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Princeton
A college freshman wrote to me with some questions on Ivy League schools: their merit, their policies, and their preferences. My responses follow.

1. When interviewing my head of school, who attended Penn approximately 20 years ago, he told me “no one graduated without a job”. This obviously has changed, but why do you think that is? Do you think it is the quality of Ivy League schools that has gone down?

That certainly may be part of it, but it’s not the whole story. The first question is, what do we mean by a “quality” education? What makes one school better than another? Is it the practical (i.e. professional) value of the education? The challenge it provides? Perhaps it’s the social experience, or the values the university conveys? I think it’s fair to say that there’s been a dramatic demographic, socioeconomic, and political shift in the Ivies over the past fifty or so years, but that doesn’t necessarily imply anything about the quality of the coursework. My general impression is that many elite private universities have rather academic curricula compared to their public counterparts, in the sense that they aren’t geared to train students for the “real world.” I’m not opposed to taking courses out of personal interest, but I think most students who are fresh out of high school are hoping to gain some vocational skills as part of their education, and in that respect I think many top-rated private schools don’t deliver.

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Larson

One might think that America’s best universities would be intent on recruiting the top minds in the nation, but that’s often not the case. Instead, many highly-ranked private schools provide special preferences for anything but stellar academics. Brace yourselves: If you want a place at one of America’s elite universities, the answer may not be to study hard and get good grades, but rather to be born into the right circumstances – i.e., to be of the right race, religion, socioeconomic background, legacy status, or athletic ability.

Affirmative action – or just plain racism?

Not long ago, Harvard was charged with ethnic discrimination against Asian applicants. The following article discusses this issue at great length and suggests that the accusation is indeed well-founded. It additionally reveals a pattern of discrimination against gentile whites (Euro-Americans), as well as arbitrary favoritism toward Jewish students. Harvard employs an affirmative-action program to ensure that it has an abundance of ethnic minorities, but in the process knocks out some of its would-be best and brightest. How good can America’s top-rated university be if it’s not even meritocratic?

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