72%: No Top-Tier Grad School for Me

72% of my students don’t believe they could attend a top graduate program even if money wasn’t an issue. That is one finding of a quick survey I ran in class, to which 208 students responded. The results are similar to those I received in prior surveys, and they beg the question: who made our students not believe in themselves? True, not everyone can go to Harvard or Princeton or Yale, but shouldn’t we expect and encourage our students to reach the top, whatever that top might be for them?

And so the discussion begins. In the next few weeks, I’ll be talking to my students about the road to success, about bad advice they might have received from others, about stretching their abilities to the limit, and about developing big dreams, sustaining them through long-term planning, and making them come true. The answers to the other questions on the survey indicate such a discussion is in place: only half of my students said they knew what they wanted to do after college (never too early to start planning), the same percentage as those who claimed they were advised to major in a practical-professional field rather than the liberal arts. Half the participants also admitted they would choose a liberal arts or humanities major if they knew they could have the career they really wanted (they can!), and 26% said they would choose a different major in an ideal world. If those participants represent our students to some degree, that last finding is alarming: more than a quarter of our students are not studying what they would really have liked to?

In the complex and challenging world of today, are my survey’s finding a necessary reality? Could our students ask and achieve more for themselves? Were they given the right professional advice so far? I plan to discuss these and other questions with my students in the next few weeks. You’ll be able to follow our discussions in the video section.

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