Where can you be a “best customer”?

When the average business runs a Groupon deal that leads to a surge in sales, there is a corresponding drop in that business’s Yelp ratings.  According to a new paper by professors Giorgios Servas, John Byers, and Michael Mitzenmacher, the drop is due to a “mismatch between the preferences of Groupon users and the businesses whose offers they accept.”

Tim Worstoll of Forbes summarized the key finding as,


A Groupon is going to attract in the marginal customers for whatever it is. And marginal customers are likely to be less enthusiastic simply because they are marginal customers. They’re marginals because the basic offering is not exactly aligned with their interests: thus the finding that marginal customers find the offering not exactly aligned with their interests or tastes is not entirely a surprise.”

If you’re a private counselor, don’t serve the marginal customer.  If somebody isn’t a good fit for your business, they’re predisposed not to be delighted by what you do and how you do it.  So don’t take them on as a customer.  Politely refer them to someone else.  Yes, you’ll lose the profit of one (marginal) customer in the short run.  But you’ll be able to spend more time doing a great job for the people who are your best customers.  

And if you’re a student, don’t be the marginal customer.

If you join an activity you don’t want to do just because you think it will look good on a college application, you’re a marginal customer for that club or organization.  You’ll likely never do your best work because the fit just isn’t there.   

Should you take a calculus class over the summer because you think Stanford will appreciate it, or should you take the class you really want to take, like screenwriting, Italian cooking, or basic first aid?  (Hint: Drift toward the classes where you'll be the best customer).  

Why apply to a college that isn’t right for you just because it’s prestigious?  If you’re going to spend four years of time and money, don’t do it someplace where you’re a marginal customer.  Think about why you’re going to college in the first place and what you hope or expect to gain from your time there.  Then find the places that can give those things to you, where you’ll take advantage of everything the colleges have to offer.  With more than 2000 colleges out there, there’s no reason not to go to one where you’ll be one of the best customers.     

Be thankful for college

Here’s an exercise for students (and for parents, too, who want to play).  Pretend that the entire college and university system in the United States just collectively went bankrupt.  Every school, from Harvard to Haverford, Princeton to Providence, Dartmouth to Dickinson is shutting their doors.  No college for you (or for your kid).

No moving into a dorm, meeting new people or finding your major.  No football games.  No internships.  No study abroad.  No jumpstart to your career.  No chance to meet your future husband or wife on campus.  Nothing. 

For parents, no dropping your kid off at college, no parent versions of the college sweatshirts, no chance to watch her walk across the stage at graduation, and no college advantages to take with her throughout her life. 

Would you be disappointed?  Make a list of the reasons why.  How will your life without college be different?  What will you miss out on for the next four years, and for your life after what would have been college?  Make a list (a mental list is fine) of all the things you’d lose if this happened.  Anything from “I’ll never become a doctor” to “I’ll never stay up late talking with my new friends in the dorms” is fair game.

Now, review your list.  How many of the items you listed can only be fulfilled by a prestigious college or university?

Be thankful for what you have—over 2,000 four-year colleges from which to choose, with the average school accepting 2/3 of their applicants.  You’re going to college.  You’re going to have the chance to do everything you mentioned on your list.  The only question is where you’ll be doing it. 

Small (college) talk

If I meet you at a dinner party, there’s a good chance I’ll ask you where you went to college.  The less famous the school, the more fascinated I’ll be, as the College of Wooster grad I met last night found out. 

I ask where people went to college because I’m genuinely interested in hearing about their experiences, both good and bad. They inevitably say the same things our Collegewise graduates say about their college experiences; the vast majority loved where they went to school.  Most would also agree that their schools weren’t perfect, but those who got the most out of their experiences took advantage of those four years when they could learn and try just about anything.

This Wooster grad majored in East Asian studies, spent a year studying abroad in China, and is now fluent in Mandarin Chinese.  He went on to get a masters degree in the same field and is now a few remaining background checks away from a job as an intelligence analyst with the Department of Defense.  Like many college grads I meet, he didn’t know what his future career would be when he picked his college.  So he picked the school that felt right, majored in something that interested him, and used those four years to create a remarkable experience for himself.

High school students, here’s a good way to learn more about just how many colleges, famous and not-so-famous, can lead to success. Find adults you know and respect who are doing something you find interesting—your family doctor, your boss at your internship, your dad’s business partner, etc. Ask them where they went to college and what they majored in. If you don’t want to ask them, Google them. Either way, connect the dots from where they started and where they are now. 

You’ll find there isn’t a lot of correlation between how successful they are and the relative prestige of their colleges. Some of them may have gone to prestigious schools, but a lot of them won’t have. Like most successful people, they probably got where they are today by working hard and making the most of opportunities that presented themselves along the way.

You may not be as eager as I am to get into college conversations with people, but give it a try and see what happens.  You might be surprised by what you learn.

How can your college help you land the right job?

Among the students who graduated from college in 2010, just 56 percent managed to get a job by the following spring. That compares with 90 percent of graduates from the classes of 2006 and 2007.  (Here’s some data if you want to dig into it).  Yet I met a recent college grad yesterday with a great job—she plans major promotional events like triathlons for a non-profit.  She didn’t get the job by picking just the right major, by applying to any job she could find, or by formatting her resume a particular way.  She earned the job by volunteering at the very same non-profit for two years while she was in college.  She didn't need to convince them to hire her; she'd already proven she could do the work. 

If you think the best way to beat the employment odds is to go to a prestigious college, or to pick a major not because you’re interested in it but because it has career application, you’re wrong.  A proven path to a remarkable career starts with a remarkable college career, one that uses those four precious years of time to learn as much as you can, discover your talents, find mentors who can guide you, and yes, get some experience you can add to your resume. You don’t need a famous college to do those things. 

If you’re in high school and want to get a career jumpstart, get yourself a part-time job now.  Flip burgers. Bag groceries.  Sweep floors.  You’ll start learning the kind of skills you need to be successful later on, like how to deal with angry customers, how to sell, and how to stand out on the job. And before you even start college, you’ll have something to list on your resume and references you can give potential internships or employers.

Remember that how you spend your time in college will influence your job prospects a lot more than the name of the school on your degree will.   

Where you go vs. what you do

From today's entry on the Freakonomics blog:


Your choices in college matter more than your choices of college, so choose wisely.  We have found that too many students were more strategic and calculating about getting into college than they are about getting out.  It is almost as if they have been programmed to believe that the most important part of college is the name on the degree.  We agree that is important, but for most students what makes or breaks the college experience is the choices they make after they have picked their alma mater.  The students who really get the best out of college are those who navigate wisely the bewildering puzzle of decisions they will face from the moment they sign their commitment letter until the time they receive their diploma."

Peter D. Feaver, Sue Wasiolek, and Anne Crossman
Authors of Getting the Best Out of College

If The U Fits: Free chapter

Here's an excerpt from my book, If the U Fits: Expert Advice on Finding the
Right College and Getting Accepted



I hate it, but I understand the frenzy. I have to understand it, because I watch the news, read the papers (and the books) that tell me that there is an education crisis. Except, I can’t think of one student I know or have ever heard of who wanted to go to college, applied, and didn’t get in anywhere. I’ve definitely heard students say that they didn’t get into their 1st choice college, which can be frustrating, but not the end of the world. Furthermore, I don’t know of a ‘bad’ college…There are some that might have nicer dorms, warmer climates, more access to professors, but it’s all a matter of the student’s taste. So what I’m saying is, there’s good news. YOU ARE GOING TO COLLEGE. There. The pressure is off. Now the question is: where? 

Swarthmore College
Office of Admissions blog

Focus on the good news

“Harvard, Princeton post record low acceptance rates”

CNNMoney ran this headline on March 30, 2012, right on cue.  Every spring, the major media outlets run features that suggest college admissions rates are dropping—again!

The doom and gloom headlines make my phone ring. The high school students and their parents who call are so disillusioned about their college prospects. They hear that competition is fierce, that students have to be perfect to get in and that the kid who built a satellite got rejected from everywhere!

Here’s the thing—the admissions squeeze is only true for a tiny percentage of colleges.

There are more than 2,000 four-year colleges and universities in this country, and the vast majority of them accept most of their applicants. In fall 2010, colleges, on average, accepted two-thirds of their applicants.  According to Collegeboard.com, there are 383 colleges who accept every high school student who applies. Whatever your GPA and test scores are, you can go to college if you really want to go. The only question is which one.

Contrary to what the media report, it’s actually never been easier to get into college than it is today. A Stanford economics professor’s 2009 study found that 90 percent of colleges are easier to get into today than they were in the 1950s and 1960s.  How can that be? Since 1955, the number of high school graduates has grown by 131 percent, but the number of college spots has risen 297 percent.  That’s right—the number of available spots has outpaced the number of students vying for them.

Bottom line—there are more schools with more space for students than ever before.

Sure, Harvard, Columbia, Stanford, Yale and Princeton all accepted fewer than 10 percent of their applicants. You could have perfect grades, perfect test scores and a certificate verifying that it was, in fact, you who invented plutonium. You still might not get into one of those schools. That’s what happens when the highest-achieving applicants from all over the world apply to the same colleges. There are just too many applicants vying for a limited number of spaces.

How many colleges are highly selective?
I consider any college that accepts fewer than 20 percent of its applicants to be highly selective. I also consider these colleges the exception, not the norm. According to the National Center for Educational Statistics (http://nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator), only 40 colleges are actually that selective. Think Ivy League and Stanford. If you change the search variable on the website to include all schools that admit at least 30 percent of their applicants, the list more than doubles to 92 schools. Change the variable to 40 percent and it more than doubles again to 186 schools. And a 50 percent acceptance rate yields more than 350 colleges.

That leaves more than 1,600 schools that accept more than half their applicants.   

I understand if you don’t take solace in the statistic that you’re virtually guaranteed admission to hundreds of schools you haven’t heard of (yet). We have a lot of ground to cover about how to find the right colleges for you and whether the most selective schools are among them.

My team and I have helped more than 5,000 students understand a fundamental truth about college admissions today: there’s a school out there for you, probably one that will make you very happy. You just have to care enough about your future to want that for yourself and commit to doing the work to get there.

This book will show you how.

Where did Harvard Business School students go to college?

According to Harvard Business School’s website, “A diverse background of undergraduate learning adds to the richness of the HBS experience. The classes of 2009—2011 are comprised of close to 500 institutions,” including: 

Albright College
Arizona State University
Babson College
Ball State University
Bates College
Baylor University
Bentley College
Berry College
Bryn Mawr College
Bucknell University
Carleton College
Case Western Reserve University
Catholic University
Clarkson University
Clemson University
College of Charleston
College of the Holy Cross
Connecticut College
Creighton University
De Paul University
Delaware State University
Denison University
Drexel University
Durham University
Eastern Kentucky University
Florida State University
Franklin & Marshall College
Grinnell College
Hofstra University
Hunter College
Iowa State University
Kansas State University
Lehigh University
Marquette University
Michigan State University
Missouri State University
Mount Holyoke College
Northeastern University
Occidental College
Ohio State University
Oklahoma State University
Oregon State University
Pennsylvania State University
Pepperdine University
Purdue University
Saint Lawrence University
Saint Louis University
Saint Olaf College
Salisbury State University
Scripps College
Seattle University
Smith College
Southern Methodist University
St. John's University
St. Petersburg State University
State University of West Georgia
Temple University
Tennessee State University
Texas Christian University
The College of William and Mary
The George Washington University
Tulane University
University of Arizona
University of Arkansas
University of California, Davis
University of California, Irvine
University of California, Santa Barbara
University of Cincinnati
University of Dayton
University of Delaware
University of Florida
University of Georgia
University of Hawaii
University of Houston
University of Iowa
University of Kansas
University of Kentucky
University of Louisville
University of Maine
University of Maryland
University of Miami
University of Minnesota
University of Mississippi
University of Missouri
University of Montana
University of Nebraska
University of New Brunswick
University of New Mexico
University of Oklahoma
University of Oregon
University of Pittsburgh
University of Puget Sound
University of Redlands
University of Richmond
University of San Diego
University of Tennessee
University of Texas, El Paso
University of Utah
University of Victoria
University of Vienna
University of Washington
University of Wisconsin
Wabash College
Washington & Lee University
Washington University
Weber State University
West Virginia University
Wheaton College
William Jewell College

It's not your college's prestige that matters; it's what you do while you're there.

Fifty-one years later…

I met a couple at a dinner party this weekend who have been married for 51 years.  They met the first night of freshman orientation at Lewis and Clark College.  The husband had been planning on attending UCLA, but chose Lewis and Clark because they gave him a scholarship.

Stories like this are just one of the countless reasons you’ll likely never meet anyone who says that what they value most about their college experience was where the college was ranked on the US News list.

On colleges giving you connections


…I will argue until I die that good connections are NOT the result of going to a brand name college but are the result of energy applied at whatever college you do attend. All colleges have influential alums in many fields. If you devote some time and sweat to finding out who they are and how to reach them, it will yield great rewards. I am familiar with many Harvard grads who couldn't bother, and found that they had fewer choices than they thought they were entitled to given the name of their college."

Jay Mathews (posted as a comment in the post "Why getting in to Harvard is no longer an honor")