College education is not the be all and end all that so many public education advocates and politicians make it out to be. As most homeschoolers know, a self-directed or individualized education trumps the standard 20-to-a-classroom uniform instruction experience that the majority of students receive through primary and secondary schools. It is no surprise that many of them believe that they can learn more about life by living it, as opposed to joining those who are matriculating from the failed public education system into a suspect university system. I tend to agree with them, they most likely would learn more if they skipped college and continued to learn as they had been doing. In the future, I will discuss some of the many reasons why college is not necessary for a fulfilling and successful life. However, today I will touch upon some of the reasons homeschoolers might want to consider going to college.
In August, the unemployment rate for those with a bachelor’s degree was about half that for those with only a high school diploma. Those college grads also generally make significantly more in salary, and can be expected to make $700,000 to $1 million more in lifetime earnings. If individuals are interested in taking regular jobs in the regular economy, and employment and salary are primary drivers in the decision making process, then a college degree seems to be a worthwhile financial investment.
The aforementioned arguments become stronger when considering selective colleges. I consider selective colleges to be the Ivy League, select private research institutions such as Duke, MIT and Stanford, and select private liberal arts schools such as Amherst and Williams. Some might include public research universities such as the University of California at Berkeley and Service Academies such as West Point as well. This group is not fixed, and will be expanded or shrunken from person to person, dependent on topic. However, the US News rankings provide a decent proxy for the how selective colleges are.
Perhaps the best reason to attend a selective college is for the branding effect. The fact of the matter is that society often judges people based on their academic pedigree. It is often assumed that the best and brightest go to the most selective schools. Such judgments can play a significant role in hiring and promotion decisions. Some of the best paying, most sought after firms recruit only at the most selective schools. For example, elite investment banking and management consulting firms such as Goldman Sachs and McKinsey & Company will hire from a few dozen schools, but disproportionately from an even smaller subset of schools such as Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Stanford, University of Pennsylvania, MIT and Dartmouth. That such a small group of schools serves as the primary feeders into these firms is all the more remarkable given their small collective enrollment numbers. As of 2008, that group of seven schools plus Columbia and Brown had a collective freshman class size that was about the same size as the combined freshman classes at the highly regarded public universities of California-Berkeley and Michigan-Ann Arbor.
Like getting into elite firms, getting into top graduate school programs is also made easier by attending a top undergrad. The top three feeder colleges into both the Yale and Harvard law schools are Harvard, Yale and Stanford. The top two feeder colleges into both the Harvard and Stanford MBA programs are Harvard and Stanford. For an expanded picture of feeder schools, review the summary by WSJ of the top 50 feeder schools into 15 top graduate school programs.
Selective colleges also prove valuable because of the networking opportunities available to students. Because certain firms target the most selective schools as their core schools, those students have more opportunities to interact with potential employers. Additionally, career services offices at selective colleges typically have better inroads to the more prestigious firms that do not participate in on-campus recruiting. Selective colleges also have the ability to draw stronger faculty because of brand, facilities and endowment. This leads to further opportunities for students to meet influential people in the various disciplines. Finally, because of the increased likelihood of getting the plum jobs and getting into top graduate programs, combined with the already well-connected student bodies (sons and daughters of the rich or politically powerful), the relationships forged at the selective colleges often lead to additional opportunities in the future. One more example should come as no surprise – the top three undergraduate institutions in the 111th Congress were Harvard, Stanford and Yale, again.
Again, not all homeschoolers needs to or should go to college. For some it is an unnecessary waste of time. But for others, depending on various objectives to include career goals, it might be the right choice. If it is the right choice, it often makes sense to try to get into the most selective schools possible.