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Are More Selective Colleges More Academically Difficult?

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Replies to: Are More Selective Colleges More Academically Difficult?

  • PurpleTitanPurpleTitan Registered User Posts: 9,713 Senior Member
    No absolutes, and some majors like engineering have fair high minimum requirements everywhere, but in general, there is a correlation between selectivity and rigor. Arguably, that correlation isn't so great once you get to the top 100-200 (including most state flagships) or so since the professors there will be at a high enough level that those who want to be challenged will be challenged.

    But is the rigor of regular CS classes at a school with open admissions going to be as high as at MIT/Caltech/Ivies/equivalents/top CS schools like Cal/UIUC? Er, no.
  • ScipioScipio Super Moderator Posts: 8,359 Super Moderator
    From what I observed of my daughters who both attended highly selective colleges vs. my own experience at middle of the road colleges is that the material in similar courses is much the same. They may even being using the same text books. But the workload was noticeably greater at the selective schools. More reading. Bigger problem sets. And the whole thing just seemed move faster - no time spent in class explaining stuff to the laggards. At the selective schools you were expected do whatever it took to keep up with that train - because it has left the station and it is not going to slow down.
  • PurpleTitanPurpleTitan Registered User Posts: 9,713 Senior Member
    To build on what @cobrat said:
    It's more that the distribution of rigor looks different from the distribution in selectivity.
    Thus rigor at a flagship with a 60% admit rate may be closer to an Ivy/equivalent with a <10% admit rate than it is to some schools with a 90% admit rate.
  • 3puppies3puppies Registered User Posts: 864 Member
    Gladwell's recommendation does not reflect the reality that students should choose where to go based on consideration of the most important factor - net cost.

    Top HS students can do well anywhere, but if they are chasing need, the better schools tend to be miles cheaper options than others where they get merit.

    I am a big advocate that, especially in college, students often learn as much or more from their peers, as they do from the books/lectures.

  • ucbalumnusucbalumnus Registered User Posts: 59,788 Senior Member
    But is the rigor of regular CS classes at a school with open admissions going to be as high as at MIT/Caltech/Ivies/equivalents/top CS schools like Cal/UIUC? Er, no.

    There may be the occasional exception in the case of community colleges where students specifically target the university and major for transfer. For example, Laney College (a community college not far from UCB) offers CIS 61, which is a copy of UCB CS 61A. It is obviously intended for students hoping to transfer to UCB CS or EECS. However, the Laney course has more class time per week and a higher number of credit units, perhaps based on the expectation that community college students, even those aiming for highly selective transfer targets, may have to work more / harder on average than students already at UCB.
  • OHMomof2OHMomof2 Registered User Posts: 9,098 Senior Member
    edited March 14
    I was going to make the same point @jonri did. There is a lot of overlap between "selective" and "lots of money for support programs". Being able to talk with professors over lunch or at office hours, profs may go over early drafts of papers, there are writing and quant centers staffed with tutors where it isn't hard to get timely appointments...these all help students succeed and are the norm at many very selective schools. It's very hard to get lost in the shuffle and flunk out or struggle for long.

    Classes may be graded on a curve that would lower some grades, they all curve up if they curve at all. We've had several topics on this subject here on CC and the conclusions are all over the map but IMO it's an issue worth looking at.
  • cobratcobrat Registered User Posts: 11,736 Senior Member
    At larger universities, the most difficult courses and the students in those classes will be on par with anyone. The difference probably comes at very small, less selective colleges where there may not be enough advance students available to fill super challenging classes.

    I don't think larger universities necessarily have the most difficult courses. That's highly dependent on the critical mass of students such institutions serves like smaller LACs.

    IME, most of the graduate level courses I took at an Ivy with one notable exception were on the same level or even easier than the intermediate/advanced undergrad colloquium/seminar classes I took at my LAC.

    Some of those grad classes even used the same monographs. Also, the undergrad/grad students in the classes I took/sat in on at that Ivy were actually less engaged and would have been considered wallflowers* in comparison to most of my LAC classmates.

    * A few of the undergrad even asked me to intercede on their behalf because a domineering undergrad with greater perceived background knowledge was putting them down to the point they were intimidated into silence. And this was after I asked my TA friend and Prof permission to debate/go toe-to-toe verbally with this student even though I was just sitting in at their invitation.

    Most classmates at my LAC would have gone toe-to-toe with such a person and engage in interesting and sometimes heated classroom debates upon being challenged in this manner...including yours truly.

    Ironically, this was an an Ivy commonly stereotyped as for tough independent type-A personalities.
  • SouthernHopeSouthernHope Registered User Posts: 1,687 Senior Member
    Glad you started this topic...i have a parallel thread going on here at CC concerning the hurdle of having a certain stat *before* the holistic side of admission comes into play. That is, we want you to be astonishingly interesting & compelling & involved in your community...but first, you need X stat (to keep the college ratings high) before we look at that side of you. Your note ties in because I believe that a sharp kid can take courses pretty much anywhere and do well....and that the argument of "well a kid who gets a 30 just isn't as well-prepared for the coursework for an elite college than the kid who got a 34" is not an argument that i buy.
  • thumper1thumper1 Registered User Posts: 60,893 Senior Member
    @thumper1 which begs the question why pay big bucks for the more selective school if you have other options?

    Because it was our family decision to do so. Neither of our kids chose the least costly of their acceptances. Both attended colleges that were terrific.

    You are implying that only very costly colleges are selective also...and that's not true either.
  • cobratcobrat Registered User Posts: 11,736 Senior Member
    I was going to make the same point @jonri did. There is a lot of overlap between "selective" and "lots of money for support programs". When my kid needs help she talks with her professor - over lunch or at office hours, the prof may go over early drafts of papers with her, she also has a writing and quant center where it isn't hard to get timely appointments.

    A lot of selective schools also really support the students they admit so it's very hard to get lost in the shuffle and flunk out or struggle for long.

    This can vary greatly by selective schools. For instance, I've known of many cases of students falling through the cracks at Columbia because the university bureaucracy can be unresponsive, slow, or even lose stuff. I've also overheard one senior tenured Prof there lose his temper with an undergrad merely for asking to go over an early draft earlier in the semester while I was waiting for my appointment with another Prof in the same department.

    While that Prof had the presence of mind to apologize, IMO that inappropriate emotional outburst shows how even at selective schools...this level of student support is very much YMMV.
  • AroundHereAroundHere Registered User Posts: 1,251 Senior Member
    @toomanyteens I've shared this on CC before.

    Student outcome is more correlated with how much the school spends on educating the students, which is imperfectly associated with admissions rate.

    Here is the reasoning: http://nber.org/feldstein_lecture_2016/feldsteinlecture_2016.html

    Here is a table of some schools educational spending: https://www.collegetransitions.com/education-expenses-per-student-by-institution/
  • PurpleTitanPurpleTitan Registered User Posts: 9,713 Senior Member
    @cobrat, I didn't realize that you attended a "very small, less selective college", which was what was mentioned.
  • OHMomof2OHMomof2 Registered User Posts: 9,098 Senior Member
    @cobrat This can vary....

    Yes it sure can. Some schools offer better support than others. But I think it's safe to say that schools that are struggling to stay open because not many kids are choosing to attend (so, not selective) aren't going to have the best staffed help centers or professors with lots of time for their students outside of class.
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