I heard something very sad today.
I saw a student's US college list. He's a 94/100 student with very high SAT scores (2200). His college list was dotted with names like Stanford (where he is applying early), USC, Yale, Yale NUS, Boston University, Boston College, Duke, Penn, Brown, etc. As typical of college lists from Filipino students, it was populated by too many "long shot" and "not a prayer" schools. I can see possible admissions from Boston College and Boston University but I just don't see it from any of the others.
The mother came up and said, "If my son is going to college in the States and I'm going to pay a lot of money, he might as well go to the very best schools. If not, he might as well as go to college in the Philippines and save the money."
While I'm certainly not in a position to tell the mother how to spend her money and where to send her son to college, what she said made me a bit angry...but mostly sad. I felt sad for the son. There's nothing intrinsically wrong with going to college in the Philippines but given the interest in going to school abroad and the fact that the family can finance such an endeavor, it seemed tragic for the child to miss out on such a great experience such as going to college in the US. Her attitude of "go big or go home" seems to show that ego and prestige are taking over a process which should really be about finding a great educational opportunity for the boy.
So what's wrong with Go Big or Go Home?
1. The misplaced notion of what BIG is. For a lot of parents and students, BIG usually means just one thing: BIG NAME. If you've been following this blog, you already know what I think of this notion. But if you haven't, let me spell it out. BIG NAME does not mean best university. As a matter of fact, I always say there is no such thing as a best university, only the best university for you. BIG NAME universities are not necessarily the best places to get a good undergraduate education. The best places for an undergraduate education are the smaller liberal arts colleges where the focus is on mentoring and teaching undergraduate students. The BIG NAME universities got BIG because of the prestige of their graduate and professional programs. For instance, Harvard's Law School, Medical School, and Graduate Business School is world renowned. But the undergraduate Harvard College (did you even know that the undergraduate division of Harvard University is called Harvard College?) is rarely in the news. The last time it was in the news was for a cheating scandal a few years ago. I'm NOT saying that Harvard College is a bad place to go to college. What I AM saying is that given its extreme selectivity, they can be doing a better job. And you can do yourself a favor by going to a less competitive college that offers a better undergraduate experience.
2. It's all about ego and prestige, not education. Parents and students are loathe to admit it but they like the idea of Stanford (for some reason, this university is incredibly popular among the students I see) not for the quality of its education but for the bragging rights. Most students love the sight of themselves wearing a sweatshirt or T shirt with STANFORD or UC BERKELEY or YALE emblazoned across the front (for some reason, Penn business students never wear a PENN shirt. Their shirts always loudly proclaim WHARTON. Never a more insecure bunch of brand conscious kids, if you ask me.) Parents also would love the chance to drop the H-bomb (Harvard) when the conversation turns to where their kids are going to college. Ditto the other Ivies (ok, maybe not Dartmouth because they've never heard of it) and Stanford. But ask the student or parent what's so special about Stanford's method of education or why Harvard is a "good school" and I promise you a lot of blank looks and a few words here and there about how famous or prestigious it is.
3. The kid misses out on a potentially great, life changing experience. I went to the States for college. I would never ever trade that experience with anything, not for all the money in the world. My time in college were the best years of my life. It was quite literally, life changing. It absolutely changed my outlook on the world. I sent my own son abroad for college. Were it not for the prohibitively expensive fees, I would recommend that all students going to college in the States. The freedom from parents, the independence and yes, the responsibilities (shop and cooking for oneself, cleaning your kitchen and bathroom) are something you could never ever replicate here in the Philippines. It's tragic that someone who has the interest and funding to go on such a journey would be foiled by the delusions of grandeur held by the parents and foisted on them by unscrupulous counselors.
4. The potential for being taken for a ride by unscrupulous counselors is much greater. Unfortunately, many of my college counseling colleagues in the Philippines are in it solely for the money and would love to have you pay them an enormous sum to give you a list of schools that do nothing but stroke your ego. At the risk of sounding self serving, Universitas College Counseling is based on the principle of putting student welfare above revenue and honesty over flattery.
So what's the bottom line on Go Big or Go Home? Either change the idea of BIG or end up almost assuredly of going home.