Princeton is academically rigorous, but too exclusive and hierarchical. MIT has brilliant students, but it’s socially unpleasant. The University of Pennsylvania is altogether too career-minded.
These are some of the opinions that researchers heard when they asked 56 Harvard and Stanford students—most of them still in school, some of them recent graduates—which colleges they applied to and how they decided which one to attend.
The researchers, Amy Binder, a sociologist at the University of California, San Diego, and Andrea Abel, a graduate student there, published their analysis of the students’ sometimes barbed evaluations—recorded in interviews conducted five years ago—in the journal Sociology of Education late last year. Binder and Abel’s focus was on “how students construct a status hierarchy among elite campuses” and what this process has to do with establishing their own (perceived) position at the top of said hierarchy.
In general, the Harvard and Stanford students spoke highly of their own institutions, enthusing about their prestige and the broad assortment of opportunities they provided. One interviewee, a junior at Harvard, said she was won over when, during an admissions interview, she was advised, “You have to go to Harvard because a lot of these other schools are just not going to expand your experience enough.” Another Harvard student was pleased that she could dive into both biomedicine and Arabic without feeling like she was compromising the quality of her education in either subject.