choose to take a massive financial hit for him to go to MIT.

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But he *really* wanted the big pond. He was *Done* with being a big fish. In some small way I think he wanted to no longer be at the top, he wanted his ideas to be challenged by his peers. I think he wanted to fight for recognition not slide into it.

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@lewelma -- I definitely did the "big fish in a medium-sized pond" thing with my choice of undergraduate institution. There were lots of strong students, but they kind of came in clumps, and certainly the arts programs were extremely weak. And I was definitely one of the fancier kids in the math department, which I mostly enjoyed, but which didn't challenge me, either. 

I don't regret the decision, given that I was never going to be willing to have my then-stepdad pay, and given that my then-boyfriend was at the school already, and given that I wasn't eligible for financial aid given my stepdad's earnings. But I can see the ways in which DH's education would have suited me more. 

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I went to USC (CA) for one semester, but transferred out because it was too large and I decided that I'd rather be at a smaller school. I ended up transferring to Claremont McKenna, a small LAC of roughly 1000 students. I never had a class larger than 25 students and most of my classes had less than half that many students in them. I knew my professors very well, spent time with them outside of class, and they wrote very strong LORs for me for law school. But, I was a humanities girl. I am not sure how I would have felt as a STEM person there. My roommate was accepted to excellent MD/PhD programs, but she worked for a couple of years after undergrad doing research at the CDC and had done research while we were in school. I know she was very close to her science profs as well. One advantage of our school was the ability to take classes at all five colleges in the consortium, which included Harvey Mudd, so that definitely bolstered the STEM offerings. The school's reputation was very strong with law schools, which was one of the reasons I transferred there, as 25% of our graduates eventually attended law school. Coming out of school, we had all of the top investment banks, consulting firms, hedge funds, and accounting firms recruiting on campus (tech companies were mostly just getting started back then). I took a job as a business analyst with Deloitte's consulting arm for a couple of years over in Europe before I applied to law school. 

I loved the intimacy of my undergrad experience, getting to know my professors and classmates so well. I ended up going to a small law school as well. We only had 170ish students in our class. But, this was a very elite law school and you felt it... immediately. The professors were more intimidating, but they were accessible if you made the effort. My classmates were also on a whole other level. They were obviously smart, but they were worldly and incredibly interesting people, and I find myself much more connected with them today. I think the biggest difference was the way other people treated me when they found out where I went to school. It was weird. The automatic clout, intimidation, and other assumptions took me by surprise. (The way people treated me because of where I went to school was one of the first things my husband noticed when he moved here from Canada.) I also soon realized that most of the law firms that recruited at our school didn't really care about our grades, either. While other law students were killing themselves to be at the tippy top of their class, there was this element of chill at my school, this feeling that we had already made it. It was almost uncool to care about your grades. That was also strange to me because I did care and I certainly did not feel that I had made it.

I ended up a mediocre law student, which was devastating for me psychologically. Luckily, nobody seemed to care but me. Top law firms and investment banks lined up to offer me jobs. Even after being out of the job market for a decade, I know that I could still turn around and pretty easily find a job with a decent law firm in basically any market in the country. I also have a powerful alumni network behind me for the rest of my life. I know that I can pick up the phone and make a call to people in powerful positions around the world and that they are more likely to help me because we both went to the same school. (I will also always wonder if Sacha got into SOHS because they knew that I went to SLS.) Those are all the reasons to go to an Ivy.

Is it worth the money? I am not sure. IMO, it really depends on the field you want to enter. Some, like law/finance/consulting, are very hierarchical and only hire from select schools. But, that debt weighed on me for a very long time. I couldn't buy a home when others could because my debt-to-income ratio was too high, even though I was making insane money. I felt like an indentured servant for much of the time that I was working in those fancy pants banks and law firms. And now I am starting over in a new career at a no-name school with zero prestige and very little debt, so I guess in the end I decided that the debt wasn't worth the prestige. At least, not in this new field where nobody cares where I went to school. 🙂            

 

  

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I think the problem with the Ivy's and other elite universities is when a student thinks 'if I just get in, I'll have my ticket in life.' They are after the prestige, not the education. There is no way around it, there is a high when you get in -- we definitely felt it. Like you have been *chosen*. But at MIT, you better be willing to work and work hard. My son is currently so overwhelmed with work that he is going to have to drop a class. He did 85 hour per week for the last 3 weeks in a row. By dropping the class, he should drop to 65 hours. This is 65-85 hours of difficult proofs, machine learning configurations, presentations, papers, complex topics, etc. I'm sure you could go to MIT and take easier classes and do easier research than my son, but he really wants to take advantage of what is on offer. There is a driving desire to learn. I think a parent should really know their own kid before encouraging elite universities. My ds has known kids who have found the 'drinking from the fire hose' to be overwhelming, and have taken a year off. The experience has been the worst in their life, but they feel the need to finish because of the perceived bump to their future life options. But I worry that it will crush their spirit, and change them as a person for the rest of their lives. I think you need to find just-the-right-fit in the university you attend to ensure optimal outcomes. Not too hard so as to break a kid; not too easy which leads to arrogance and laziness.  Tricky business. 

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I agree with you, Lewelma. I know that I was not psychologically prepared for what I encountered in law school at all. I didn't have parents or mentors that helped me through any of this, so I was caught completely unaware of any of what you just wrote. I was also in the midst of a failing, very long-distance military marriage that was a major distraction from my studies. But, since I had never really had to work hard in school before to do well, I just assumed that I could pull it off, as I always had. Suffice to say, I could not.

When I reflect back on law school, I usually just quip that I ran out of people to be smarter than, but I think it is deeper than that. I was not in a good mental place to begin law school at an elite school and I had a hard time leaving my [ex-]husband back in Europe (he was stationed in Germany at that time and we had been geographically separated for many years, so actually being on the same continent again was amazing!) to return to CA in the first instance. I thought about deferring my admission to complete an MBA at INSEAD in France, so that I could stay near to my husband (I had been accepted there with a scholarship), but he knew that I always wanted to be a lawyer, so he encouraged me to accept the offer from SLS. Our relationship of 11 years did not survive law school, and I spent much of my time in school battling severe depression.

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On 3/26/2021 at 8:55 AM, SeaConquest said:

 I know that I was not psychologically prepared for what I encountered in law school at all. I didn't have parents or mentors that helped me through any of this,

 

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I'm not sure what would have happened had he not had a strong family to be there for him. He is now one of the top students, but he needed support to get him through the initial hurdle to reach his full potential. 

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He was truly blessed/lucky to have you. I cannot imagine having that kind of support. Truly. You are amazing. I hope you know that. I had a therapist, antidepressants, and a lot of wine. 🍷 Oh, and student loans. Lots and lots of student loans.

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I feel like there have been a few sweeping generalizations.  At heart it is a personal experience for those of us who have been through (insert college name/type here) and for our kids who are either going to or working their way through college.  I can imagine overall you will find a great peer group of intellectually minded people at an Ivy, and the more gifted you are I would imagine the more pressing that need would be.  (Lewelma's son, for example, sounds like he has really found his place). I can't imagine, though, that for the moderately or highly gifted but not quite groundbreaking kid there won't be a peer group at a higher performing university.  Fit is so much more important than prestige and even then... seriously.... it's just four years of your life.   Most of us are lifelong learners.  It doesn't stop suddenly at age 22.   While it definitely seems there are formulas to open doors, I think it's damaging to contribute to the narrative that there is a perfect choice to make, and if you don't make it then you won't get X, Y or Z opportunity.  Maybe you won't, but maybe there are different opportunities instead or maybe the path will be longer.   Look at Sea Conquest:). Or my husband -- Mechanical Engineer major, MBA, and now a Public Policy Ph.D student who is working for a large Dod contractor, lol.  When he was in college he never would have expected this path.  

My daughter is at a highly ranked U and has had zero problems finding smart peers.  Peers that challenge her.  Professors that challenge her.  She has had an easier time for sure than the science/math majors, but she has not at all been the big fish.   She has, however, had trouble getting classes sometimes, finding professors to write her letters of rec, figuring out how to get internships and research experience, having guaranteed housing for three years only... So those are the biggest considerations if I were to choose between a high performing state U vs any quality smaller school.  Money, fit, distance, but honestly never the prestige.  

I think the other two things that are unique to the individual is whether they can handle graduating in the bottom of the class (ie whether they are a little fish in a big pond) and whether they can even handle the workload of the institution.  The second could be drastically affected if they are Neurodiverse, and the former will reflect whether they are intensely competitive, collaborative, or conversely if they need to have the confidence of being one of the smarter students.  All of it is so individual. 

Anecdotally, I literally only know two people who have gone to an Ivy.  One skipped a LOT of her classes and had to change her major as she was in danger of failing (but really enjoyed the extracurriculars and made a lot of friends).  She is super smart and she loved her school.  The other worked for a time at a Marine Corps heavy institution and was known to be extremely bright but lacking in perspective compared to the upper leadership of Marines (most of whom had served multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan).  She came across very much as an academic know it all and rubbed a lot of people the wrong way. She name dropped Harvard all the time. But that's just her personality and I know plenty of people like that who haven't gone to an Ivy league, lol.  

 

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32 minutes ago, SanDiegoMom said:

While it definitely seems there are formulas to open doors, I think it's damaging to contribute to the narrative that there is a perfect choice to make, and if you don't make it then you won't get X, Y or Z opportunity.

I don't think anyone is contributing to that narrative, though. There ARE no perfect choices. I made the choice not to attend an Ivy, and DH made the choice to attend an Ivy, and I can report back the differences I see in our experiences. For what it's worth, I think we both made rational decisions given where we were in our lives. But I can't pretend the experiences were absolutely equivalent, or that my choice didn't have drawbacks (as well as the advantages that caused me to choose it in the first place!) 

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I think it is also worth pointing out that the narrative about college has changed quite a bit.  The national student loan crisis has had one good impact--it has highlighted the absurdity of going into debt for an UG degree.  I don't think our experiences as parents or even of younger 30 yr olds is actually equivalent to current scenarios.

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19 minutes ago, Not_a_Number said:

I don't think anyone is contributing to that narrative, though. There ARE no perfect choices. I made the choice not to attend an Ivy, and DH made the choice to attend an Ivy, and I can report back the differences I see in our experiences. For what it's worth, I think we both made rational decisions given where we were in our lives. But I can't pretend the experiences were absolutely equivalent, or that my choice didn't have drawbacks (as well as the advantages that caused me to choose it in the first place!) 

I understand, but you are still only comparing the university you went to vs his, and the peer groups and classes you took vs his.  Within public schools there are still a wide variety and you will find differing levels of challenge everywhere.  And this is for MOST kids -- I would probably argue that  your need for challenge and peers would have been different than the majority of the brightest kids out there.  For the majority of bright kids there are a large number of equally bright kids sprinkled throughout all of the universities, and the ability to find peers would probably depend upon culture, size, and academic focus of the school (ie kids at William and Mary will find other smart kids that love history but don't go there if you love computer science). 

I guess I am just bitter though as I have seen so many kids burn themselves out chasing the mythical advantage of the Ivies.  The pressure from schools to max out on AP's and extracurriculars, the intense marketing by these schools to create an even greater selectivity rating by convincing even more almost qualified or not quite qualified people to attend.. especially after hearing the statistics that one third of the people attending are legacy students or sports scholarships.  It's honestly made me biased against them -- the marketing to students in particular feels predatory.  

Small liberal arts college, small class size, engaged peers, good location, deep knowledge in field of interest -- those are all the most important when being compared to a state school, imo.  If it happens to also be an Ivy and it's affordable, then great. 

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4 minutes ago, SanDiegoMom said:

I understand, but you are still only comparing the university you went to vs his, and the peer groups and classes you took vs his.  Within public schools there are still a wide variety and you will find differing levels of challenge everywhere. 

True, although I went to a school with as high a level of challenge for math as you could have outside a selective US school. But it's true that their arts were absurdly weak and almost anywhere I could have gone would have been better. 

 

4 minutes ago, SanDiegoMom said:

And this is for MOST kids -- I would probably argue that  your need for challenge and peers would have been different than the majority of the brightest kids out there. 

That's probably true, yes. 

 

4 minutes ago, SanDiegoMom said:

For the majority of bright kids there are a large number of equally bright kids sprinkled throughout all of the universities, and the ability to find peers would probably depend upon culture, size, and academic focus of the school (ie kids at William and Mary will find other smart kids that love history but don't go there if you love computer science). 

I guess I am just bitter though as I have seen so many kids burn themselves out chasing the mythical advantage of the Ivies.  The pressure from schools to max out on AP's and extracurriculars, the intense marketing by these schools to create an even greater selectivity rating by convincing even more almost qualified or not quite qualified people to attend.. especially after hearing the statistics that one third of the people attending are legacy students or sports scholarships.  It's honestly made me biased against them -- the marketing to students in particular feels predatory.  

I guess I think those are different issues. I think chasing APs and extracurriculars is a silly way to go about trying to go a selective school, anyway. I didn't apply to any selective schools but I know I would have gotten in, because being really good at one thing is a much better way to get in than being "well-rounded." I certainly didn't have the best grades in my graduating class! 

 

4 minutes ago, SanDiegoMom said:

Small liberal arts college, small class size, engaged peers, good location, deep knowledge in field of interest -- those are all the most important when being compared to a state school, imo.  If it happens to also be an Ivy and it's affordable, then great. 

I just think the range of "engaged peers" will be higher at a selective school, from what I've seen, and you'll be able to find them in basically all fields, which isn't the case for many other schools. I chose my college in such a way as to be challenged in pure math, but the fact that it was really uneven did bite me in my electives and also when I was picking a second major, and I imagine it could bite other kids who aren't absolutely sure what they are doing. 

But again, I would never recommend someone "chase" an Ivy. I think that working on deep learning and understanding, like @lewelma's son did, is the way to go. And then at the end of the day, an Ivy may make sense... or it may not. But I wouldn't go there simply for the prestige. 

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Lewelma, thanks for posting that. My dd was also accepted to MIT but did not attend and this year has been really though on students with the isolation. My dd is able to come home and commute to school which has been helpful. I think sometimes, it is just doing the very best with what you have and hoping you made the right decision. most of the time, the choices are not black and white but being able to accept whatever path one chooses will go along way toward increasing future hapiness. Sometimes, financial, cultural or social limitations will play a large role in where one starts but usually do not determine where one end. 

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