Tamarind wrote: ↑Thu May 31, 2018 2:20 pm
Someone above said an average kid would need to attend a lower tier school to get merit aid. While this may be true it will probably not benefit your kids to choose this route. Your average kid will benefit from being surrounded by the brightest and most motivated peers possible. That doesn't mean they have to go to an incredibly competitive school, but they should go to a school with a decent program in their field of interest and good overall academics, even if it will cost more due to no aid. State schools usually fit the bill.
I agree with the research out there that says you should go to a school where you can work to be in the top 10-15%. At every school, the best students get access to better resources. Professors likely do not want to work with entitled or lazy students no matter how brilliant they are.
I went to a top undergraduate engineering school that was extremely competitive. I may have had the aptitude but I didn't have the discipline or work habits, so I struggled for 3.5 years and barely graduated. It made me feel really incompetent and almost made me drop out. My grades and attitude were poor, so I definitely didn't get much interaction with professors or opportunities to do research. As a Freshman, I had such a tough time grasping differential equations whereas most my classmates and friends breezed through it. That early experience really affected my confidence and my remaining college experience. At least now, I feel like it was good to humbled like that. In high school, I didn't have to work hard for good grades and AP exams and SATs were relatively easy to "game". I'd be even more insufferable had I breezed through undergrad.
Malcolm Gladwell writes about this in David vs Goliath. With regards to publishing research papers, he argues that the top 5% of most universities go on to publish a disproportionate amount and that the bottom 30% of best research universities hardly publish anything.
Unless you are going into big law, finance or politics, I'd stick to an undergrad program that you have the possibility of be a shining star if you are willing to work hard. I think the "best", say, 300 schools have brilliant students at the top. Maybe the better ones go deeper, but you will always find smart people at "mediocre" schools.