In September 2003, *The Wall Street Journal *published an article called “Want to Go to Harvard Law?” along with its rankings of the nation’s top 50 feeder schools to the top Business, Law, and Medical programs. A feeder university is a university whose undergraduate students often attend a given Professional or Graduate School. In its “Behind the Rankings” portion, the article states, “Traditionally, college rankings have focused on test scores and grade averages of kids coming in the door. But we wanted to find out what happens after they leave – and try to get into prestigious grad schools.”
Appearing in 2003, just in time for the start of undergraduate and graduate school application season, the rankings immediately incited controversy. At the top, the list looked much like the standard annual undergraduate rankings. Our own Stanford University came in fourth ahead of Williams College (No. 5), but behind Harvard (No. 1), Yale (No. 2), and Princeton (No. 3). But some of the traditional undergraduate powerhouses found themselves lower-ranked than usual. The University of Pennsylvania found itself at number 16, Georgetown at 17, Cornell at 25, and Berkeley at 41.
Lower-ranked universities immediately criticized the ranking methodology. For instance, *The Journal only considered their own top 5 Business, top 5 Law, and top 5 Medical schools in their sample of elite destination schools. But surprisingly, the Journal *included none of Stanford’s professional schools in those lists. Furthermore, the admissions data gathered constituted only one year’s worth of data, meaning that the results were very susceptible to reflecting admission trends unique to that year.
Nonetheless, the reaction to the rankings then and their frequent mention today in articles and on forums shows that the information had power and still has it today. For example, try this: Google “Business School Feeders.” Then Google “Law School Feeders” and “Med School Feeders” and “Grad School Feeders.”
Unfortunate as it may be, inside and outside the realm of higher education, people often see an individual’s educational pedigree more than they see the individual. Thus, it should come as no surprise that Googling those search terms returns online forum threads galore of frantic undergrads scurrying to determine what their prospects are for being admitted into the nation’s top-ranked Advanced-Degree Programs. And the high schoolers plotting their undergrad plans of entry into Stanford and the like are just as frantic.
It appears that feeder universities may soon become the new fodder for publications like U.S. News and World Report, Business Weekly, and *Princeton Review *that generate major revenue by ranking universities each year. With undergrads looking to locate their own universities on the lists and high schoolers looking to discover which university will give them the best shot at an MBA, JD, MD, MA, or Ph.D, these ranking publications can potentially tap a market that could be incredibly viable. And furthermore, as universities face ever-more shrewd applicants, impressive feeder university rankings will only generate more interest in individual universities, which will only continue to fuel the obsession with university rankings.
Still, while one’s educational pedigree may matter to many, we know that it is simply not enough to guarantee placement anywhere. Michael Robinson, ’09, is currently a student at UC Davis’s School of Medicine and he says, “Having a feed-forward type of mind really worked for me. […While an undergraduate,] I was more concerned with my progress *after *I completed my undergraduate degree, meaning I was already preparing for graduate/medical school. I took this mindset with me into my more difficult classes and it turned out great.”
Ultimately, attending Stanford as a feeder university will mean less than attending Stanford and feeding forward one’s perspective. The responsibility and power truly rests with the individual who sees his future in graduate school approaching and chooses to prepare for it. That undergraduate should emerge from Stanford well-fed.