Sunday, October 11, 2009

Fair Harvard - 2

My earlier "tearful" -- a la crocodiles -- posting on Harvard students not getting a warm breakfast and faculty not getting free cookies is finally getting like-minded reactions from other publications. Read this.

Why does the NY Times seem "obsessed" with Harvard, as this NY Magazine writer proposed? Well, let's be fair. NY Times is not the only institution in America obsessed with Harvard. The whole country has bought into the "mythology" of a Harvard education. Harvard has assumed a role like baptism in Catholicism. A Harvard degree validates your being somebody really special, indeed in the Catholic context, your very proximity to God!

Whether the original NY Times writer on the Harvard cookie story is a Harvard graduate or not, I don't know. However, it is, indeed, a fact that Harvard is on the "obsessed" list of 90% of all high school students who are in the top 1% of their class. It has also become a short handed expression for whatever is the best American colleges can offer. In short, Harvard stands for the best money can buy. I will deal with that issue in some time.

There was a survey done by the, yes, NY Times a few years ago on high school students who, if presented with a theoretical pair-wise choice, had to decide between Harvard and X where both had accepted the student, and where X was 6 of the top branded colleges in America, including Yale and Princeton, an overwhelming percentage in that survey chose Harvard.

That upset Princeton and Yale to no ends, because Yale, the second oldest university in America is to Harvard where in England, Cambridge is to Oxford.

In the mythology of US colleges, Harvard and Yale are like the perennial twin brothers who need to compete against one another. They are separate but equal.

Princeton, a late comer in the academic "excellence" game has been rated number 1 college by US News, a much "hated" magazine, for some years and in other years sharing the top ranked position with Harvard. Yale, in that "hated" survey, perennially ranks number 3!

Yet, presented with a choice, only about 25% would go to Princeton while 75% accepted by both would pick Harvard. A very slightly higher percentage chose Yale over Harvard. Of course Yale and Princeton would get upset.

Everyone who thinks he or she is a prima donna high school student, top of his/her class, wanted a validation by a Harvard acceptance letter.

Harvard is not the only difficult college to get in. Both Yale, Princeton and Columbia have single digit admissions rate. In other words, less than 10% of all applicants get accepted by all of those 4 colleges.

Yet, only Harvard occupies a mythical position. Hence, the Harvard envy. And that affects all the media writing about Harvard.

I will explore the "myth vs reality" issue in the future.

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