So You Didn't Get into Harvard? New Study Shows It Doesn't Matter All That Much Anyway

My husband (who went to BU) is determined that our son go to Harvard.  I, a Syracuse University ("party school") graduate isn't so concerned.  Hey, at least I went to Newhouse for journalism.

In any event, a new study has found that where you go to college may not matter all that much, in the end.  That's because, according to, is it the institutions themselves that succeed in getting students through to degree completion, or is degree completion merely a result of the quality of the students entering the institutions?

It's long been thought that students should attend the most academically selective college possible, since, among other reasons, highly selective institutions graduate students at higher rates.  But now experts aren't so sure.

New research has shown that attending a more selective college, as measured by average SAT score, does not make much of a difference for a student’s chance of graduating with a bachelor’s degree, once individual and other institutional factors are taken into account.

"Evidence that academic selectivity raises the graduation rate of students who would otherwise have a lower chance of graduating within six years of enrolling was found to be weak at best," newswise reports. "While the effect of moving from a lower- to a middle-tier school or from a middle- to an upper-tier school was found to be positive, it was so small as to be barely measurable. The findings held true for all students, regardless of whether they appeared likely or unlikely to attend selective schools, as predicted by student background characteristics such as race, gender, socioeconomic status, and pre-college test scores."

“Merely attending a more selective college does not make much of a difference for a given student’s chance of graduating, if all else remains the same,” said co-author Paul Attewell. “Our findings call into question the argument that a given student should always prefer the most academically selective school to which she can gain admission.”

 Our results indicate that it’s important not to overemphasize the idea that academically selective institutions, as measured by admissions test scores, somehow have a ‘secret sauce’ that gets students to graduate disproportionately relative to their background characteristics,” said Attewell.

Rather than focusing on a college’s average SAT score, Attewell said, prospective students should give weight to other factors associated with student persistence and degree attainment, such as proximity to family and social supports, favorable student aid, the availability of programs and faculty of interest, and other personal preferences.

I don't know if our son will ever make it into Harvard, but I just hope he goes somewhere that makes him live a happy life.


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