Sunday, April 9, 2006

Grad grades

by Steve Sherman, DI columnist

So ... no one's getting into grad school.

I've counted. Out of 14 friends of mine who applied, only four were accepted, anywhere. Granted, this is anecdotal evidence, but it comes from kids looking to go into a wide range of specialties: M.B.A., M.D., M.A., M.E., J.D., and M.F.A. programs all over the country - it's all-inclusive.

The first question I want to ask is: Have even grad-school admissions people submitted themselves to that "school reputation" trash and accepted kids from other schools with "better reputations" who are equally qualified as a UI grad? Will Johnny X from Northwestern with a 3.5 get in over Jane Z from Iowa with a 3.7, even if both have equally good essays, volunteer experience, etc.? It's a question I'm wondering about, and I'm hoping I didn't make a bad choice going here instead of other, "better" schools.

Not that there's anything "better" about any other school, at all, whatsoever. There's that old "college is what you make of it" line ringing in your head right now. But some parents will do anything they can to get their kids to matriculate in the place with the highest ranking in U.S. News & World Report. They want the "best for their child," even if it is not, actually, what is best for their child.

I say this because, growing up in an upper-middle-class town, I saw many of my classmates go to the "best school" that accepted, usually relying on the famous U.S. News rankings in order to determine what school was "best." Guidance counselors were more like professional athletes' agents, targeting clients towards colleges rather than teams. The real-estate agents, in pamphlets they gave to families looking to move into town, would mention how our high school regularly sent kids to Ivy League schools. It was all a ploy for higher property taxes and a better ranking for our high school in New Jersey Monthly. Students' free wills were sacrificed to pressuring guidance counselors and overbearing parents.

Thankfully, my parents didn't give a shit about this school-reputation bullshit, but, on one occasion, my guidance counselor pulled me out of pre-calc and questioned me for half an hour on why I was considering the University of Iowa over the University of Michigan, another school at which I was accepted. My counselor showed me a recruiting video Michigan had sent our school.

"Other places can take you further than Iowa," he said.

And, with this wave of grad-school denials, I sincerely hope my guidance counselor isn't being proven right. And I don't suggest that we pander to the rankings game; rather, maybe better grad-school counseling for undergrads would prove ideal - or university-advised information sessions.

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