Gladwell, Harvard, and the admissions process Matt 04 Oct 2005

59 comments Latest by surprised

A friend of mine had this conversation at a party the other night:

[general business chit chat and then…]
Stranger: So where did you go to school?
Friend: Uh, University of…
Stranger: I went to Harvard.

A related story appears in “Getting In,” Malcolm Gladwell’s latest piece for the New Yorker, which examines the social logic of Ivy League admissions.

Once, I attended a wedding of a Harvard alum in his fifties, at which the best man spoke of his college days with the groom as if neither could have accomplished anything of greater importance in the intervening thirty years. By the end, I half expected him to take off his shirt and proudly display the large crimson “H” tattooed on his chest. What is this “Harvard” of which you Americans speak so reverently?

Gladwell points out that purely merit-based admissions were actually phased out at Ivy League schools because too many Jews were getting in.

The enrollment of Jews began to rise dramatically. By 1922, they made up more than a fifth of Harvard’s freshman class. The administration and alumni were up in arms. Jews were thought to be sickly and grasping, grade-grubbing and insular. They displaced the sons of wealthy Wasp alumni, which did not bode well for fund-raising. A. Lawrence Lowell, Harvard’s president in the nineteen-twenties, stated flatly that too many Jews would destroy the school: “The summer hotel that is ruined by admitting Jews meets its fate … because they drive away the Gentiles, and then after the Gentiles have left, they leave also.”

He also mentions that despite the emphasis our culture places on an Ivy League education, the general rule seems to be that if you are a hardworking and intelligent person, you’ll end up doing well regardless of where you went to school.

Another interesting bit looks at the success of athletes after graduation.

Halfway through the book [“The Game of Life”], however, [authors] Shulman and Bowen present what they call a “surprising” finding. Male athletes, despite their lower S.A.T. scores and grades, and despite the fact that many of them are members of minorities and come from lower socioeconomic backgrounds than other students, turn out to earn a lot more than their peers. Apparently, athletes are far more likely to go into the high-paying financial-services sector, where they succeed because of their personality and psychological makeup. In what can only be described as a textbook example of burying the lead, Bowen and Shulman write:

One of these characteristics can be thought of as drive — a strong desire to succeed and unswerving determination to reach a goal, whether it be winning the next game or closing a sale. Similarly, athletes tend to be more energetic than the average person, which translates into an ability to work hard over long periods of time — to meet, for example, the workload demands placed on young people by an investment bank in the throes of analyzing a transaction. In addition, athletes are more likely than others to be highly competitive, gregarious and confident of their ability to work well in groups (on teams).

My 2 cents: If you’re looking for someone who’s truly smart then look for ongoing intellectual curiosity. Where someone went to school isn’t nearly as important as whether or not that person continues to read, learn, and grow after school is done. I know a few people from top schools who hardly ever read anything longer than Us Weekly these days. I know other people who never went to college but constantly feed their brains and learn on their own. I’d much rather team up with someone in the latter category.

59 comments so far (Jump to latest)

sb 04 Oct 05

my heroes have always been cowboys. and they still are, it seems.

me 04 Oct 05

I am the latter. I do pretty well for myself.

brad 04 Oct 05

I used to work with a woman who, whenever referring to her college days, would say, “When I was at Yale,” instead of “when I was in college” or “when I was at university.” I’ve since encountered quite a few other ivy-league graduates who do the same thing, and it really, really grates on me.

Dan Boland 04 Oct 05

Screw the Ivy League. I went to a podunk college and I’m proud of my school, my education and my career.

W. Andrew Loe III 04 Oct 05

We’re not all like that, a few bad apples can always ruin it for the rest. You’ll have to pry pretty hard to get me to say where I go to school.

BryanW 04 Oct 05

Dan Boland, i’ve never heard the word “podunk” outside of Detroit Texas. Didn’t think i’d ever see it again (:

JP 04 Oct 05

I like losers like that. They save me the effort of trying to figure out how “real” they are. If they name drop some dumb ass college like that I can immediately tell they are just full of themselves, and excuse myself for another drink.

Josh Rothman 04 Oct 05

To me a lot of Gladwell’s data points to a different conclusion: education is not all about how much money you make afterwards. A lot of the benefits of Ivy League-level colleges are obviously not going to help you make more in the job market, because they are not really job-related. How do smaller classes help you make money? How about the great art museums on campus? How do the great professors in literature, the arts, and other other non-job-related disciplines lead to a larger income? Today you can major in anthropology and go on to become a web developer. Gladwell calls college an aesthetic experience, and I think that’s true, but in a way that means something serious. It’s not as though your job contains within it all of life or utilizes all of your capacities. Obviously you can get a great education at almost any school if you have drive, and can go on to a great career; but for me, when I was a high school student, I wasn’t thinking about my career when I went to college—I was thinking of college as the only four years I would have as an adult that were not career-oriented.

Josh Rothman 04 Oct 05

And as an aside — though there are plenty of lame, stuffy people at fancy colleges, there are also a lot of really nice, really straightforward people who are just regular kids going to college.

Dave Simon 04 Oct 05

The reason athletes are successful is because they thrive on competition.

The kids whose parents don’t want to keep score in Little League will have trouble succeeding in the real world against the kids who learn sportsmanship and healthy competition.

As far as Ivy Leaguers, who cares where you went to school? What have you done LATELY?

William Murray 04 Oct 05

I had the opportunity to attend an Ivy League school, but ultimately went to Georgetown. I was later involved in a conversation with a Harvard student who commented, “If you could go to Harvard, why would you go anywhere else?” to which someone else responded, “Well, that’s one reason why I wouldn’t go.” Unfortunately, there are students at many schools who suffer from an off-putting and inflated sense of entitlement, and not even my alma mater is immune. However, there are plenty of students and alumni with a much healthier attitude about their school of choice.

In the end, I went to the school that was right for me, had a great time, learned quite a bit, and still remember my years on the Hilltop fondly. And that’s what’s important, not the institution named at the top of your diploma.

Art Wells 04 Oct 05

It’s a poor education that requires branding, and a poor student that relies on brand. Nonetheless, I’m sure a large part of Harvard students go there, not because of brand, but because of the resources that the brand amasses.

J 04 Oct 05

Hey, that’s really encouraging. I’ve been struggling with my boss in a small startup (a company with a CEO, a VP, and a senior but no junior), who constantly criticizes my approach to using her degree as grounds for authority. I’m treated like I must know nothing since I didn’t get my ticket punched at the university. The problem I’ve faced most often is getting my foot in the door, being self-taught. I know I have more of a vision and drive than my peers, but those things can only be seen by those who want to see them. I’m glad there are people out there like you guys (37S), who focus on the things that matter.

MSF 04 Oct 05

Throughout my grade school years I was often the black sheep among a flock of overachievers. For many of my peers, admission to the Ivy League (and elite technical universities) was usually a sign of winning the academic game, not of making it through ‘rush’ and gaining admission to the dream fraternity or sorority.

I, on the other hand, let both my indecision and passion for learning take hold and managed to suffer through/enjoy a rather protracted college career. Three universities, three majors, and one degree later, any regrets have little to do with where I went to learn.

Most Ivy League veterans that I know or work with would be just as valuable or useless regardless of where they went to school. Where it has made a difference in their cases has been how that affiliation has provided introductions. Again, it’s a bit like joining a fraternity, sorority, or picking up the game of golf as a business decision.

Expressions of both superiority and inferiority are simply evidence of misplaced esteem.

Vaibhav 04 Oct 05

I am a Berkeley grad and fully support the fact that a smart person will always do well, whichever school he/she goes to.

However, one thing I do think is very valid is that a school you go to can make a big difference in the exposure you get to “whats happening” and allow you to really explore things you would not have known otherwise at that point of time. A good school can help this process, though it finally depends on the person to pick-up or ignore these opportunities.

FineJames 04 Oct 05

I am a graduate of the school of hard knocks….got the welts on my back to prove it

DaleV 04 Oct 05

W. Andrew Loe III: C’mon! Tell us!!! Where did you go?!

I got a chuckle from your comment, while you use your full, stuffy-sounding name as your user name. Ugh.

Mike Moscow 04 Oct 05

My father is a garbage-man, I barely graduated from High School, I never graduated from technical school, I’ve been shot at in gang fights, (bullet missed me and hit my buddy in the shin), 2 of my friends are dead from drug overdoses the rest are hooked on crystal meth and xanax.

Yet, I’m the Art Director of a leading PR Firm here in Miami. I’m ushering web standards into all of our web-designs and currently teaching myself Ruby on rails and oil painting. I”M ALWAYS READING/STUDYING/DRAWING.

I find a great sense of satisfaction in overcoming obstacles. The harder the obstacle, the greater the sense of satisfaction.

So I agree drive, determination and ambition will get you anywhere you want to go. But networking also does wonders…

Growing up and being room-mates with the son of the Head of the CIA for instance, will open many doors for you.

Sh*t, I’d join Skull and Bones if I could

Lisa 04 Oct 05

W. Andrew Loe III attends Dartmouth.
Easy find on his website ;)

CSW 04 Oct 05

DaleV, yes, that was indeed funny.

W. Andrew Loe III 04 Oct 05

We�re not all like that, a few bad apples can always ruin it for the rest. You�ll have to pry pretty hard to get me to say where I go to school.

Meaning, I W. Andrew Loe the Third went to an Ivy League school. And while you contemplate that, Gilligan, bring me another martini, just like the last one, only more booze in it this time.

Anonymous Coward 04 Oct 05

I know a few people from top schools who hardly ever read anything longer than Us Weekly

Trust me on this one, the bulk of US Weekly readership is not former Harvard grads!

Ryan Schossow 04 Oct 05

Life is a series of opportunities, positive and negative, to choose what person you wish to be. Ivy League schools offer a wealth of resource and opportunity to build knowledge and relationships. What you do with what’s offered is yours.

The fact is the connections you make in an Ivy League school are most likely backed by a large sum of money and will achieve high positions because of background and connections of their families.

A verifiable underachiever in academics, business and life choices is now the President of the U.S. as a result of his Ivy League upbringing. Not to categorize Ivy League by this example, but imagine what a driven person with those opportunities could achieve!

Good or bad there are benefits to the Ivy League system. Not to say that you can’t or shouldn’t achieve whatever your goals are with out, but bankrolls and high positions can help.

That said, I am self taught and have struggled every step of the way. I wouldn’t trade any of it for another way because it all made me, me! However you get where you are and whatever road you travel to get where you will be, be happy with you and the rest is a great adventure!

Jonny Roader 04 Oct 05

As Ian Brown said, “It’s not where you’re from, it’s where you’re at.”

brad 04 Oct 05

Gladwell points out that purely merit-based admissions were actually phased out at Ivy League schools because too many Jews were getting in.

Perhaps, but that was a long time ago. Things have changed. The current president of Harvard, Larry Summers, is Jewish and so was his predecessor, Neil Rudenstine. The student body at Harvard today is quite ethnically and racially diverse, and I’m sure that’s true for the other ivies as well.

I got my degree from a state university, but I worked in the central administration at any ivy-league college for three years. I took a few courses while I was there, and to be honest I didn’t see a big difference in the quality of the teaching or the material; in some cases I thought I had better instructors at the state college. But it’s true that an Ivy league degree can open doors that might not otherwise be open, and I’ve even found that having that job on my resume has made potential employers take me more seriously.

pwb 04 Oct 05

So athletes are successful salespeople and stock brokers? BFD. Surely the world needs other professions.

Don Wilson 04 Oct 05

Trust me on this one, the bulk of US Weekly readership is not former Harvard grads!

He didn’t suggest that most US Weekly readership are Harvard grads, but quite the reverse.

Don Wilson 04 Oct 05

Trust me on this one, the bulk of US Weekly readership is not former Harvard grads!

He didn’t suggest that most US Weekly readership are Harvard grads, but that there are a lot of Hardvard grads that read US Weekly.

Lisa 04 Oct 05

As Ian Brown said, �It�s not where you�re from, it�s where you�re at.�

Clearly Mr. Brown wasn’t an Ivy League grad. Everyone knows its not proper english to put a preposition at the end of a sentence ;)

I’ll take one of those martinis, too! :)

I.V. 04 Oct 05

Most people I know from Harvard or Princeton are loathe to tell people that. These people would usually say, “I went to school in Boston”, or “I went to school in New Jersey.” Quite the opposite from what you might expect.

cj 04 Oct 05

What you get at the Ivy is not the education but the roledex

Deirdre Saoirse Moen 04 Oct 05

As someone who got her BA and MS at “schools of convenience,” I do occasionally run into people who sneer at where I got my degrees, because of assumptions they make. Of all the schools I’ve been to, my BA education was the best-rounded (as one might expect) and most interesting. It was common to want to stay an extra semester (I did) after getting one’s degree.

I started working in the computer industry just after my sophomore year in high school. Because I was working and didn’t want to stop working, this limited my college options.

During my BA, I was doing a lot of consulting and was physically moving around (changing states) every six months to a year. This meant that going to any traditional school was right out, which severely limited my options at the time.

Frankly, I think I got a better education going for short, intense periods on weekends. It allowed me to concentrate on both my job and my schoolwork.

Megan Holbrook 04 Oct 05

This quote from the article struck a chord for anyone who went to Harvard (and isn’t trying to stick it in other people’s faces):

You can imagine my confusion, then, when I first met someone who had gone to Harvard.

There was, first of all, that strange initial reluctance to talk about the matter of college at all�a glance downward, a shuffling of the feet, a mumbled mention of Cambridge. �Did you go to Harvard?� I would ask. I had just moved to the United States. I didn�t know the rules. An uncomfortable nod would follow. Don�t define me by my school, they seemed to be saying, which implied that their school actually could define them

What is left unsaid is the response you often get if you do admit you went to Harvard. If I only had a dollar for each person who then said something like, “Well, geeeee, you must be smaaaart…”, well, I might be as rich as some of those athlete/Wall Street types today… ;)

Seriously, though. Harvard was one of the most amazing experiences of my life, and it opened me up to an array of different choices. But anyone who graduated from there with the sense of entitlement or hubris displayed by these arrogant alumni really didn’t “get” the experience. With all the chances to learn and grow in that environment, if the best thing they got out of going to Harvard was the opportunity to say they went there, then it’s pretty sad.

pwb 04 Oct 05

What’s worse, bagging on Harvard or defending your own experience at a “lesser” institution?

DEM 04 Oct 05

There are as many forms of intelligence as there are individuals. I just happens that the general western culture school of today is biased towards liguistic/logic intelligence which makes people with that intelligence more likely to get good grades.

Intelligence and succes is a relevant thing. If you cannot comprehend a certan intelligence it is of no importance for you and that showes it down the ladder of status.

Alex 04 Oct 05

I’ve worked with plenty of Ivy League (or similar type of school) grads in my career. Some of been really sharp, and others have been less sharp. I’ve worked with folks who were completely self taught and very sharp.

However, on average, folks who go to top schools do tend to be more successful than those who do not. My own experience in the work force tells me so, there is a greater than average number of folks at places like Google, Amazon, Yahoo, and Microsoft that have that type of top notch education. There are plenty of folks without that background too, but percentage wise it is hard to ignore.

Some of this is that the type of people who get into those schools are very driven and focused, and those same attributes carry forward in their lives. However, those institutions expose you to a ton of cutting edge ideas, technologies, and people who can open doors. You are surrounded by other sharp folks who push you to achieve.

I’m not a George Bush who got into Yale cause my Daddy went there, but a son of hard working lower income parents that busted my ass to get into the Ivy League. It paid dividends and it is an experience I value. I know that what I learned there (in and out of the classroom) still impacts me today. That said, I’m sure I would have been fine if I ended up going to Uinversity of Florida.

I think there are some arrogant pricks out there, but I think just as much as that, there are some really jealous folks [on this site] who are having a hard dealing with their own insecurities. As we used to say growing up in the hood in Miami, “stop hating” on the Ivy League.

Annoyed 04 Oct 05

I would like to respectfully express that I am becoming increasingly annoyed with the posts on this blog. I used to turn to this blog for thoughts and reflections on improving user experiences. Now, I feel that I receive more personal dogma than I do productive thought. While I respect your personal opinions on all things including those on higher education, I (personally) don’t read this blog to catch up on what you think of your friends’ personalities or what you (apparently now giving advice on human resources while working at a company that barely needs a cubicle as office space) think are the best hiring practices.

As a Harvard student, I am also frustrated that you would give such an inaccurate take on the status Harvard admissions. Yes, I think in the 1920s (!!!) Harvard may have had a stance on admissions that is today considered inappropriate. Harvard has been around for 300+ years and for this reason has been a part (willing or not) of nearly every social problem that we associate with the past in the United States. It has also, however, been a great source of solutions for social problems and it strikes me as particularly UNBALANCED that you would string together an instance of one individual’s social akwardness, a racist quote from 85 years ago, and conclude (whether explicitly or implicitly) that one’s Harvard credentials are not indicative of an ability to set goals, work hard, and/or succeed. If you ignore the fact (i.) that admission to Harvard is extremely selective and based nearly entirely on merit and (ii.) that Harvard academics are extremely rigorous and instead choose only to make decisions on an individual’s potential based on their track record (i.) you ignore a significant piece of useful data (what is a university diploma if not a social signalling device guaranteed by the issuing university?) in making hiring/association decisions and (ii.) you prejudice yourself against those who (such as myself) do not have extensive experience in the professional world by simple virtue of their age.

Returning to my more general point, though, I am frustrated with the lack of objectivity that this blog has developed. As a purely personal piece of advice (that is about as subjective as some of your “hypothesses”) : don’t let succees convince you that you know more than you do. It’s easy to do when people listen to you (i.e. you have an extremely popular blog or people ask you for advice regularly). This blog has developed what I would identify as a really inflated ego over the past six months: something which you ironically decry in this particular post.

pwb 04 Oct 05

If you’re looking for objectivity, you should probably stop reading blogs. Also, it’s pretty easy to skip over posts that you don’t have an interest in.

Don Wilson 04 Oct 05

Annoyed: Looks like someone’s failing to manage their level of jealousy. ;)

Wesley Walser 05 Oct 05

First off, I am at school right now, and it’s not ivy league.

I want to make sure that we all realize that the people who get into schools like this are those who have always and continue to have amazing drive. That why they get in, thats how they stay in, and thats why they go on to do bigger things (on average) than most. We all want to think that we can measure up in some way, and yes it’s possiable that we can, but the fact remains that these people have outpreformed 99.9 percent of those around there 99.9 percent of the time.

Michael That's All 05 Oct 05

While we’re bashing Americans… p-p-please stop writing your names too look like you’re famous authors, scientists or royalty. Something-Initial-Something-The-Third is so pomp!

Rick 05 Oct 05

Harvard’s marketing is top notch. Every alum knows the message.

Annoyed (Moving Towards Apathetic) 05 Oct 05

Don Wilson 04 Oct 05
Annoyed: Looks like someone�s failing to manage their level of jealousy. ;)

Thanks (I guess), but I am highly confused about what you are refering to. If any of what I originally wrote came across as jealousy of something then I didn’t make a clear argument. I am not really sure what I am supposed to be jealous of?

I wrote (i.) in the hopes that the authors of this blog read their comments and recognize that at least for me their content has splintered away from what I as a reader consider useful and (ii.) to express my opinion that in this particular post the author sewed together a few very weak facts to support a very sweeping conclusion.

Returning to the first point above and responding to pwb’s comments concurrently, I understand that blogs are inherently subjective vehicles. Nonetheless, this particular blog is run by a business (and probably to some extent for commercially lucrative reasons). For that reason, I expect that the authors should be interested in maintaining a wide audience: something that I think will be dificult to do should the blog continue to concentrate less and on user experience (an area where the authors are well-recognized) and more about some guy’s daily opinions and random thoughts (there is, for me, no enormous public value added by recording your thoughts on every topic for which you have an opinion although should you wish to do so there is a great forum for this called livejournal!).

I guess this is a bit of the fine line between a journal and a blog: a journal need not be a point of reference for others or a coherent stream of communication. A blog/publication, on the other hand, might be better served by self-selecting to concentrate on areas that interest the audience and about which the authors are knowledgeble. Again, though, it is worth re-emphasizing that the distinction I have drawn just above is a fuzzy one.

brad 05 Oct 05

Hey “Annoyed,” if you look at the top of this page you will see an explanation that SVN is “about design, customer experience, entertainment, politics, Basecamp, products we like, small business, ourselves, and more.”

SVN has never been focused solely on “user experience,” just have a look through the archives. This complaint comes up every few weeks.

8500 05 Oct 05

In response to the “stay on topic” poster above:

37signals prides themselves on being a small responsive company with a human face. These types of posts, while not directly related to user experience, are a way to make their team seem like real people building real software tools and not some faceless corp.

I would visit this site less if they didn’t present alternate and thought provoking topics.

MrBlank 05 Oct 05

Annoyed: “(i.) that admission to Harvard is extremely selective and based nearly entirely on merit …”

I can’t believe that. If you have family connections to the school, you’re in. If you are a particular ethnicity that the school wants to be “diverse,” you’re in. If you’re a country boy from the midwest and want in, your “merit” better be pretty damn good.

jean zaque 05 Oct 05

does anyone have statistics comparing the success (however you measure it: salary, happiness, stuff, title) of ivy league grads with that of non-ivy leaguers? on a personal note, if i could live my life over again, i’d work hard and go to cornell, because it’s one of the most beautiful campuses i’ve ever seen.

Chopper 05 Oct 05

Didn’t Steve Jobs and Bill Gates drop out of college to found some of the most successful companies in the history of the computer industry?

College doesn’t make successful individuals - choice, talent and a little luck, does. IMHO.

Wesley Walser 05 Oct 05

Chopper: Yes, but in the case of Gates, as I don’t know about Jobs, he dropped out of an ivy league school.

Also if you have connections to the school, enough connections to sway their decision to let you in, then you should get it. The reason that I say this is because if your parents know people who are high enough up in the food chain at an Ivy league school chances are they are over achievers, very successful, or extremely smart, and the fact is over achieving, successful, smart parents breed over achieving, successful, smart kids. If you do get in because of this, and just happen not to be good enough you will be out within the first year so it doesn’t matter then doesn’t matter.

Same goes for ‘If you�re a country boy from the midwest and want in, your �merit� better be pretty damn good’ once again goes back to, in most cases, the fact that your parents raised you to remain ‘a country boy from the midwest’. They grew up there, they achieved at that level for their entire lives, they were surrounded by people who did the same.

If you are surrounded by smart people chances are you will achieve at that level, and the admissions offices are these schools realize that, and if you think otherwise you are ignoring the facts. Yes there are exceptions, and kids with enough drive to be exceptions will also have enough drive to fill out an application.

I should point out once again that I do fall into the ‘country boy from the midwest’ category. I am just a logical person who realizes that these schools breed superior students, businessmen/women, achiever, and if that’s your basis for life, people.

sloan 05 Oct 05

I think it comes down to surrounding yourself with intelligent people and having interesting discussions and debate over ideas. Some universities are great for that, unfortunately most are not because of the fact that they are focused on research and not teaching, Ivy League, top 20 or not.

But the same skills that get you into a top schools are not necessarily the same ones that translate to critical thinking, exploration and understanding. So just do your best to seek out real intellectual challenges….

brad 05 Oct 05

the fact is over achieving, successful, smart parents breed over achieving, successful, smart kids.

Wow, I can think of a LOT of exceptions to that rule!

I think it comes down to surrounding yourself with intelligent people

I think this is a large part of what sets trophy schools apart from the rest. As I mentioned above, I took a few courses when I was working at Harvard, and while I didn’t think the quality of instruction was any better than what I got at the state college where I got my degree, I did find that the students were more motivated and intellectually engaged. And that made a difference. Plus the university attracted a lot of inspiring outside speakers and guest lecturers that I never would have seen at the state college.

MrBlank 05 Oct 05

Wesley Walser: “in most cases, the fact that your parents raised you to remain �a country boy from the midwest�. They grew up there, they achieved at that level for their entire lives, they were surrounded by people who did the same.”

It seems like you agree with me, but it sounds like you’re complacent with the way things are. I find it to be a new-age cast system � you’re a country boy and you’re gonna’ stay one. What? You think rural people don’t want to go to ivy league schools or think they can’t do it because it’s out of their reach? What you find to be “logical” is class discrimination and anytime you let an under-achieving kid slide in because of their parent’s status you take a chance away from from someone who actually deserves it.

I too am one of those country boys and I’ve always wanted to achieve more than my neighbors. For me, ivy league, or art school was out of the question. I had the grades and portfolio, but not the money. Lucky for me, I was able to find a design program in a public university nearby that gave me a fantastic design education that I otherwise would not have been able to afford. (Art Chantry called it “the best design program I’ve ever seen.” Read about it in Print magazine, LVI:I April 2002, page 64.)

Daniel Lakier 05 Oct 05

Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner discuss this from an imperical point of view a little bit in their book.

Their analysis is that an individual’s success is highly correlated with their education, which is highly correlated with the education of their parents. While they allow for exceptions, having parents who are highly educated, and who attended elite schools makes their children more likely to be sucessful and achieve the same level of education.

It does not seem that the reason these children attend elite schools is because of legacy admissions, but rather other factors, like home life, values, opportunities, etc.

And as far as the curriculum at elite schools being any better, I can’t say I know the answer to that one (except maybe they have smaller classes), but I do suspect ADMISSION, not GRADUATION, to such selective schools is highly correlated to success.

Dave 06 Oct 05

Next time someone mentions they’re from Harvard (or Yale), expecting you to be impressed, just reply, “Oh, that’s a good school” and see what they do.

Seb Paquet 06 Oct 05

As a matter of fact, there’s an old joke that goes, “How do you know that someone went to Harvard?”

“They tell you.”

gretchen 06 Oct 05

What’s funny is that my experience with Harvard grads is the opposite. The joke actually goes:

#1: Where’d you go to school?
#2: Oh, in Boston
#1: Oh yeah? BU? BC?
#2: Actually it was in Cambridge, but— hey, are those canapes?

I rarely tell people I went there because it automatically introduces some wierd vibe. And, it’s not that important. It’s just the over-achievers that constantly bring it. Normal Harvard grads still read plenty and self-consciously talk about big ideas while trying not to sound like a total dork.

Which is hard when you’re a Harvard grad. Cuz we’re all dorks deep down.

Matt 07 Oct 05

My standard response to some sort of stupid boastful remark like this goes:

Oh! I see! You’re _Ivy League_! How’s that working out for you?

Yes, that’s stolen from Fight Club (where Tyler Durden congratulates the narrarator on being clever). But it’s very good at disarming people who are usually boasting to hide some deficiency.

Joe Clark 08 Oct 05

I’m just really tired of this Weblog’s constant repetition of the word “teams.” There’s no “team” in “I.”

surprised 22 Oct 05

Strikingly, lots of people are responding who clearly haven’t read Gladwell’s review, quotations from which begin this blog. Gladwell makes clear not only that Harvard began a non-merit admissions process in the 1920s to exclude too many Jewish applicants, but that other ivies (such as Yale, that looked for “manliness” instead of intelligence up until 1965—I guess attacking countries is manly—not!) also instigated other non-merit based policies—and still do. Legacies, athletes, and others make it in for a host of reasons. Re “annoyed“‘s comments, that’s why a diploma from an ivy doesn’t mean what he’d like it to mean.

Someone asked if any one has surveyed the results. As Gladwell points out, you don’t really make more money by going to an Ivy. But he points out that isn’t true for certain minorities—who do benefit from the cachet.

Furthermore, his overall point is that Americans seem to think Harvard’s non-merit admissions are a moral issue (Gladwell is Candian). He thinks it isn’t. He says, if you’re denied entry to health care, that’s harm. If you’re denied entry to Harvard—which is private—that isn’t harm.

What he doesn’t see is that the ivies—which he admits tries to recruit leaders, rather than dorks—produce the people who deny others health care. Or any social services. Such as our current Ivy moron president.

Basically, though, I’d agree with “annoyed” that the comments here are getting pretty dull and stupid.