Elite schools in the US

As an Australian, I often listen with a mix of intense interest and bemusement at discussions North Americans have about ‘Where I went to school.’ We just don’t do it in Oz, and while I buy the fact that the good schools sometimes tip out highly intelligent people (my old supervisor was a Harvard grad and he was waaay smart), I’m also very skeptical that they really are open/competitive institutions. Indeed, I meet an Ivy-league kid about once a month here doing some kind of poorly constructed research project on Taiwan, and often wonder why this kid gets to write a book about the place and published at a UP, when every second person on Forumosa could write one equally good or better. Anyway, I was wondering, do many Americans get sick of the adoration of the elite schools? What is it about these institutions that attracts so many of the world’s best and brightest? Are they, in fact, the best and brightest, or just a bunch of well-heeled brats? And where does sports fit into all this? How does your ability to throw a pigskin around make you smarter? I’m perplexed, and probably asking all the wrong questions. Can someone help me out here?

As a backgrounder (for those interested), I picked this up in the New Yorker recently newyorker.com/critics/atlarg … at_atlarge. An interesting read.

You mean Australian, Asian, British and European schools don’t do it? I guess that’s why it’s [i]so[/i] easy to get into Monash, Tokyo U, Oxford and Cambridge. Maybe it’s just your ire that Australia doesn’t have a single university in the top 10. :smiley:

According to The Times, the top 10 universities in the world are:

1 Harvard University
2 California University Berkeley
3 Massachusetts Institute of Technology
4 California Institute of Technology
5 Oxford University
6 Cambridge University
7 Stanford University
8 Yale University
9 Princeton University
10 ETH Zurich

wow! Where’s RPI???

I’ll ask the question a different way, because I think I miscued with that first post - seriously no offence to our meiguo pengyou intended. Are the elite schools in the US as good as their PR and budgets?

As we say at Yale, if you have to ask, you can’t afford it. Actually I attended one of those top 10 elitist institutions. I do think that there is a certain amount of fast track correlation. Most UC professors are Ivy League graduates. You are right that Americans have a fascination with fame, power, and money, but you could just as well critique their adoration of Hollywood or sports stars. And America is not alone in this.

In my actual experience however, they are in fact largely the best and the brightest. But each school does have its quirks, recent classes at Berkeley were 1/3 asian (ABC mostly), 1/3 Jewish at Princeton. Yale is still a blueblood holdout. Harvard deliberately takes a few easygoing types to water the competitive level down. Cal Tech seems to have a policy of letting half their students flunk out and not graduate. They do have some small allotment and give out bonus points for children of alumni. Its probably more profitable, since those alumni are rich and powerful on average. George Bush is a perfect example, and there are other doofuses they let in, believe me.

Asking for financial aid does not affect your chances of admission. e.g. "The full need of every student is met with an award consisting of University grants, scholarships from external sources, and a campus job. No student is required to take a loan to pay Princeton

If you’re talking solely in terms of the undergraduate education that a Harvard or Stanford can provide (i.e. faculty/student ratios, class size, interaction with profs, etc.) yeah, they’re a little bit overrated. Even the brightest student at these schools still have to take intro classes taught by TAs in big auditoriums. Yeah, their faculties might have some of the brightest researchers in the world, but that’s no guarantee you’ll ever be able to see them. You can learn just as much astrophysics if work your butt off at Podunk State as you would if you work your butt off at Caltech.

There was a recent study done by Alan Krueger that showed that while there is a very significant difference in earning between graduates of elite institutions and graduates of state schools, still that the difference could be entirely attributed to a selection bias i.e. Harvard students do so well not because of the tools their Harvard education give them, but rather because Harvard only admits a very select few, and these select few would be successful no matter where they go.

Here’s an article by Gregg Easterbrook about that study: brookings.edu/views/articles … rbrook.htm

[quote=“guangtou”] Are the elite schools in the US as good as their PR and budgets?[/quote] No. Large class size, few tenured professors actually teaching–it’s done by t.a.s and journeymen profs working cheap for the boost on the resume. Looks good on paper, good connections, opens doors. If you’re going for status or business pr, fine. Otherwise, long-term, you’re better off researching who the best-teaching profs are, and whether they’re actually teaching or off doing something else.

So, are the British schools as good as [i]their[/i] PR?

Well, can’t speak for English unis, but I think Australian universities are alright. Certainly better than their PR, cos frankly they don’t tend to push themselves that much.

I do think increasing overseas student numbers and a greater dependence on obtaining funding through private channels are very real concerns to the level of academic vigour, however.


There are some excellent Australian universities…one reason I know is from looking at some of their websites where they are showing their world ratings. They seem to think tooting their own horns is important. And in case some missed it, the ratings table I posted above was from The Times…a British newspaper.

Frankly, this is just another “piss on the Americans” thread.

I can speak from firsthand experience that Harvard is vastly overrated. My undergrad classes there were trivially easy compared to any I took elsewhere.

Graduate school there is another matter. They have some of the best grad schools in the world, no question.

Yeah…I’ve heard Harvard’s Motorcycle Repair 101 is a crip course. :wink:

Ease up comrade, lower the heckles. While I agree there are many anti-American threads started with an obtuse dig, I really don’t think this one is.


I knew a triple PhD Stanford professor that said most PhD graduates there don’t know their head from their ass. I agree.

Sure you get kinda educated people but it’s no guarantee of brilliance. Been following the recent Nobel Prize awards? One article I read a few days ago about the ucler guys included some quote about seeing something new in what people look at everyday. Why is it so hard for educated people to see with new eyes? They get to caught up in the knowledge of our time. It’s easy to look back centuries and say how could we have believed that. Yet so few can look at our time and say the same.

So, are the British schools as good as [i]their[/i] PR?[/quote]
Few schools are. Though I suspect that many, many nearly anonymous schools vastly surpass their bad pr.

Sure they do. Harvard at the very least. My American ex-colleague (U-Penn grad herself) had (has?) a sister there on a women’s basketball scholarship.

No, as I’ve already suggested, the first post could have done with an edit before I punched the submit button… I’m actually interested in what people think of the so-called ‘good schools.’ My hunch, for what it’s worth, is that they probably do produce excellence in scholarship, but the cost of this is incredibly high, and includes at a minimum (1) a significant block of rich and well-connected but mediocre students getting pushed through the system, and (2) wide variation in the quality of universities across the US. As regards the latter point, at least part of the reason for the quality of institutions such as Harvard etal is that there is a competitive market in educational services in the US, and framing education this way tends to produce a few really good schools, but a lot of really bad ones as well (think the buxiban industry in Taiwan). There are possibly parallels here with the US health system - excellent specialist treatment alongside a chunk of the population without access to healthcare at all. As I understand, there are around 300 (?) universities in the US. If we were to extend Comrade Stalin’s world best-unis list and look at the top 200, how many US institutions do you think would rate a mention? I’m not sure, but I suspect not a significant portion of the overall pool. Just guessin’ here…

According to The Times, the US has 35 universities in the world’s top 100 universities. In the top 200 universities, the US has 62.


According to The Times, the US has 35 universities in the world’s top 100 universities. In the top 200 universities, the US has 62.[/quote]

Thanks for that CS - so we’re talking roughly 20% of the original pool.