Saturday, July 17, 2010
University rivalries go beyond athletics
BY GERALD M. BRADSHAW
Bradshaw College Consulting
Dear Mr. Bradshaw -- Our son is applying to several Ivy League schools this fall.
He expects to graduate first in his class. We know the competition is fierce, so he is applying to 12 schools outside the Ivy League, just in case.
Our problem is, we're a small-town high school and no other students are applying to the Ivy League this year. Although his guidance counselor has been helpful, we want to make sure we have covered every option and leave no stone unturned.
We expect he will be accepted to at least a few top colleges, but we're not sure which schools are best for him. We hear there are rivalries between colleges and each school has its own strengths and weaknesses.
Can you help us decide which schools would be the best fits? -- Anxious Parents
Dear Parents -- There are, indeed, famous rivalries between universities. Let's start with the one closest to home: Indiana vs. Purdue. Which one would be best for your son?
It's generally thought that Purdue focuses on engineering, while Indiana is the place for medicine and music. About 8,000 students hedge their bets and apply to both.
Personally, IU's unparalleled social life would tip the scales for me. Mixers between fraternities and sororities confer an almost celebrity status on the lucky few. There never has been a problem getting a date for a Sigma Nu party.
On equal footing is the rivalry between Cal-Berkeley and Stanford. When I applied to Berkeley, there never was any question of applying to Stanford.
If I wanted to attend a top college in Utopia, then Stanford would be the place to go. But I wanted the rough-and-tumble politics of Berkeley's radical social upheaval to keep me motivated -- in addition to studying at the nation's leading public university.
Berkeley has it all --engineering, science and liberal arts -- in an urban setting where diversity is the norm in every aspect of college life.
Stanford has the same academic standing as Berkeley, but is beautiful to the degree of being almost distracting. I needed the tension resulting from a diversity of ideas. I doubt I could have survived in such a surreal environment.
Both schools are located near the beautiful city of San Francisco. But at Berkeley, you can view the Golden Gate Bridge as you eat lunch at a street café.
As stated earlier, Berkeley and Stanford are equal in academic stature, with the proof being that Apple, Facebook and Google hire many of their graduates at their nearby Silicon Valley headquarters.
On the opposite coast is perhaps college's oldest rivalry: Harvard vs. Yale. And it is not just limited to who's ranked No. 1 or No. 2 academically. The famous Harvard-Yale football game attracts alumni from all over the country to cheer their teams and drink copious amounts of nostalgia.
I still remember seeing grown men cry in their straw hats when their team lost, and tailgaters comatose with elation when they won.
When not in Cambridge, I watch the annual Harvard-Yale football game in Chicago at a favorite bar, where many alumni still insist on wearing crimson beanies and sweaters with a big "H" or "Y" on the front.
To be honest, each school does have its own identity, even if one can't distinguish them on the basis of their SAT scores. Harvard clearly has the endowment advantage with $35 billion vs. Yale's $23 billion.
Some believe Harvard runs Wall Street and Washington and is the pipeline to prosperity through the Old Boy Network. Others believe Yale is the place to study to become a professor or future judge.
Those aren't the only differences between the schools. Harvard is thought to be a hotbed of competition compared to Yale's more tranquil environment, or so legend has it.
Harvard also is reputed to be more politically radical than Yale. There may be truth to that, based on my recent experiences with students at both schools.
One student turned down Harvard because he was disappointed to find a demonstration in progress while touring the campus. He chose Yale after having lunch with the daughter of a former president of the United States.
Yale's medieval setting among the gargoyles on campus produced the tranquility he sought. Yale also is known as a powerhouse for producing presidents, including Bill Clinton and perhaps future president Hilary Clinton.
That doesn't mean the rivalry is all about the struggle for power and money. Close to 20 percent of the graduating class of Harvard and Yale in 2010 applied to become teachers in the Teach for America program, which focuses on helping kids in poor school districts.