The Student News Site of Taipei American School




The bridge to college


A collection of op-eds on how college admission shapes high school life.

Is college the only option?
By: Juliana C.
Last week, during a conversation with one of my close friends, he mentioned he had to go soon to study for his biology test. When I asked him why he had to study (it was really just a last ditch effort to get him to keep me company for a bit longer), he replied: “Hm… just cutting along the dotted line of life”.
At TAS, the “dotted edge” is pretty clear: get good grades, do as many extracurriculars as humanely possible, and above all else, get into college. For TAS students, going to college is pretty much a given. Even the slackest, most unmotivated student is expected to complete some sort of higher education. But is college really the only option?
From Mark Zuckerberg to Steve Jobs, there are plenty of success stories involving people who never completed a college education. A quick Google search will find you list upon lists of “Top 10 Most Successful People who Never Went to College”. But it should be noted these people succeeded despite their lack of a college degree, not because of it. For every college dropout like Bill Gates, there’s a thousand more who are broke, unemployed, and otherwise unsuccessful.
According to Ms Guzman, one of the five Upper School college counselors, the lack of a college degree would “make it harder for students to move up in traditional settings”. Mr. Emanuel, also a college counselor, believes that “if you have reason not to go, if you have another plan, another goal, or something, then I think not going [to college] could become an option. But if you’re not going out of ambivalence, not going out of fear, then that’s probably something to try and overcome instead.”
Obviously, you shouldn’t be going to college just because you’re supposed to, or because everyone else is going. Ms Guzman emphasizes that “if you don’t know what you want and you’re afraid or you’re not sure and you just need a little bit more time to sort yourself out, then I would definitely recommend a gap year. But unless you have a very good plan or reason, never going to college will mostly likely hurt you.”
There’s a reason that going to college is a norm at TAS, and no, that reason has nothing to do with Asian parents or Confucian models of success. It’s because for the majority of students here, going to college is the best option. With the standard of living we’re accustomed to, as well as the goals we’ve set (raise your hand if you plan on becoming a lawyer, doctor, or businessman), a college education is necessary. A college degree is sort of like the adult version of the SAT; it’s a way of demonstrating your capability in a standardized context. While it’s always fun to romanticize the idea of “breaking the mold” and shirking the path we’ve been set upon, not going to college is an option that only works for a select few. Ms Guzman sums this up rather well: “More so than the degree it gives you, college is a life experience… I would argue I grew up the most in college, and it wasn’t because I was learning things, but because I was learning it in an environment that allowed me to find my own voice… I think that’s one of the most powerful things about college.”

Name-brand colleges
By: Mr. Emanuel
TAS students often assume that schools are famous and are ranked highly because they offer a good education.  This is often true; however it is far from a perfect correlation.  Let’s take for example the University of Illinois and Pennsylvania State University.  With TAS applicants UIUC is more selective and has the more famous engineering program. Thus it receives far more applications from TAS students.  Yet, to draw the conclusion that UIUC is a better is simplistic.  Certainly Penn State offers numerous programs that rival or excel those at UIUC. And Penn State as an institution is actually ranked higher than UIUC by US News and World Report indicating that fame in our community, fame in the US and the quality of the education offered are three independent things.
So will you be sold short at the  less famous schools? Will the professors be second rate? It’s important to keep an open mind when researching  schools your parents may not know. Some of the smaller schools that are not on the celebrity A-list  offer a brilliant education and have first class facilities.
The fame of a school results as much from geographic location and marketing as it does academic quality.  Take for example the University of Southern California and Wake Forest University.  Representatives from USC visit Taipei multiple times each year, there is a massive alumni network throughout Taiwan, and the campus is located in downtown Los Angeles and thus it enjoys a sterling reputation – as it should.  Wake Forest is in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, has not visited Taiwan for several years, and thus is largely irrelevant here at TAS.  Yet, speaking broadly, the level of education offered at these two universities is equally high.  And they share the same rank in the US News and World Report: 23.
Focusing only on reputation misses the point of an American education: what you study outside of your major, developing quality relationships with faculty, and the growth you do as a person are highly valuable aspects of the undergraduate experience that we have little ability to measure.
Certainly highly ranked, highly selective universities offer an elite-quality education.  Equally as important as the school, however, is the student.  By taking full advantage of resources (teachers, research, internships, study abroad) at a “good” or even an “average” school one can receive an elite-quality education.  Diligent, motivated, intelligent students tend to succeed and the proof is in the outcomes.  A quick glance at the list of Fulbright scholars for 2014 includes recipients from: DePaul, Arizona State, Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University and University of Alaska just to name a few.  Ultimately we need to rethink a “good education”: it is not something that we receive; it is something that we must pursue.

Prestige = Better Education?
By: Mr. Rios
A TAS teacher told me the parents of her students fret over whether their children will get into a prestigious university. Upper school teachers are used to that. But she’s not. She teaches 7-year-olds. Her students still have trouble distinguishing fantasy from reality, but their parents are already thinking about their Harvard applications.
This is madness. The mania over brand-name colleges must be stemmed. This whole hustle for a prestigious degree is stressful, time-consuming, and ultimately pointless. Earning an undergraduate degree can be very good for you. But I believe it is a mistake to become preoccupied with college rankings and reputations. Brand-name degrees are grossly overrated.
A prestigious degree will not make you successful or happy. It will not add years to your life or make you a good parent. Having an MIT degree in my closet doesn’t free me from earthly woes. But when I hear about students and parents talking about admission to ivies, they speak as if the letter of admission is the key to paradise. It’s not.
When you graduate, the name on your degree helps open some doors. After that, you’re on your own. Employers care about your achievements and skills, not about the decision that an admissions office made about you when you were a teenager. It doesn’t matter if you went to a prestigious school: if you apply for a job at Google they will still ask you to solve mind-bendingly hard problems for 8+ hours, just like everyone else. If you don’t have the skills, you won’t get the job.
So if a prestigious degree is not the key to success, then what is? I don’t know. Dumb luck plays more of a role than anyone would like to admit (you were lucky the moment you were born: you were born to affluent parents in a developed country). But I do know that successful people tend to have three traits: they work hard, they always try to improve themselves, and they work well with others. I’ve known Harvard graduates who were deficient in all three traits. Their poor performance and bad attitudes always caught up with them. Not even a degree from the most prestigious school in the world can make up for laziness or a difficult personality.
My mother told me a story about one of these Harvard alums. She used to work at Harvard Law School. Her friend, J, graduated from there 30 years ago. J works at a Subway sandwich shop now. After decades of poor decisions and laziness, that’s the best job he can get. One day J called my mom and said, “My coworker doesn’t believe that I went to Harvard Law School. Could you please tell him that I did?” She informed his coworker that yes, J had graduated from Harvard. It’s very sad that that his graduation day was probably the apex of J’s life.
What you do in college and afterward matters more than where you went to college. Never forget that.

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