Not sure if it has been posted before:
1 Harvard University -- Cambridge, Mass.
2 Yale University -- New Haven, Conn.
3 Princeton University -- Princeton, N.J.
4 Stanford University -- Stanford, Calif.
5 Williams College -- Williamstown, Mass.
6 Duke University -- Durham, N.C.
7 Dartmouth College -- Hanover, N.H.
8 Massachusetts Institute of Technology -- Cambridge, Mass.
9 Amherst College -- Amherst, Mass.
10 Swarthmore College -- Swarthmore, Pa.
10 Swarthmore College -- Swarthmore, Pa.
11 Columbia University -- New York
12 Brown University -- Providence, R.I.
13 Pomona College -- Claremont, Calif.
14 University of Chicago -- Chicago
15 Wellesley College -- Wellesley, Mass.
16 University of Pennsylvania -- Philadelphia
17 Georgetown University -- Washington, D.C.
18 Haverford College -- Haverford, Pa.
19 Bowdoin College -- Brunswick, Maine
20 Rice University -- Houston
To no one's surprise, Harvard, Yale and Princeton easily dominated the top of our list. But after that, we found things don't always stack up the way you might think. Four of the other Ivy League schools failed to crack our top 10 (sorry, Penn). State schools like Michigan and Berkeley came in further down the list, and so did NYU (No. 69), which trailed Kalamazoo College (No. 57). And if you're looking for a college with a track record better than UCLA or Barnard, look in Minnesota -- St. Paul, to be exact, home to Macalester.
Colleges see an opening here. Indeed, our survey showed many smaller schools catching on to the feeder idea as a way to stand out. Taking a page from elite high schools, they're looking for -- and finding -- ways to package students so they get noticed by the top grad schools. Georgia Tech started handing out $250,000 in stipends for undergrads to do research that looks good on med-school applications. State schools from Wisconsin to Colorado are stepping up efforts to bring grad schools to campus-recruiting fairs. And when a rejection letter goes to a student from New College of Florida (No. 31 on our list), administrators and faculty blitz the offending grad school with phone calls about the strength of their curriculum.
Small College, Big Job
Then there's tiny Pomona College in California, which sent a higher proportion of its kids to Harvard Law this fall than Columbia or Duke. No. 13 on our list, it's created a separate office to handle grad-school admissions and fellowships, including its own full-time director. They do everything from grilling students in mock interviews ("How do you deal with stress?") to hounding professors who've fallen behind on their recommendation letters. Dean of Students Ann Quinley pens about 100 testimonials a year herself. "It's a huge job," she says.
Grad school, of course, wasn't always something families worried about in high school. For years, the emphasis has been on finding the best undergraduate college, with parents studying guidebooks and schools pumping up everything from the faculty to the cafeteria food to draw kids in. Even when they got there, students usually didn't worry much beyond taking required courses (like the premeds always complaining about organic chemistry). As for who got in to the Harvards and Yales of the grad-school world, Ivy Leaguers often had the edge.
They still do. Almost one out of every seven students in the new fall class at Harvard Law came from, you guessed it, Harvard College. And it doesn't stop there: According to Weekend Journal's survey, add in Ivy rivals Yale and Princeton and the top three schools account for more than 750 students at our 15 grad schools, out of a pool of 5,100 openings. Not that the grad schools, which have been criticized about a lack of diversity, are apologizing for their Ivy addiction. "They've done the work of selecting for us, to a large extent," says Andrew Frantz, associate dean for admissions at Columbia University's College of Physicians and Surgeons.
Beyond the top Ivies, things tilt quickly in favor of small schools, like Williams at No. 5 in our survey, Amherst at No. 9 and Swarthmore at 10. Indeed, of our top 20 colleges, seven have a senior class smaller than 600 -- and only one graduates more than 2,000 students a year. Grad schools told us these small liberal-arts colleges tend to do a better job of advising their students, in areas like picking courses that look good on an application. And when students work directly with professors in small classes, they tend to get better recommendation letters.
Obviously no approach to ranking colleges is perfect, including ours. While most of our top-15 grad school list are no-brainers, some of the names are open to debate. (One, Stanford's MBA, might have made our list but didn't because the most recent information we had was for the 2002 MBA class; based on that, the overall rankings wouldn't have been significantly affected.) We relied heavily on student face books, which may not include last-minute changes; depending on a college's size, that could affect some of our rankings. And our focus was on enrollment into the top schools, not how many students applied.
Still, while questioning our emphasis on the grad schools we picked (No. 25 Cornell disputed the survey's "lasting meaning"), few colleges took any issue with our results. Most said they didn't keep these kinds of numbers, which guidebooks haven't typically tracked, either. All of which means families like the McKinnons of Corunna, Ind., have to do the guesswork. This spring, 18-year-old James McKinnon turned down undergraduate offers from Chicago and Penn. His reasoning: It's easier to stand out at a small place when grad-school applications roll around. "My grades will be better," says Mr. McKinnon, now at Wabash College (No. 59 on our list).
But what about state schools? Parents have always fretted over whether sending kids to less-expensive schools would hurt their postgraduate chances. According to our survey, only Michigan made the top 30, and that's with the help of Michigan Law, one of our 15 elites, taking more than five dozen Wolverines in this fall's class. Among the other well-known names, Virginia was 33, Berkeley came in at 41 and UCLA was 61. "They seem a little reluctant to visit," says advisor Glenn Cummings at the University of Virginia, who says three top law schools he invited to come meet students this year never got back to him.
State schools argue that students can improve their chances by enrolling in their honors programs, the "college within a college" option at many top public institutions. Indeed, grad-school officials said beefier course lineups and more rigorous requirements at these honors programs can score points on an application. (Not always: One Harvard Med official told us flat out, "Honors doesn't matter that much to me.") In many cases, the honors colleges don't track how their kids do, though that's starting to change as families wake up to the feeder-school issue. The University of Washington (No. 142) plans to start, partly in response to parent concerns.
Still, even if most people don't realize it, there's a bias in favor of some schools that is practically built into the system. At law schools, there's a number called the LCM -- the LSAT College Mean, which tries to identify the students attending the "tougher" colleges (usually Ivies and small liberal-arts schools). With each new group of applicants, it evaluates schools based on their average LSAT test scores; someone with so-so grades from a high-LCM school can wind up looking better than a 4.0 student at a lesser college. Besides, many admissions officers are Ivy alums themselves, says Mark Meyerrose at Admissions Consultants Inc. "They're biased toward elitist institutions because that's where they went to school," he says.
Of course, grad schools say that no one factor decides a student's fate. Undergraduate alma maters are only one of the things looked at, along with grades, test scores, extracurricular activities and essays. And several shied away from the notion of feeder colleges. "We don't have a ranking of undergrad schools that are better or worse than others," says Richard Silverman, director of admissions at Yale's School of Medicine. "That would be a terrible way to do business."
In the end, the bigger question may be whether it's worth obsessing about Harvard anyway. True, graduates of private law schools, including the elite places, nabbed starting salaries 15% to 20% higher than their public-school counterparts. But the tuitions are higher, too, with places like Columbia costing students $38,000 a year -- compared with $14,000 for some highly regarded state schools. Even some MBA types are starting to question the bottom line: One Stanford professor concluded that a business degree often didn't mean truly higher pay, but instead effectively got MBA graduates treated as a few years more senior for compensation purposes.
Don't tell that to Ryan O'Connor. To further his chances of getting into a top business school, Mr. O'Connor just transferred from the University of Miami to the Berklee College of Music in Boston this fall to study music business and management. He figures Berklee professors are more connected in the grad-school world. "That should help me," he says.