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2016-04

The Big Fish – Little Pond Effect
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I recently read Malcolm Gladwell’s newbook, David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants.  In it he challenges some common assumptionsthat many of us take for granted.  Hestarts by analyzing the famous biblical fight between David and Goliath.  This fight has always been used as an exampleof how sometimes, against all odds, a small “underdog” can defeat a giant whois vastly superior.  Gladwell points outthat David actually had many advantages in this fight, and that this may becommon in many situations where we perceive one person or group as being at adisadvantage.

 

Another situation he looks at, one that hasa lot of relevance to our senior students, and their parents, is choosing auniversity after graduating from high school. As in China,most Chinese “strive for the best and attach greatimportance to getting into the finest institutions we can.  But we rarely stop and consider whether themost prestigious of institutions is in our best interest.”  Gladwell talks about the “Big Fish – LittlePond Effect” that often “the more elite an educational institution is, theworse students feel about their academic abilities.  Students who would be at the top of theirclass at a good school can easily fall to the bottom of a really good school.”  He gives some individual examples of studentswho were at the top of their class in high school and then went to very gooduniversities where they were no longer near the top and how their self esteemsuffered and they ended up dropping out of their chosen programs to takesomething easier.

 

Gladwell examines the drop out rate of twoAmerican universities, Hartwick College and Harvard University.  He starts by saying that more than half ofall American students who start out in science, technology and math programs(STEM majors) drop out before graduating, these are tough programs and studentsoften decide to study something easier. Comparing the percentage of graduates from each 1/3 of the STEMclass we see:

 

School         Top 1/3 Math   Middle 1/3 Math    Bottom 1/3 Math

                            SAT                     SAT                     SAT

Harvard       53.4百分比          753              31.2百分比          674       15.4百分比          581

Hartwick      55.0百分比          569              27.1百分比          472       17.8百分比          407

 

Math SAT scores (out of a possible 800)should be a good predictor of success but as we see from the data, thepercentage of STEM graduates from each 1/3 of the class is basically the samebetween the two schools regardless of their SAT scores.  Research showed this effect among manyuniversities.  Only 15.4百分比 of the STEMgraduates came from the bottom 1/3 of the Harvard class even though they had anaverage SAT score of 581, higher than the average of the top 1/3 of the classat Hartwick.  However those students atHartwick produced 55.0百分比 of the STEM graduates. So students with SAT Math scores of around 581 would have a much greaterpredicted success if they went to Hartwick.

 

There is a lot of prestige associated withgraduating from a top school, whether in China or America, but students willinvariably compare themselves to their fellow classmates and if they perceivethemselves as doing poorly in comparison, being in the bottom 1/3 of the classfor instance, they are much more likely to feel unsuccessful and drop out ofthe program.  Students in the top 1/3 ofa school like Hartwick will feel more successful in comparison to theirclassmates and have a much greater chance of graduating in their chosen field,the big fish in a little pond effect.

 

One more thing to consider!

 

Bob McDonnell

IEO Advisor

 

Note: All quotes and statistics are fromMalcolm Gladwell’s book. Malcolm Gladwell is a Canadian author and staff writerfor The New Yorker magazine.  His booksand articles often challenge commonly held beliefs using case studies andresearch.

 

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