Posts tagged ‘Ivy League’

April 7, 2015

Path to prestigious job may require a prestigious college degree

by Grace

A growing number of employers say a degree from a prestigious college counts less than it once did. But among elite finance and management-consulting firms—which offer some of the highest starting salaries for new graduates—an alma mater still matters. That puts students from less-selective schools at a disadvantage, career-services officers and students say.

A tale of two students demonstrates how the path to prestigious Wall Street jobs is easier when the starting point is an Ivy League school.

To land a summer job on Wall Street this year, Fairfield University junior Matthew Edgar sent 300 emails, made dozens of phone calls and several networking trips to New York banks from the Connecticut campus.

Darwin Li had a more direct route: The Princeton University junior applied online for positions and attended campus information sessions where company recruiters walked him through the application process and the firm’s culture.

The preferred schools vary depending on different career paths, but for Wall Street “they tend to include Ivy League schools and a handful of other elite institutions, such as Stanford University”.  Other careers have their own list of preferred schools, so the message to students with specific job goals is to do your research.

Students who do not attend preferred schools are not shut out completely, but they have to work harder.

For students at nontarget schools, the trick is finding a way into that pool. Without recruiters on campus, they must initiate a blitz of emails, calls and messages through networking sites like LinkedIn to find a banker or consultant willing to flag their application to recruiters.

Related:  If you want a job at an elite firm . . .


Lindsay Gellman, “How 300 Emails Led to a Summer Job on Wall Street”, Wall Street Journal, April 1, 2015.

August 12, 2014

Interest in Ivy League schools continues to be strong

by Grace


Despite a drop in applications at Dartmouth, Harvard and Columbia, overall interest in Ivy League schools continues to be strong.

The number of applications has risen steadily for over a decade (perhaps best shown HERE), so even small drops in applications won’t have a huge effect on admission rates at the Ivies. Harvard may have dropped 2% in the number of applicants, but their admit rate went from 5.79% last year to 5.90% this year, not a massive change. Columbia received 1.73% fewer applications from last year to this year, but the competition is not exactly wavering; their admit rate for the Class of 2017 was 6.89% and for the Class of 2018 was 6.95%. Want an even scarier number? Across all Ivy League universities plus MIT and Stanford last year 305,101 students applied and 26,758 were accepted (8.77% overall acceptance rate). This year? 313,981 students applied and 26,154 were accepted. So what’s that percentage tell us? It’s not easier to get in. 8.33% overall acceptance rate. Admissions is a numbers game and the numbers aren’t bending.

There seems to be a general consensus that even with the current downsizing trend in higher education, “elite colleges will continue to hold their value”.


“Breaking Down the Numbers in Admissions”, Application Boot Camp, July 24th, 2014.

August 15, 2013

The Internet easily overtakes college as a way to meet marriage partners

by Grace

College and other traditional ways to meet marriage partners have become less important as the Internet surges in importance as a modern matchmaker.


From Searching for a Mate: The Rise of the Internet as a Social Intermediary, 2012, Michael J. Rosenfeld, Stanford University and Reuben J. Thomas, The City College of New York

College as a meeting place has not fallen as much as the other non-virtual options.  Along the lines of Susan Patton’s controversial recommendation to Princeton female students that they should find a husband on campus, here’s Ross Douthat’s perspective.

… the university campus is one of the few flesh-and-blood arenas that seems to be holding its own as a place to form lasting attachments. So for those Americans who do attend college, the case for taking advantage of its denser-than-average social landscape might actually get stronger as the non-virtual alternatives decline.

The Internet may be more efficient.

On the other hand, online dating sites allow you to specify a mate with particular college credentials.  Although I think you’d probably want a more subtle way to make your intentions known than putting this in your dating profile:  “Seeking Ivy League graduate.”

Related:  Women who graduated from highly selective colleges more likely to drop out of workforce (Cost of College)

April 26, 2013

Students ‘baffled’ and ‘dumbfounded’ by 2013 college admissions decisions

by Grace

The number of college applications continues to increase and admission rates continue to decrease, with 2013 decisions leaving some students ‘a bit “baffled” and “dumbfounded”’.

The New York Times recently reported 2013 acceptance rates for about 75 colleges.

Applicant pools are growing larger; the University of Southern California received more than 47,000 applications this year. That’s 10,000 more students than just two years ago, when this year’s applicants were sophomores.

Colleges are also becoming more selective. The Ivy League reported an admit rate that dipped to 5.79 percent at Harvard this year. Stanford accepted 5.69 percent of its more than 38,800 applicants. The University of Chicago accepted only 8.8 percent of its more than 30,300 applicants.

Why are so many good students denied admission?

There are various reasons for this: Colleges concerned about their rankings are appearing more selective (and appealing) than ever. Admission officers often select students who are likely to enroll. And, of course, the huge volume of applications dictates that there just isn’t enough room for every good student who applies.

Unexpected outcomes have reinforced the sometimes unpredictable nature of the “holistic”college application process.

There are other reasons for the outcomes, all of which make holistic college admissions a complex, unpredictable process. So if you are a student or a parent who is scratching your head as you review the chart, just know that you’re not alone. Our student bloggers are a bit “baffled” and “dumbfounded” about the admission decisions, too.

One particularly frustrated parent:

I’ll scream if I hear the word “holistic” at a college info session again….

Dan Edmonds argues that higher selectivity is a myth.

What many parents and students don’t realize is that increasing numbers of applications isn’t necessarily a sign that it’s harder to get into a selective school; rather, it’s a sign of changes in behavior among high school seniors. More and more people who aren’t necessarily qualified are applying to top schools, inflating the application numbers while not seriously impacting admissions. In fact, it has arguably become easier to get into a selective school, though it may be harder to get into a particular selective school.

This helps explain why students feel pressured to apply to so many schools, with the average student applying to more than nine colleges this past fall.

Our high school guidance counselor keeps saying there is no need to panic.

… there are more than 2,000 four-year colleges and universities in this country, and many of them offer an excellent education and admit the majority of students who apply. But as interest increases at selective institutions, it may help disappointed applicants to know that thousands of smart, talented, qualified students had to be turned away.

April 11, 2013

How would you advise your daughter?

by Grace

Would you advise your daughter to look for a husband while she’s in college?

Susan Patton set off internet mania with her recent ‘letter to the Daily Princetonian newspaper advising the school’s female students: “You will never again have this concentration of men who are worthy of you. . . . Find a husband on campus before you graduate.”‘

Her advice proved wildly unpopular among a vocal segment of progressive thinkers.

Feminist attacks on Ms. Patton began immediately—the paper’s website was swamped with complaints, the Twitter crowd was livid, and writers lit into her at Slate, New York magazine and beyond.

Another mother gave the same advice.

Five years ago when she was a Dartmouth college junior, Emily Esfahani Smith was surprised when her mother gave her similar advice to start looking for a husband.  Why would “a strong, career-oriented feminist” start pressuring her daughter to get married?

..  She knew what few, if any, feminists would tell young women today: There is far more to happiness than career success.

It turns out academically gifted women value their careers less than similar men do.

Career success and relationships are both undoubtedly important to women’s happiness, but many young and ambitious women value their personal lives more than their career aspirations. And that feeling intensifies over time.

In a 2009 study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, David Lubinski and his team at Vanderbilt found that in a sample of academically gifted young adults, women became less career-oriented than men over time. As they approached middle age, women also placed more value than men on spending time with family, community and friends. These differences became more pronounced with parenthood.

Some reasons to try for early marriage:

  1. There is a larger pool of eligible men for younger women, given the historical patterns of assortative mating and hypergamy.
  2. Finding the right husband is important whether a woman wants to prioritize career or family.
  3. A good marriage can be personally fulfilling.

Some reasons to wait:

  1. In some cases, early marriages are at greater risk of divorce.  (The more important factors correlating with higher divorce rates appear to be marriage at age 20 or younger and the lack of a college degree.)
  2. Marriage may limit a woman’s education and career choices.
  3. Some people need more time to develop and understand their values.

The middle ground:

… Don’t get married so young you don’t understand life, or too old that you can’t experience the joy of losing yourself in a loving spouse and family. I’d spend a couple years seeing the world after the Ivy League before making the leap.

Megan McArdle expounded on the topic, and made the point that the “age at which the right person comes along depends on luck, not some kind of calendar”.

In this annoying but slightly amusing video, Garfunkel and Oates sing about how things change for a woman between the ages of 29 and 31.


January 14, 2013

If you want a job at an elite firm . . .

by Grace

Last year the Chronicle of Higher Education gave us the lowdown on the specific circumstances where it can be extremely important to attend a particular name brand elite college.

If you want to get a job at the very best law firm, investment bank, or consultancy, here’s what you do:

1. Go to Harvard, Yale, Princeton, or (maybe) Stanford. If you’re a business student, attending the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania will work, too, but don’t show up with a diploma from Dartmouth or MIT. No one cares about those places.

2. Don’t work your rear off for a 4.0. Better to graduate with 3.7 and a bunch of really awesome extracurriculars. And by “really awesome” I mean literally climbing Everest or winning an Olympic medal. Playing intramurals doesn’t cut it.

This comes from a study where Lauren Rivera of Northwestern University interviewed insiders at these elite firms.

Keep in mind this study focused on very specific career paths.  If a student is truly interested in a high-powered investment banking career or something similar, then paying for that gold-plated college degree might be worth it.  But how many 18-year-olds really know they want the lifestyle entailed in working for a white-shoe firm?  For those who are committed to this particular plan, Bryan Caplan offered a summary of the winnowing process that is conducted in the human resources offices of these employers.

1. Most applications practically go straight in the trash…

2. Evaluators have a lot of slack…

3. Super-elite credentials matter much more than your academic record…

4. Super-elite schools matter because they’re strong signals, not because they’re better at building human capital…

5. At least in this elite sample, I’m totally wrong to think that extracurriculars don’t matter. … But they have to be the right kind of extracurriculars.  You have to signal that you’re not signaling!…

6. Grades do matter somewhat, but mostly as a cut-off.  They’re a signal of work ethic more than IQ…

The credentialing game starts young.

Robert Teitelman pointed out that the process ensures these top firms will be staffed only with individuals who had the good fortune to be able to play the credentialing game that begins at a relatively young age, and essentially culminates at age 18 in the college admissions process.

On the face of it, there’s a quality to Rivera’s conclusions that seems pretty obvious. Anyone who’s been around Wall Street and consulting — or anyone with a teenager suffering through college admissions — knows the pressure that exists to get students into “elite” schools, however defined, in order to slot them onto a transmission belt to high-paying jobs, mostly at what Rivera calls the elite professional-services firms. This is the core of the myth that drives so much of upper-middle-class child rearing: the necessity of getting the tyro into Harvard or other elite universities, not for any educational attainments (so impractical), but for the effect it supposedly has on future prospects. Rivera is essentially putting flesh on those ghostly bones; she’s arguing that decisions made in college admissions — good, bad or indifferent — play a determinative role in where you go to work and how much money you make. She is not only offering empirical backing to the mania for, say, elite kindergartens and endless tutors, but she’s significantly raising the stakes: only the “top” matters. This is remarkable if only for the fact that college admissions, for all its importance, is about as scientific as necromancy.

The system is “terrible for organizations”.

It’s a bit frightening to realize that employment among these firms essentially relies on the signaling granted by admissions to these elite schools.  As Megan McCardle explained, this system is ‘a convenient shorthand for a group of people who are really busy” and is “terrible for organizations”.

The Ivy League is full of smart, interesting people.  But it is not full of all of the smart, interesting people in the country, or even a majority of them.  And given the resumes required to get there, it produces a group of people who are narrow in certain predictable ways….

This requirement to get the “right” degree from the “right” college to enable you to get the “right” job also exists in other fields.  Here’s an example from the world of music.

In my subfield of music, we have a version of the above phenomenon which determines who gets jobs. There is a short list of maybe half a dozen cronies who basically run the profession, and if you manage to get into their grad programs, you will get whatever top jobs are out there in a given hiring season. Jobs are filled with a phone call.

As someone else mentioned, the current market conditions don’t help things. If a committee has to weed people out of a stack of 200 applications, the pedigree is a quick (and dirty) method of winnowing the list without bothering to look at other aspects of the applications.

Choose your graduate program carefully and with full knowledge that you will be sealing your own fate before you even hit the campus.

A broader lesson for those in the college search and selection process:  Consider how important the particular school and/or department is in the trajectory of your desired career.  In some cases it might be a determining factor, but in most cases it is not so consequential.

November 12, 2012

300 slots in UC Berkeley’s incoming freshman class are reserved for athletes

by Grace

The Berkeley campus will reserve 300 slots in its annual allocation for the admission of students recommended by the IA based on athletic ability.

That is about 7% of their incoming class, a lower percentage than in the Ivy League schools where recruited athletes comprise about 13% of a freshman class.


It has long been admissions policy at the University of California to reserve slots for students of lesser academic achievement in order to meet larger policy ends, most particularly to accommodate The Regents’ policy that each campus should enroll a “student body . . . that encompasses the broad diversity of cultural, racial, geographic, and socio-economic backgrounds characteristic of California.” The campus is fully aware that such policies entail admitting some students at risk.

The Guiding Principles for admission set forth the priority of academic achievement for what is acceptable for acceptance, but it also make clear that the criteria for admission are based on a broad definition of merit, and that can include athletic achievement as well as other kinds of extracurricular activities.

‘Holistic review’

All students at Berkeley are admitted through a process of holistic review. In holistic review, special talents of all sorts play an important role. A nationally recognized musician will get special consideration, for example, because achievement at that level requires dedication and determination, and because having a recognized talent on campus brings value. Similarly, excellence in athletics can tell us about an applicant’s character, dedication, determination, potential for leadership, and the contribution that an applicant can make to the campus. Excellence and achievement in athletics is therefore properly one of the criteria that factors into the holistic review process for undergraduate admissions at Berkeley. A considerable number of students who are not admitted as student athletes do have an athletic background as a significant contributing factor in their admission. Athletic competition over an entire high school career, leadership on a team, or athletic performance (MVP, for example) will count as a plus for general admission. If the student’s team was successful at a regional, state, or national level, it will count even more. One of the less well-understood features of Berkeley admissions is that no one is admitted to Berkeley on academic achievement alone.

It’s nice that Berkeley spells out their policy for admitting athletes in such detail.  I haven’t seen any similarly detailed reporting on their quotas for other groups of students that also enhance campus diversity, such as musicians, ethnic minorities, New Yorkers, Mormons, lesbians, left-handed ex-Marines, etc.  I suspect for that you have to read between the lines in their Freshman Selection Criteria report.

Berkeley offers athletic scholarships, apparently self-funded by revenue from ticket/media revenues and donations.

Here’s a link for more information about Berkeley’s “policies, and practices affecting the composition of the Berkeley undergraduate student population.

Related:  The importance of sports as a hook for admission to highly selective colleges (Cost of College)

November 1, 2012

Behind the scenes of the Academic Index

by Grace

While many of us know the Academic Index as a way to gauge a student’s chances of admission to an Ivy League school, we may not be familiar with its history.

Originally developed as a means of establishing common standards for student-athlete applicants, the Academic Index (AI) has become a sort of shorthand for ranking students. Other colleges, elite and otherwise, may also use variants of the Academic in their admission process.

The Ivy League created the Academic Index about 25 years ago. 

… the league came up with a measurement called the Academic Index, which gives all prospective high school recruits a number, roughly from 170 to 240, that summarizes their high school grade-point averages and scores on standardized tests like the SAT. The index number of every admitted recruit is shared among the member institutions to guarantee that no vastly underqualified recruit has been admitted at a rival institution and to allow member universities to compare classwide index averages for athletes against similar averages for the overall student body.

A.I details are hidden from the public.

While the Academic Index, referred to as the A.I., is a routine part of life in an Ivy League athletic department, outside those offices, it is frequently treated like the most furtive of secret fraternity handshakes. The specifics on how the Academic Index is calculated or how it is evaluated from university to university are not made public. The formula for calculating individual A.I. numbers is not available on the league Web site or in any other official public forum — even if there are dozens of such calculators listed online (nearly all of them inaccurate).

It is a league device established to ensure transparency, but many Ivy League coaches are instructed never to discuss it publicly, which adds to the sense of mystery.

“It is not a secret, but it is an internal tool,” said Robin Harris, the Ivy League executive director. “It’s a way for athletics to ensure a degree of competitive equality. Making it public is not within the intent of the A.I., because people might think it is a tool that determines admissibility, and it is not.

The A.I. was modified in 2011, with the minimum standard raised in conjunction with adjustments to the calculation method.  Every athletic recruit must now meet a higher standard.

Perhaps the most talked about goal of the A.I. is the academic credential minimum it establishes, a number below which virtually no Ivy League recruit can be admitted. This summer, that floor was raised from an Academic Index of 171 to 176, which roughly translates to a B student (3.0 on a 4.0 scale) with a score of 1140 on the old two-part SAT.

In fact, the change did not actually raise the bar for athletes.

Harris said the A.I. this year was not raised so much as adjusted. Class rank was once part of the formula, with grade-point average used only if class rank was not available. But because many high schools stopped reporting class rankings in recent years, it was eliminated over the summer. Harris said the change was made because when admissions directors recalculated multiple A.I.’s under the new system, a candidate who typically reached a score of 171 was now a 176….

Other things to know about the A.I.:

  • Math is overweighted
  • Average A.I. ‘s vary among Ivy League schools.  The same A.I. score that causes a recruit to be rejected by one school could meet the standard at another.
  • The overall A.I. average within a school reflects a balancing act in developing the numbers.  For example, some high-scoring athletes who end up warming the bench most of the season are typically balanced out by lower-scoring athletes who spend more time on the field.  A high-profile sport may be allowed a lower A.I. that is offset by a team of brainier athletes in a less important sport.
  • Recruited athletes comprise about 13% of an Ivy League freshman class.

Apparently most online A.I. calculators are wrong, but if you’d like to try one anyway one of most popular can be found on the CollegeConfidential website.  It’s important to remember that high statistics are typically only the starting point in today’s holistic college admissions process.

May 23, 2012

More on the ‘bifurcation’ of higher education

by Grace

Nicholas Lemann argues that elite colleges are actually priced too low.

Where higher education is actually underpriced is in the top-tier schools. That may sound offensive, but price is determined by what people are willing to pay, and the top twenty-five or so schools in the country could charge even more than they do. The number of applications to those schools continues to grow faster than their cost. (Ivy League colleges will charge about sixty thousand dollars next year.) That’s because the perceived value of their degrees continues to rise. Now that we know that either Obama or Romney will be President next year, we also know that, from 1989 through at least 2017, every President of the United States will have had a degree from either Harvard or Yale or, in the case of George W. Bush, both. That could be a three-decade accident, or it may be a sign of something lasting—the educational version of the inequality surge, elevating “one per cent” institutions far above the rest.

The trend in higher education may be in the direction of sharper class distinctions, and Lemann thinks pumping more taxpayer money into more colleges will improve opportunity and help society.

In higher education, the United States may be on its way to becoming more like the rest of the world, with a small group of schools controlling access to life membership in the élite. And higher education is becoming more like other areas of American life, with the fortunate few institutions distancing themselves ever further from the many. All those things which commencement speakers talk about—personal growth, critical-thinking skills, intellectual exploration, breadth of learning—will survive at the top institutions, but other colleges will come under increased pressure to adopt the model of trade schools. Student loans open access to students, and give colleges more freedom. Obama and Romney will have plenty to disagree about, and it’s good that the interest rate on student loans isn’t on the list. For the federal government to pump extra tuition money into the system, in the form of low-cost loans, in order to spread opportunity more widely, and to allow more schools to provide more than skills instruction, seems like a small price to pay for the kind of society it buys.

I don’t think simply pumping extra tuition money into the system will bolster the growth of rigorous institutions that produce intellectual graduates with strong critical thinking skills.  The problem I see is a scarcity of high school graduates adequately prepared for those types of colleges.  Unless that changes, we’re likely to continue to see the growing bifurcation between elite universities and “trade schools”.

April 10, 2012

The Minerva Project is an attempt to establish an elite online university

by Grace

The Minerva Project is attempting to create an elite online university, a move that if successful could accelerate the higher education reform being driven by escalating costs and improving technology.

Traditionally, for-profit colleges have operated on the lowest rungs of America’s educational ladder, catering to poor and lower-middle-class students looking for a basic, convenient degree or technical training. Aspiring Ivy Leaguers have remained far out of the industry’s sites.

That is, until now.

This week, the Minerva Project, a startup online university, announced that it had received $25 million in seed financing from Benchmark Capital, a major Silicon Valley venture capital firm known for its early investments in eBay, among other successful web companies. Minerva bills itself as “the first elite American university to be launched in a century,” and promises to re-envision higher education for the information age. The chairman of its advisory board: Larry Summers, the former treasury secretary and Harvard president. Among others, he’s joined on the board by Bob Kerry, the former United States senator and president of The New School.

A shortage of elite schools

… The demand for elite, American-style education far outstrips the current supply, he explained, not just stateside, but worldwide….  applications from qualified students are skyrocketing, while admissions rates are falling.

The Minerva business model

… The idea is to scoop up those students who are being shut out, whether it’s a smart American kid who has to opt for a solid state school when they had their heart set on Brown, or the child of a well-to-do family in Beijing, by offering them a great education and a worldwide network of contacts. Minerva will admit applicants based on their academic chops alone — jocks need not apply — and students would live in urban dorms scattered across the globe’s great cities. They’ll take online courses designed by highly esteemed professors from other established institutions. Meanwhile, tuition would cost “less than half” the price of the standard Ivy league sticker price (so somewhere around $20,000 or below). That, anyway, is the plan.

There are opposing opinions on whether something like this can work, and I can only go on my feeling that some big change is around the corner.  Exactly how it will shake out is probably anyone’s guess, but imposing stringent admission standards would be critical in raising the prestige of any online institution.

The value of peer interaction on a physical campus is cited as one reason online college will always be considered second best.  On the other hand, the argument is made that young people are finding online interaction to be just as important as  face-to-face meetings.  Perhaps related,  it has recently been reported that a smaller percentage of teens are bothering to get their driver’s license these days.

A physical campus helps create a community of scholars who engage in various social, artistic, political, and humanitarian pursuits that are integral to the experience sought by elite students.  But if an individual has the smarts and the initiative, an online community could also offer support for getting this type of experience,  just without the need to go into debt for next 20 years.

Will the Minerva Project be the the first elite online university?  If so, we may have to make room for an online Ivy League.

The Minerva Project

Related:  Online degree from London School of Economics for $5,000

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