Thursday, November 01, 2007

What Matters in College Choice 

Seth Godin writes about something I've been hearing for a while now: Statistically, undergraduate colleges all provide about the same education. He opines that, for this reason, top schools ought to pick students lottery-style. I disagree.

What makes a student suitable for a particular school, when "the differences among the 'good enough' applicants is basically zero"? That's where the intangibles come into play: essay subject matter, interviews, extracurricular activities.

I went to a college that is considered one of the elite in this region, The University of the South in Sewanee, TN. During my four years there I saw many people transfer after their freshman year. Yes, Sewanee is a "good school," provides a stellar education and great networking opportunities. But some students discover they're not really happy in a town of about 3,000 on top of a mountain.

I loved Sewanee, loved the small student body, loved being surrounded by hundreds of acres of nature, loved the odd traditions and rigorous academics and liberal arts focus. But not everybody does, and that's why it's up to the admissions staff to try and admit people who are likely to stick around for all four years.

Every college has its quirks which make it heaven for some and hell for others. That's why it's important to find a match between the character of the student and the character of the school. After all, a student is more likely to excel when she is happy with her surroundings, whether she's at the number one U.S. News pick or a school that didn't even make the list.



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