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mercredi, août 23, 2006

To Ivy or not : on name (brand) schools

Does your degree need cachet ? How important is it to study at an Ivy League school and to attend a reputable educational institution? Time Magazine asks the question "who needs Harvard ?" and not long ago Malcom Gladwell, author of Blink, discussed the social logic of Ivy League admissions in an article entitled "getting in". Both articles tend to focus on undergraduate admission but to me the question is still relevant from a sociological standpoint. Is it really essential to attend MIT, Stanford, Harvard, Berkeley and others ?

Gladwell contends that "
Élite schools, like any luxury brand, are an aesthetic experience—an exquisitely constructed fantasy of what it means to belong to an élite —and they have always been mindful of what must be done to maintain that experience."

I would disagree with Gladwell, because
in my own opinion, it goes well beyond the aesthetical experience and the fantasy. Although I strongly believe that the name of your school won't determine your intrinsic value as an individual and merely as a professional, to me, it is still highly beneficial to attend a reputable school (I am only talking at the graduate level), because of the network opportunities, the quality of the faculty etc...

My 100 CFA francs on the question


Anonyme a dit…

I haven't read the article yet, but I do agree that for some purposes, going to a "name brand" school is fairly important for certain degrees-- particuarly the JD and the MBA. In particular, it's well known that while top-20 business schools can provide an excellent business education to those who want it, that's hardly the reason students take out $100K+ loans to attend. What they're paying for is the name brand and networking possibilities, which (they imagine) will carry them to greater heights of success. In a less practical (but perhaps more significant) way, going to a "name school" also confers the benefit of self-validation, for those who need such psychological comforts--in this respect, the urge to attend a name school doesn't differ much from the need to own a Prada or a Porsche.

In any case, none of this is new or confined to the US--society's use of hierarchy in higher education to establish socio-economic preferment has been in place for 100's of years all over the world. For instance, take a look at the student riots that occurred recently at Shengda College in China--they happened because of the presence on the diploma of the _name_ of the affiliate college in addition to the university name!


Lydie a dit…

the article Chris is referring is in the Economist "Chaos in the classrooms" :

Amina a dit…

I agree with Lydie. I'd like to add the follwing: when gradute students from a 'name school' arrive on "the market", they are viewed as 'the elite'. In reality some of these guys maybe much worse in terms of competence then others who graduated from school x. It's all about how society/industry/etc PERCEIVE those students. In some cases, it's all about the illusion and how long you can maintain it!
On the other hand, and still thinking about the graduate level, brand name schools start with the best students, so they still end with the best ones! The quality of the programs/classes they give might not be always at the top of the top, but quality of faculty as lydie said plus quality of students are good enough.

A famous MIT professor told me and other students when asked "how was the admission process at MIT and if all the 'famous' professors would fight to get to advise a super star student", his answer was the following: "well, guess what? at MIT, if I don't get this super star guy today, I KNOW that another super star student will walk by my door the day after"

Now, from the point of view of a recruiter: suppose you have a lot of money and would like to buy bottles of wine- you will most likely buy the expensive ones (the ones that come with a name brand) that not only will taste good from the begining but will also get better as they age...

If we get a little real here, name school always have the strong will to maintain THE name they earned a long time ago. In order to achieve that goal, believe me when I say that in these schools, students go through a living hell every single day! and they compete with the best and IF they survive all this, and get out of there, the brand they carry out with them is more than just a name!