Why settle for a top-tier university?
Let me Explain
But first, a couple of qualifiers. I assume that a) you are asking about US universities, and b) you are asking about undergraduate level study.
William Deresiewicz, educated at Columbia, a Yale professor and member of their admissions committee, addresses the issue elegantly in his book Excellent Sheep. The thesis of the book is stated succinctly in Don’t Send Your Kid to the Ivy League.
What an indictment of the Ivy League and its peers: that colleges four levels down on the academic totem pole, enrolling students whose SAT scores are hundreds of points lower than theirs, deliver a better education, in the highest sense of the word.
Professors are rewarded for research, so they want to spend as little time on their classes as they can. The profession’s whole incentive structure is biased against teaching, and the more prestigious the school, the stronger the bias is likely to be.
What’s the alternative?
Loren Pope started writing about education in 1952 (for Gannett newspapers). In 1965, he opened the College Placement Bureau. In his book Colleges That Change Lives, first published in 1996, he states:
Scratch the surface of the Ivies, their clones, and most large universities, and you will be surprised by what you find. Undergraduates are generally ignored. There are few rewards for teaching, so professors do little of it.
The Ivies and large universities are great places to go to graduate school (after all, their focus is on grad students), but for the very best undergraduate education, seek out a small liberal arts college.
Their power is in how they teach. The focus is on the student, not the faculty; he is heavily involved in his education. There are no passive ears: students and faculty work so closely together, they even coauthor publications. Teaching is an act of love.
For the remainder of his book, Mr. Pope goes on to highlight 40 small liberal-arts colleges sprinkled throughout the nation.
Top-tier university or top-tier education?
My daughter is currently 10 years old. My hope for her is to continue to pursue the best possible education; one that will open her mind, and will foster a thirst for continued learning. My belief is that a small liberal-arts college will best achieve that. If she then decides to pursue a graduate education, my hope is that she attend a top-tier university (which, at that point, should also provide her a top-tier education).