A reader recently submitted the following question for other FSPB readers:
Recent discussion at the Splintered Mind about PhD application and admittance made me go over a question that’s been on my mind for a while. I have been a student at one fairly prestigious regional university and one less prestigious university. As a student, I have noticed that many professors ‘teach to the type’ of student at the school, as it were. The reasons for doing so are not unfounded, of course, but it does seem that in some cases, quality students with high expectations and professional goals may be disadvantaged if they are grouped into the ‘type’ of student no one expects to go on to good PhD programs.
I have been thinking of this as a question about standards of excellence: students at more prestigious schools are given a higher standard to aim at than students at lower ranked schools because, perhaps, they show that they already have lower standards and, further, few expect them to have significantly higher standards than that.
For students who have not had higher standards put before them, it is no wonder they’d have poorer writing samples in graduate applications and do worse in applying to PhD programs (setting aside, of course, additional things like possible ‘school name bias’ when writing samples are not read anonymously).
Related to this, some psychological studies indicate telling participants that people of the group they are a member of (‘African American’) do poorly in some area (‘math’) perform worse on the relevant task at hand than they do when they are told there is no difference in how certain groups perform the task. Assuming this is true, to what extent does telling students from lower ranked schools they usually do worse in graduate applications actually make them do worse?
I was wondering what the blog readership thinks about these issues. Any thoughts on the matter would be greatly appreciated.