Forget Harvard and Stanford. It really doesn’t matter where you go to college… Hmmm… I agree…

I have been thinking about this for quite some time now – does it really matter to the majority of students where they go to college…? Or is it the parents (as is the case with China) who want to garner the glory of their oh-so-successful child..? Let’s face it, there are way too many parents running around these days, wearing sweatshirts with the logo of their child’s school… Or is it the student who will succeed and be become happy in his/her job, who picked the school THAT IS RIGHT FOR HIM/HER..? We seem to get sucked into the “ratings war” and “connections” psycho thriller, thinking, without an ivy league education, there is no future… And yet, there are literally hundreds of good schools in the USA AND in Europe, that have a long track record of laying the foundation for some rather important and successful men and women… Yes, competition remains fierce and many will fail (China, Japan, South Korea) but only because they set their sights too high… We must educate students and parents alike that, yes, an education is super important these days, but there are solid, strong, and affordable choices left untapped – the only thing it takes is to look upon them in a humble fashion…
-Andreas Kristinus
President EduGate
March 16

In the coming weeks, college acceptances will start rolling in for a select group of high-school seniors vying to get into the three dozen or so most-selective colleges and universities in the country. Most seniors planning to go to college this fall already have been accepted somewhere, either because they applied early or they chose less-selective schools that notify applicants almost immediately of their decision.

But for those waiting to hear from Harvard, Stanford, Williams, and other elite schools, this time of year is one of high anxiety. By May we’ll hear yet again from those campuses bragging about how they set records for the number of applications they received this year and how few students they accepted — likely about one out of every 10 applicants.

For all the attention showered on these elite college and universities, however, they enroll fewer than 6 percent of U.S. college students. To put it another way, Stanford received approximately 40,000 applications last year when about 3.4 million students graduated from high school across the U.S.

The competition for getting into elite colleges seems to be getting more intense, leaving frustrated students, parents, and counselors to wonder: Does it really matter where you go to college?

It doesn’t, according to Frank Bruni. The New York Times columnist is author of a new book coming out on Tuesday, “Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be.

The book is a quick read for stressed-out students and their parents. In it he has plenty of examples and lengthy stories of Americans of all ages and from all walks of life who have found success without degrees from brand-name universities. Bruni points out, for instance, that among the American-born chief executives of the top 100 companies in the Fortune 500, just about 30 went to an Ivy League school or equally selective college. (Bob Iger, the CEO of Disney, graduated from my alma mater, Ithaca College, and unlike many other top executives never got an MBA).

Bruni told me last week that he decided to write the book because of the constant chatter among his friends who have kids in high school and among his nieces and nephews “all whipped up in a frenzy” over where to go to college.

“I was watching this and comparing it to my own life and the successful people I know,” he said. “I wondered if there was anything in their résumés, a uniform attendance at a few select schools, and I didn’t see it. It wasn’t the case. It was a patchwork of educational pedigrees.”

You wouldn’t know that from conversations at cocktail parties or college nights, particularly in competitive suburban and urban areas, such as Washington, D.C. and New York. There, the talk is all about how to get into the “right college.” I asked Bruni how you change that culture to persuade more of those students and their families to consider a broader array of schools.

In his opinion, the obsessive focus on elite schools begins with parents, some of whom he said are rightly concerned about launching their kids into a much more competitive world and want to give them every advantage. “I understand that motive,” he told me, “but some parents are simply trying to flatter themselves.”

In turn, guidance counselors take their cues from parents and are often evaluated, especially at private high schools, by how many of their students go to elite colleges.

Perhaps the shift away from the admissions frenzy needs to begin with employers who have long used admission to an elite school as a signal of a top job candidate. In the book, Bruni interviews a few employers and venture capitalists and also shows where recruiters say they find their best employees.

Many recruiters tell him they are much more focused on the experience of a candidate than where they went to school. And as Bruni points out when the Wall Street Journal asked recruiters the best universities for their entry-level hires, the top five were Penn State, Texas A&M, the University of Illinois, Purdue, and Arizona State. They are all brand-name schools, but they’re also public universities and hardly elite.

Bruni worries about the unintended consequences of putting so much pressure on teenagers to get admitted to a selective school. Last year, Bruni taught a course at Princeton and saw firsthand how many students view life as a series of challenges, a set of hoops to jump through, and getting into Princeton was one of them.

“A significant number of students had put so much energy into getting in, and then getting ready for the next competition, the job,” he said, “that they didn’t save their best energy and best selves for tilling the four-year experience for what it’s worth.”

A college alone doesn’t make a successful graduate. Sure, top college provides a peer network that greatly helps both while students are on campus and afterwards as alumni. But someone with grit and ambition can succeed at many different types of schools.

The reality is that if those students Bruni taught at Princeton didn’t go there, it’s likely they would have gone to another fairly selective school anyway. So they’ll do just fine. Few students who get rejected by Princeton end up at Northern Michigan University.

That’s where Howard Schultz went to college, and today he is CEO of Starbucks.

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For many parents and kids, it’s ‘Harvard, Harvard, Harvard!’

EduGate faces this dilemma on a daily basis… parents simply do not understand that there are over 4,000 colleges in the USA and that Havard is most definitely NOT the best school for their child… it seems that educating the parents is more important than educating the students… albeit, both are blinded by the reputation that precedes Harvard and unfortunately they miss the big picture… on any given day in beijing, i find more students at a starbucks desiring to go to harvard than of students actually getting accepted… yet, i strongly believe this attitude will change in a few years and parents will be open to let their child decide on their own which uni to attend…

for all those students that are looking to find the right school for them, edugate offers summer english learning programs (for credit) extension programs, and assistance with conditional/direct admission and gateway (no TOEFL or SAT required)…

http://www.edugate.us

They are among the top schools in the Ivy League. Yale University took one student.

Yale and Princeton University accepted two other students, a brother and sister.

Other than getting into some of the most sought after universities in the United States, what the three had in common was that their parents are Chinese, all had done extensive prep work to get into their dream college, and all three rejected those universities for the school they really wanted – Harvard University.

“Chinese parents only know Harvard, Harvard, Harvard,” said the owner of a small, private tutoring service that helps children from low-income Chinese families prepare for various college standardized tests, like the SATs and the SAT subject tests. “Parents come to me and say, ‘Our child must get into Harvard. They must get into Harvard, we don’t want them to go anywhere else,” said the owner, who declined to be named.

She has been working with high school students for nearly a decade, hiring teachers to help classes of 15 to 20 students prepare for the SAT exams. Most of the students that attend the SAT classes in Brooklyn began preparing as early as their freshman year of high school.

“Particularly for the Chinese who come to the United States, it’s only Harvard. It’s as if there are no good schools other than Harvard,” she said. “I tell these parents, there are so many good schools in the US, but they don’t even know schools like Dartmouth or Vanderbilt. Obsessing over Harvard is almost a Chinese tradition now.”

Some trace that obsession back to 2000 when Harvard University and Liu Yiting became household names across China after Liu’s parents published a book chronicling how their parenting style led to their daughter’s admission to Harvard. “Harvard Girl” sold millions of copies in China and detailed Liu’s disciplined upbringing and how she became one of the first Chinese undergraduates to attend Harvard on a full scholarship.

The book led to many copycat titles, with different parents trying their hand at detailing their own parenting styles and how it led to their childrens’ admissions to other prestigious higher education institutions.

Bev Taylor, the founder of college counseling service The Ivy Coach, works with parents and their children to get them into the schools of their choice. She helped the family whose daughter and son were accepted by Yale and Princeton.

“They weren’t done. They wanted Harvard. Why it was Harvard? I don’t know. What’s wrong with Princeton, what’s wrong with Yale? And why would you go through that? What’s so different?” she said. “A lot of it is bragging rights so mommy and daddy can say they have one kid at Harvard and one kid at Princeton, instead of saying they have two kids at Princeton.”

Taylor said that about 85 percent of her clients are Chinese and Indian. They pay $995 an hour for Ivy Coach’s services, which range from helping with personal essays to reviewing applications to see where students can improve them and make them stand out.

Billie Wei, who almost finishes up with her first year at Harvard, went to Ivy Prep, one of the most well-known Chinese cram schools in New York.

As for her turning down Yale, “she just couldn’t let go of the reputation of Harvard,” said her father, who said going to the school was her decision.

There are 722 students from China studying across all of Harvard’s colleges, more than 300 of whom go to the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, with the rest in undergraduate and other graduate programs.

“The number of students from China studying across Harvard University has increased significantly in recent decades,” said Jeff Neal, director of communications at Harvard.

The number of students from China attending Harvard has increased threefold since the mid-1990s, according to the school.

Harvard doesn’t break down applicants by country, but Neal said that the number of applicants from China to the undergraduate program has also grown during that time period, “though at a much slower rate”.

amyhe@chinadailyusa.com