Moneyball College Admissions Rules: Ignore Peer Pressure

Fish swmming against crowdI’m always amazed at the absolute certainty people have of the superiority of one college over another. Spend a little time on College Confidential and you’ll see high school students looking for advice on which school to attend bombarded with definitive statements of the overwhelming excellence of one school compared to another. Sometimes they’ll point to rankings but more often than not, the opinions will be based on their experience with just one of the schools in question.

If you think about it, experience with one school is going to be pretty much most people’s experience with an undergraduate college education. There will be parents with multiple perspectives because they have sent children to more than one school. But besides college counselors, what are the chances of any one person having experience with the combination of schools a student might be considered?

The reason I ask is because despite the fact that the vast majority of people lack any meaningful basis on which to compare multiple institutions, it doesn’t keep them from passing judgment on a family’s college choices. This brings us to the final of Billy Beane’s five rules in Moneyball:

Every deal you do will be publicly scrutinized by subjective opinion. If I’m [IBM CEO] Lou Gerstner, I’m not worried that every personnel decision I make is going to wind up on the front page of the business section. Not everyone believes that they know everything about the personal computer. But everyone who ever picked up a bat thinks he knows baseball. To do this well, you have to ignore the newspapers.*

If you decide to take a Moneyball approach to college admissions, then be prepared for blank stares and “never heard of it” comments when discussing possible college choices–if you’re lucky. If you happen to live in a status conscious area, it’s likely to be much worst.

You would think this would be something you shouldn’t have to worry about. After all, it’s not like you’re telling other parents where to send their kids to school. In fact, you would think they would be relieved since your kid isn’t going to be offering any competition for the must-have prestigious schools–they should be grateful.

They’re probably not. Why? Because the Moneyball approach is based on finding the weaknesses of conventional wisdom and using it to your advantage. And if other families are making their college choices based on the same conventional wisdom rather than any real understanding of what is best for their students, yeah, they might be a little defensive.

Moneyball college admissions is actually worse than Moneyball baseball. It can be much more personal since even if everyone is willing to offer an opinion on a baseball trade, few people are actually involved in the decision to make the trade, much less accept the financial consequences. There are only 30 teams in profession baseball.

How many people do you know sending their kids off to college in the next few years or have recently done so?

The entire point of the Moneyball approach is find value where other haven’t and therefore pay less for it. Therefore, even if you don’t say anything, others will see your actions as a judgment on their choices as well. Not only will you have to deal with your own insecurities and reassuring you student, you’ll have to placate those who think you are telling them the emperor has no clothes–or at least not any you would be willing to spend money on. So Moneyball College Admissions rule number five: do what you’ve been telling your kids to do for years, ignore the peer pressure.

*Moneyball, pg 194

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