This is a follow-up to the two posts I recently wrote about meditation. Hopefully, meditation will help us make better decisions in our lives. It should help us discard information that is inaccurate or biased. In keeping with this idea, I decided to share something with you about choice of college. It shows how our beliefs can sometimes mislead us and cause us problems. For example, we think the school with the higher scholastic rating is best for our kids. It is, isn’t it?

I am reading David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants, by Malcolm Gladwell. In chapter three he talks about attending college and our perception of the advantages of attending the top institutions. I say perceptions, because he found there was also a serious disadvantage. On page 81 he writes, “More than half of all American students who start out in science, technology and math programs (STEM, as they are known) drop out of their major after their first or second year.” He raises the question as to whether they were not smart enough to get the degree they desired or whether there were other reasons. He found a study a couple of sociologists had done in the 1990’s that had stunning numbers. They had compared average SAT scores with the ability to get a degree by breaking the student SAT scores into three groups: high, medium and low. Then they compared the groups to see what percentage of each group got their degree.
Here are two colleges which are rated at different levels of academia: Harvard, and a smaller college in upstate New York, Hartwick. Here are the three groups of Math majors, SAT scores and percent getting a math degree:
SCHOOL        Top Third    SAT     Middle    SAT     Bottom    SAT
HARVARD    53.4%            753       31.2%        674      15.4%       581
HARTWICK  55.0%           569      27.1%        472       17.8%       407
You can see that I used bold numbers for the bottom Harvard group and the top Hartwick group. That’s to show that, even though the lowest Harvard group scored higher than the highest Hartwick group on their SAT scores,  55% of the Hartwick group got math degrees while only 15.4% of the low Harvard group got math degrees. This was in spite of the fact that the low Harvard group exhibited a higher (average) SAT score than the high Hartwick group. At the same time, the percentage of students getting a math degree was similar in each category regardless of which school they attended.
The reason so many students in the middle and low SAT score categories drop out of the math major? They see how much smarter their classmates are, become discouraged, and decide they just aren’t smart enough to get the math degree. Gladwell lists a total of 11 universities on the same table and the success rates are virtually the same for each one.
Conclusion: It’s better to be a big fish in a small pond.  I love stuff like this and Malcolm Gladwell is one of my all-time favorite authors.
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