What is ‘good’?

I hear the word ‘good’ a lot. I want my son/daughter to go to a ‘good’ university. I want to make a ‘good’ application. But what on earth does that mean?

Almost inevitably, when asked what a ‘good’ university was, it went back to ‘highly ranked.’ I will refer you to a fantastic book Jerry Muller’s The Tyranny of Metrics https://tinyurl.com/ya6fyspe 

How would you like to to measure ‘good’? What exactly are you measuring? Is the Ivy League better or worse than Oxford or Cambridge? Oh – they’re both good. But the qualities that are looked for are vastly different.

Oxford and Cambridge both consider their application procedures holistic. They take into account past performance, predicted results on external examinations, entrance tests, written work, and performance at interview. But the unit of measurement is only one: academic excellence with the suitability to excel in a supervision/tutorial teaching environment. A mathematician is being assessed on their mathematics. Only.

How about that mathematician applies to the Ivy League? Ex-curricular involvement? A Math Olympiad. Community service? No. Well-rounded? No. Excellence beyond mathematics? No. While the student is a ‘good’ applicant for Oxford and Cambridge, the same applicant is highly unlikely to be successful in the differently holistic admissions procedures in the US.

A ‘good’ application is deemed to be a successful one. My fictitious mathematician would still have to write a UK Personal Statement on why s/he/zie likes/is-good/interested-by maths. For the US, if s/he/zie would write (in words) an essay from one of a choice of topics going to all colleges on the Common Application (if that’s being used) and then individual supplemental essay(s) as well as filling in details of their extra-curricular involvement and two teacher recommendations in addition to a counsellor recommendation. The maths alone isn’t going to cut it.

‘Good’ is only ‘good’ as long as it fits the institution to which the student is applying for. And ‘good’ may be ‘bad’. Usain Bolt may have the world record at 100m at 9.58 seconds, but Dennis Kipruto Kimetto holds the marathon record (42195m) at 2:02:57. Both are world record holders. Is one less ‘good’ than the other?

If you’re a marathon runner, run a marathon. If you’re a sprinter, run the 100m (or 200m). But asking to put the two in a race together means that race itself is fundamentally unfair. The marathon runner is going to be out-sprinted if the race is 100m. And if it’s a marathon, the sprinter won’t be anywhere within sight of the winner.

‘Good’ is what works for you, that matches your desires, skills, interests. Oh yes, parents still reading? It’s not about you – it’s about your student, your child, and what they want, need, and excel in. That’s good.