Why are some colleges better?

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Hope you are doing well. Recently, someone posed a question on a legal gossip site about why some colleges are considered better than others? Is their teaching pedagogy so good that they learn more? Are the students entering those places orders of magnitude smarter than the rests of the country? 

The answer to either question is no. Anyone who has been to a good college knows that many of their teachers are terrible and would not survive if they had to work in any establishment apart from the academia. As a friend had pointed out a while ago, many ‘top’ colleges in India would not upload their lecture videos on Youtube, because if the public sees the quality of lectures, they would be dejected. 

About the quality of students, most entrance exams and screening tests in India (and elsewhere) are a joke. It is often a test of memorisation (a useful skill but no determinant of a candidate’s potential) or other extraneous considerations. Surely, knowing the president of Zimbabwe or a shortcut to find angular momentum that determines life outcomes?

What I do think makes a difference is the confidence boost that one gets while entering a top university and the continuous confidence boost over the period spent there. In the case of Indian law schools, topping CLAT or AILET does not make you the smartest person. It is a combination of luck, privilege, hard work, and maybe some smarts. However, at the tender age of 17, being told that you are the best in the country at something boosts your self image and confidence massively. 

This confidence translates in to a lot of things. The ability to pick yourself up when you fail, and everyone fails. It could be a course, a competition, a job application. The ability to question what you are told you are not capable of. A sense of belonging. The ability to ask questions, vocalise, and express disagreements. This is why these students can stand up to employers, ask for better harder work and at least try to get it done. 

Of course, there is an element of self selection. Students who get in to these colleges often come from affluent families, have strong social support, went through good schooling systems, etc…. But I do think that life outcomes improve as one goes to a good college as against an average one. 

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