How to Make the Most of Your Higher Education: A Reply to Megan McArdle
Megan McArdle and our own Christopher Riley (who I love on "From the Top"! Note: Apparently the humor is lost on some people. Yes, I am aware it is not the same Christopher Riley. Sheesh.) are giving/seeking advice about college. I think McArdle is right on some things (keep debt down, get done in four years, do not go to grad school unless you are very directed, etc.) and wrong about some things (I say major in History or English if that's what interests you).
My perspective is as a faculty member at a small regional public university. We are non-elite. I went to small, private, liberal arts college as an undergrad and have some experience at both private and public research schools. Here are my two cents:
1. Avoid large research institutions like the plague. They do not care about undergrads. Indeed, many of the faculty have deep contempt for them. If you like taking classes with 400 of your closest friends taught by under-qualified grad students and adjuncts, then the big research school is for you!
2. Smaller is better. Small class sizes taught by full-time faculty members. Go to a place that really values undergraduate instruction.
3. Unless you have a compelling reason, avoid the overpriced private school. I realize it is self-serving, but public schools like mine really can do a great job. People avoid us for the simple reason that we are non-elite. Forget elite! Get a good undergraduate experience for a low price.
4. Avoid business majors. In the "Academically Adrift" study, guess which fields are the worst for actual learning? Business and Education. Which are the best? Humanities and Social Science. Yes, against conventional wisdom. The Hacker and Dreifus book demonstrates how awful business programs are. I will further point out that liberal artsy majors actually score very high on the SAT, while professional majors (such as business, education, and psychology) score quite low.
5. Even if you major in a professional program, take a good dose of English and History. Do you want to be a "trousered ape," as CS Lewis calls some students? Do you want to be a "specialist without vision, a voluptuary without heart" as Leo Strauss described the cold specialist? You should know some stuff, and you will know stuff if you take good English and History courses. As Peter Lawler puts it, you need to take classes where you read "real books," not text books.
6. Avoid online classes (unless your only option is #1 above). Experience and research tells me that online is greatly inferior to the in-class experience.
That's my two cents. What think you all?