Sunday, April 29, 2007

Another Harvard is Impossible Article

Young, Gifted, and Not Getting Into Harvard - New York Times

Quite frankly, I am getting sick of the whole its impossible to get into Harvard meme, so I was pleasantly surprised when I read this article in the NYT.

The author, a Harvard Alumni, no longer gets depressed after he interviews yet another gifted student who probably won't get in to Harvard, even though the students are way more accomplished that he was when he got in.

As he observes in the story:

I came to understand that my own focus on Harvard was a matter of not sophistication but narrowness. I grew up in an unworldly blue-collar environment. Getting perfect grades and attending an elite college was one of the few ways up I could see.

My four have been raised in an upper-middle-class world. They look around and see lots of avenues to success. My wife’s two brothers struggled as students at mainstream colleges and both have made wonderful full lives, one as a salesman, the other as a builder. Each found his own best path. Each knows excellence.
Though I sometimes regret not giving myself the opportunity to attend a good college after high school, I have lived a pretty decent life. I excel at my job, I have a better house than my parents had, and most of all I have five wonderful kids, but I have also had adventures.

I lived in Europe for 12 years, I have met people from the around the world, ordered beers in more languages than I can count, travelled alone, snowboarded the Alps, sipped beers on the Mediterranean, seen Roman ruins, and countless other adventures that I would of never gotten to experience if I had taken the traditional route of a four year University.

You have to wonder if the one thing that is missing from the resumes of applicants to competitive schools these days is a sense of adventure, and an ability to roll with the punches.

Don't get me wrong, I value education, but if my kids chose to backpack around the world for a few years instead of going to Harvard, I wouldn't be at all disappointed.


nbosch said...

I agree with your comments. I have three adult sons, all went to the same state university that my husband and I went to, it was what we could afford at the time. Go Jayhawks! They are now a lawyer, a chemical engineers and a philosopher (yikes!) The philosopher just got back from two years in Europe--getting a masters degree, meeting new friends and "ordering beers in more languages and countries" than I will ever go to during the rest of my life. How is he different from his brothers who stayed at home?
He has an understanding of global awareness that cannot be taught, he knows of foods and customs from all over, his address book is filled with friends from around the world. He could go to a dozen different countries tomorrow and have a place to stay. How cool.

I teach gifted elementary kids and keep up with a lot of them through high school. I see them applying to Harvard, Stanford, Yale, Brown, Duke, MIT etc. This year NO ONE got into their first choice schools. These kids were National Merit Finalists, top of the class, football quarterbacks, (white males). They'd done nothing but school. They should take a couple of years to do something fun and important and try again. Maybe the outcome would be different. Finishing rambling. N

Parentalcation said...

Kudos to your son, though I don't want to insinuate that travelling to Europe is the only "adventurous" thing in the world, and that it is automatically a better choice than going straight to University.

As to your advice to your students to take a few years and do something fun, I think you have a great point. If colleges value well rounded individuals as much as they say they do, a person with stellar grades, a good resume, and a story of hiking across Africa (or some other adventure), should be highly coveted.

Note: In Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa gap years are quite common. Its something I would like to see more of in the United States

ricki said...

"Name" colleges are probably overrated, save for a few select professions (politics, international business, perhaps law) where your connections are equal in importance to what you know.

I went to a "name" school for my undergrad work, and while I was basically well-educated, I also didn't get a LOT of the experience students at smaller schools did, which limited me. I had a hard time at first in graduate school, for example, because I had had NO real research experience (it was not encouraged for undergrad students at Name School; the assumption was there was just enough research to go around for the graduate and post-doc students). I also, much of the time, was taught by teaching assistants- which can be good or bad, but still - they're teaching assistants and not profs.

If I were counseling a kid these days towards college, I'd ask them what they thought they wanted to do and point them to a smaller (either state or private) school that specialized in that. Or I'd encourage a couple years at a good junior/community college to get the Gen Ed requirements out of the way, and then figure out what they want to do.

I teach at (what I think is) a pretty good small state school. All of the lecture classes in my department are taught by profs or, at least, people with an M.S. in their field. Many students get research experience as an undergrad - pretty much anyone who wants to do research just has to seek out one of the professors and ask.

I give money to my (private, prep) high school and to the school where I ultimately succeeded at graduate work. I firmly refuse to give to Name School, which I feel already has enough money, and didn't do all that hot by me anyway.