September 15, 2003

Weekly IA Award

This week's Invisible Adjunct Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Excellence (No Cash, Just Glory) goes to Robert Schwartz for his description (comments to Why are Tuition Costs Rising?) of the U.S. News college rankings as

the score keeping system for commuter train parking lots and cocktail parties in the northeast.

Well said, Mr. Schwartz. And apparently in some circles in NYC, it now begins at the level of preschool (sure, some of it's an exaggeration: I don't think they really require CVs from toddlers, for example; but I personally know a couple whose 2-year old had to do an interview in order to gain admission to one of the highly rated nursery schools).

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at September 15, 2003 11:23 PM

"the score keeping system for commuter train parking lots and cocktail parties in the northeast."

Brilliant! I happily pass the crown to you, Robert. I've never understood the obsession suburban parents and their children have with those rankings. I meet unemployed and underemployed Ivy leaguers all the time in my DC neighborhood, where faded "Duke", "Williams", and "Princeton" sweatshirts are as common as flip-flops. And in my lab of successful young researchers, not one of us (all Ph.D.s) are a product of an Ivy league undergraduate education.

Oh, and I can top the 2-year old daycare interview. My dog had to have an interview for doggie day care here in DC. I hear the one near Capitol Hill is very hard to get into. Even our dogs are subject to rejection and social stratification.

Posted by: Matilde at September 16, 2003 09:10 AM

I think that one reason people obsess about the big-name schools is that they are thought to give a leg up to otherwise ordinary students. A brilliant, hardworking student who does his undergrad work at Iowa State will catch up with the brilliant Harvard undergrad quickly enough, but the mediocre Harvard undergrad has an advantage over his counterpart at Iowa State.

I read an interview with an admissions guy from a top school which rejects most of its applicants. He said that about 5-10% of the applicants are automatic admits, another 5-10% are automatic rejects, and that 10% or so of the class has to be chosen from the qualified 80% remaining. (I don't have the exact numbers.) So tremendous effort is put into teaching little tricks to the 80%. (There are probably ways to get kids into the top 10%, but they require a bright kid and tremendous amounts of hard work by kid and parents both).

Many of the Ivy types I've met over the last XX years have been obsessed with contacts, connections, dress-for-success, and other second-order factors, simply because they know they're not overpoweringly bright and above all because thay know they don't want to work excessively hard.

I think that the media is dominated by that type of Ivy leaguer. They don't think of their job as getting the facts or critical thinking, but "Who do I have to impress?" and "What am I supposed to say?" So along with deciding whether or not, for example, to wear a mustache (important issue!) they'll decide whether environmental interest is a career-builder or a dead weight. (I call it the "clever Hans" press).

My own alma mater, Reed College, refuses to participate in the US News survey. In the (equally-shallow, but I don't care) Princeton Review survey we ranked tenth in "Undergraduate educational evironment" or something like that; Reed also sends an extraordinary proportion of students on to postgrad education. (We also ranked first in irreligion, and in the top twenty on alternative/hippy/stoner scale. Another local school, Lewis and Clark, seems to be the Reed safety school, with similiar irreligion and hippy stats).

Posted by: zizka at September 16, 2003 11:09 AM

A (very wealthy) guy I know (call him Jeff Jones) took his 3-year-old to one of these interviews. The kid saw some blocks and immediately ran over and started playing with them, ignoring the other kids. "I don't know, Mr Jones," said the school director, "I'm concerned about his lack of interaction with the other children."

Putting on his best fake British accent, Jeff said: "But they haven't been properly *introduced*, y'know."

Posted by: David Foster at September 16, 2003 02:33 PM

And did the kid get in, David?

Posted by: clew at September 16, 2003 04:00 PM
5 this point, "Jeff" had lost all interest in the school...

Posted by: David Foster at September 16, 2003 04:53 PM

Thank You

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at September 17, 2003 12:10 AM

Well, sure, but did they get the delight of refusing the offer? In a faked English drawl?

Posted by: clew at September 17, 2003 11:48 PM