Monday, April 9, 2012

Why getting into Harvard is no longer an honor

That's the headline of a recent column by Jay Matthews at the Washington Post.  The argument that he and an anonymous student put together is that getting in to Harvard or any other highly selective school is less meaningful now that their selectivity is so high.  When you admit less than 10% of your applicants it's very likely that many of those on the edge of being admitted or denied are not all that different.  Matthews and his letter writer make this argument in a very generalized form, ending at the conclusion that being admitted to an Ivy or other top college is no longer a meaningful distinction.

Of course, investing five or six figures in a degree from a school like this is a pretty good indication that I wouldn't agree.  Perhaps being rejected from Harvard is no longer a sign of mediocrity. However, if we say that people being accepted and rejected are indistinguishably perfect and accomplished that means that the people being admitted are perfect and accomplished.  So for graduate schools, employers, scholarships and so on getting in to these schools still has enormous signalling power and makes the schools still worth pursuing in many cases.

On the employer side Matthews' argument might be more valid since there are potentially numerous people employers may overlook outside of their hiring processes focusing on top schools.  People at other schools may be equally (or even more) talented and qualified while also potentially being cheaper in recruiting and salary demands.  However, top schools still provide employers with the most expedient one-stop shop with an extensive quality check.  The ease of use and guarantee of rigorous standards means that many employers won't take the time to look elsewhere.

I personally believe that companies' outright rejection or avoidance of students from non-name brand schools is something that would find more benefit in Matthews and others' criticisms instead of haranguing about college admissions criteria.  Both schools and employers are tightly limited on the number of people they can take on in many cases.  Schools do their best to admit the best for themselves, but having companies blindly follow them creates a large opportunity gap for those who don't attend top schools for whatever reason and a uniform definition of what is "best".  Companies could potentially benefit from a wider labor pool with differentiated strengths and salary expectations.  However, there is still a problem in the limitations of budgets of time and money for recruiting.  If Matthews could solve that problem he wouldn't have to write a column for the Post.

What do you think?

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1 comment:

  1. Your school name matters for the first job! After you accumulate some experience, it is all about your skills. There are many academically gifted people who will not succeed in the real world.