Harvard Schmarvard: A Small College Shines
This will be the first in an occasional series of blog postings on little-known colleges that prove their worth. My 2003 book Harvard Schmarvard argued that the big name schools don't provide a better education than the little name schools. Research indicates that qualities that bring success---persistence, humor, kindness, patience---are acquired before we ever take an SAT test. The brand name schools look good because they lure lots of students with those qualities, but students with similar character strengths who go to unknown schools often do just as well, particularly if they pick colleges with great strengths in areas that interest them.
I tend to ramble about this topic a lot. Parents who write and seek my advice on college selection get an email-full of such Jayisms. In many cases they go away realizing I am a bore. But occasionally I say the right thing, and years later they let me know that. Here is a message I received today from Michael Bledsoe, pastor of the Riverside Baptist Church in southwest D.C. and an adjunct at the Howard University Divinity School. Four years ago, when he and his wife were agonizing over where to send their first child, Kelley, off to college, they read some of my columns and wrote for more advice. Kelley was attracted to Agnes Scott College in Decatur, Ga., I told them that in many ways that school would be better for her than an Ivy League university. In his new message, Bledsoe said this:
"Agnes was a terrific choice for Kelley. She spent one year abroad, studying in London at the School of Oriental and African Studies and a second semester in Hong Kong at a sister school there. In May she graduated magna cum laude, passed the Foreign Service Exam, scored high on the LSAT, was chosen as the outstanding senior in the economics department, was chosen to spend three weeks in China for a grant empowered research project put together by her professors and is flying this Friday to Taiwan as a Fulbright Fellow. Of course, I'm not going to give Agnes all the credit for Kelley's achievements but they deserve a whole lot of credit (they had four Fulbrights this year). It's a small women's college that is stunningly beautiful and deeply committed to empowering young women."
The Bledsoes live in Arlington, a hotbed of Ivy ambition. But it is the student, not the school, that makes the difference. A great student like Kelley Bledsoe going to a school like Agnes Scott can bring exciting results. Those of you who are about to head off to a college your grandmother never heard of should keep that in mind.
| July 28, 2009; 6:22 PM ET
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