Why Colleges With a Distinct Focus Have a Hidden Advantage

Neil Irwin

Take a look at any of the most widely followed ratings of America’s colleges and universities, and almost all of the top-ranked schools will have this in common: They want to appeal to everyone, or at least everyone with a brilliant mind and a work ethic to match.

Their course offerings are balanced among math and science, the humanities and social sciences. They seek the highest-performing students of all sorts: Men and women, of any religion and geographical background, with any career ambition imaginable.

Every student, of course, tries to find the school that best fits his or her personality and ambitions. But ultimately, most Swarthmore students would do just fine at the University of Chicago, and most young people studying away at Cornell would do well at Rice, too, at least once they got used to the Texas accents.