FOR MANY HIGH SCHOOL SENIORS and their parents, this is the time of year when colleges let them know if their applications have been accepted. For those who have been chosen, it is now their turn to make their own choices among the colleges that have sent acceptances.
One of the most over-rated factors in these choices are the big names of some colleges and universities. There may be some famous professors at Ivy U., but that doesn't mean much to an undergraduate who is more likely to be taught by graduate students or by temporary "gypsy faculty" who teach introductory courses that the academic stars consider too boring to teach themselves.
For the kind of megabucks tuition that can leave both students and parents in hock for years, this is no bargain. A far better education may be obtained at a good quality college where courses are taught by professors who are competent and available, rather than by the graduate assistants of some research grant baron, to whom undergraduates are a nuisance that he doesn't want to be bothered with.
For minority students, there are further dangers in big-name colleges and universities that want them as warm bodies which visibly demonstrate "diversity" on campus, regardless of whether these students last long enough to graduate.
Despite a recent book by a couple of retired Ivy League university presidents, suggesting that it is imperative that blacks go to elite colleges, whether or not their qualifications match those of the other students there, the cold fact is that it is infinitely better to graduate from Hillsdale College or Birmingham Southern than to flunk out of Berkeley or Columbia. It is also better to get an engineering degree from Cal State at San Luis Obispo than to squeak through some Ivy League school by taking soft courses in subjects that prepare you for nothing but unemployment.
It is a monument to the dedication of many parents that they are willing to take out second mortgages on their homes, in order to pay exorbitant tuition at some prestige institutions. Seldom is it worth it.
Some people point to the fact that students who graduate from big-name colleges earn higher incomes later on. But kids who go horseback riding undoubtedly also go on to earn higher incomes than kids who don't. Does that mean that parents should buy their child a horse, in order to ensure bigger paychecks down the road? Prestige colleges, like horseback riding, are signs of other things that are often the real reason why some people have better chances in life.
Harvard turns out bright students because Harvard takes in bright students -- and usually does not ruin them during the four years in between. But that is wholly different from saying that the reason such students do well in later life is because they went to Harvard.
Graduates of Harvey Mudd College go on to receive Ph.D.s a far higher percentage of the time than do the graduates of Harvard. Graduates of Franklin & Marshall College have scored higher on the medical school examination than the graduates of Berkeley.
Parents should also consider the non-academic aspects of college. Do they really want to send their daughter to a college that has co-ed showers? Many big-name colleges and universities go in for all sorts of dangerous fads like this. Parents can also see their hard-earned tuition money go down the drain when their child is suspended or expelled for a politically incorrect remark.
College guides are often used to help decide where to apply for admissions.
There are a couple of guides that should be consulted before deciding where to choose to go after being accepted.
Two guides that tell a lot about the social atmosphere, as well as the curriculum, at colleges across the country are "Choosing the Right College" and the "National Review College Guide." They are not always in the bookstores and may have to be special ordered. But it is worth the trouble, not simply to avoid wasting money, but also to avoid having a life distorted.
Parents are often regarded as mere obstacles to the student's making his or her own college choices. Not only do some headstrong students feel this way, so do many high school counselors and college admissions office staffers.
But it is not their money and not their child -- and these know-it-alls are not the ones that will have to pick up the pieces if they steer your child into