Thursday, February 6, 2014

Is Your School's Reputation Really that Important? (Translated Indonesia Mengglobal Article)

College application deadlines ended a few months ago and now it's time to hear back, cry or jump up and down with glee, and make your decision. Yes, as hard as it is to believe, May 1st will arrive pretty quickly. Keeping with the theme of choosing schools, I wrote an article for (again? Yes, again. I've explained why in a previous post) about the relationship between a school's reputation and your decision.

Basically, the reputation of an institution should come second. Not everyone is suited for Harvard or Oxbridge. Not everyone will be happy at Harvard or Oxbridge. Instead, reputation should be secondary in your decision. Focus on how the school will benefit you and help you achieve your dreams, in addition to how it matches your personality and tendencies.

Since the original article was written in Bahasa Indonesia, I've translated it to English. Enjoy!

How Important is Your University's Reputation?

A list of university names stared back at me, pleading for me to finally make my mind up. My mind shifted from one criteria to the next, making sure that they would result in a reasonable and complete decision. After scribbling on the white board over and over again, I managed to eliminate all of my choices, except for two. One was a school in California and the other was in New York. I left it there and then, only to come back a few days later with a bold statement that I would be heading to the Big Apple.
Snapshot of the IM article

To most Indonesians, it was startling to learn that it took me about two years to come to that decision. I scoured different sites and books to look for the perfect institution. When the time came, I chose to stop all the commotion and focused on matching the school with me. Only then, did I realize that I was meant to attend Sarah Lawrence College.

Although, I had made my choice and burnt some bridges, I was still hesitant about SLC, which was considered the most expensive college in the U.S. at that time. However, after discovering that the tuition for international students were similar to fee required by the other schools I had applied to, I was an inch closer to a confident decision. A few days later, I confirmed that the strengths of the college, including the writing intensive program, comprehensive theatre department, a dedicated Don, and a small sized class packed full of discussions, matched my aspirations.  

Sarah Lawrence, known to be one of the most eccentric schools in the U.S., begs a whole lot of questions from friends and family. Assumptions were made and feelings were hurt. One family friend once said, “You must have tons of free time to have fun in the city since you have no exams!” Another inquired, “So you think Sarah Lawrence is better than Brown?” I reserved to laughter for I naively believed that the reputation or rank of the school is not of importance. Additionally, I overlooked the impact of my decision on what other people’s perception of my own qualities.

This experience has brought me to a question, which I think should be answered by those searching for college and those who act as college advisors. Is a school’s reputation and rank, an imperative factor when choosing colleges?
First of all, choosing a college is subjective and emotional. I remember thinking that I would endure every second of the entire experience, not my parents, friends, or family members. I would have to attend class on time, complete my homework, and write the papers. I would also have to participate in the discussions and interact with the professors. The bottom line is I am responsible for optimizing my college experience. Even so, you should be cautious, as I mistakenly failed to do, that others’ will continue to try to sway your decisions and break down your confidence.

Secondly, at the end we are responsible for ourselves. When I made my decision, I considered my habits, ambition, preferences, strengths, and weaknesses. In addition, I factored in my personal goals. I consciously chose a school where I would become a better writer, where I can intensively experience working in a theater, where the discussion is meaningful and the professors enjoy talking to students, where I can combine psychology, neuroscience, anthropology and statistic, conduct my own research, as well as create my own projects. I avoided big schools and concentrated on small schools. I ended up in a pool called liberal arts colleges.
This is the butt of SLC, imagine the face!
Third, if you have a specific professional aspiration, it is reasonable to match that with the schools’ specialty. For example, if you are interested in joining the army, you might want to look at military schools like West Point. But if you are interested in becoming an actress and focusing on your craft, theatre conservatories such as Julliard in NY or Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts (RADA) in the UK. For those who do not have a specific aspirations, big schools with a complete set of departments would be suitable, for example New York University, University of Michigan, University of California

After some casual discussions with owners or CEOs of several companies, I came to a conclusion that schools’ reputation is the icing on the cake when it comes to hiring. It is a secondary factor that loses out to competency, ambition and personality. For instance, an Ivy League graduate with great scores lost to another fresh graduate from a small school, which avoids entering the ranking system.

At the end of the day, schools’ reputation should not be the main deciding factor. Understanding yourself is imperative as it allows you choose the school that matches your dreams and tendencies. Performance and experiences are the most salient aspects of college. A school’s reputation should be a secondary or tertiary component in your decision. Do not let others make this milestone decision for you. Instead, you should listen to yourself closely, search for schools carefully and make your own decision. Make certain that you can picture yourself enthusiastically moving into your new dorm and attending classes each and every day.

*Author owns the rights to the images above

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