BYU: The Crimson or the Crimson Tide of the West?

Actually, it’s more like the Intermountain Cornhuskers, or the Mormon Maccabees. U.S. News & World Report has an article on the yield rates of accepted freshman applicants to American national universities.* We’re number 1!** That is, students accepted to BYU actually enroll at the same rate as students accepted to Harvard. Has BYU become the Harvard of the West?

Well, no. Harvard admits 9% of its applicants; BYU accepts 70%. Unlike BYU, Harvard has fewer than 7,000 undergraduate students, an overriding faculty focus on research and doctoral education, high tuition and an astronomic endowment. Also, they haven’t won a national title in football since 1919.

That last point is probably more relevant than you might think. Sports are a high-profile way for community members to participate vicariously in the variable fortunes of their favorite teams and to identify themselves with a particular school. BYU owes its high yield rate to the remarkable willingness of its applicants to identify themselves with the school, even before they have applied (which is largely, but not entirely, unrelated to the success of its sports programs).

If you look at the list (below) of schools with both high yield rates (>40%) and high acceptance rates (approaching 50% and above), most are public universities with large undergraduate student bodies and modest tuition, and they’re big football schools. Academically, they’re all quite respectable, each with its particular strengths. These schools typically offer undergraduate students a good education at a reasonable price, usually without leaving the state. For a lot of applicants to Nebraska (73% acceptance rate, 66% yield rate), Iowa and Oklahoma are not viable alternatives. The similarly high yield and acceptance rates for Yeshiva University, the only other private school on the list (and for Thomas Aquinas College among liberal arts colleges) suggest that a combination of religious faith and secular education is part of the attraction for BYU applicants as well. For many applicants, BYU is the metaphysical flagship campus of the in-state university system, and the team they’ve always rooted for. For reasons both economic and cultural, anywhere else is second best.

* When reading educational statistics from USN&WR, take the rankings with a grain of salt. It’s probably safe to overlook any difference in ranking +/-10 spots or so in any direction.

** Being identified with BYU-Provo merely on the basis of your religion is one of the requirements for a temple recommend. Suck it up and deal with it.

USN&RW rank university acceptance rate yield rate
79 Brigham Young University-Provo (UT) 70% 79%
91 University of Nebraska—Lincoln 73% 66%
52 Yeshiva University (NY) 79% 66%
49 University of Florida 48% 63%
62 Texas A&M University—College Station 77% 59%
44 University of Texas—Austin 49% 56%
59 University of Georgia 58% 55%
85 University of Kansas 77% 53%
57 Ohio State University—Columbus 68% 51%
91 University of Alabama 70% 50%
38 University of Illinois—Urbana-Champaign 65% 50%
85 North Carolina State University—Raleigh 61% 48%
42 University of Washington 68% 48%
91 University of Missouri—Columbia 78% 47%
96 University of Tennessee 74% 47%
85 Iowa State University 90% 46%
35 Georgia Institute of Technology 69% 44%
71 Michigan State University 73% 44%
96 University of Arizona 86% 42%
38 University of Wisconsin—Madison 58% 42%

55 comments for “BYU: The Crimson or the Crimson Tide of the West?

  1. Megan
    March 24, 2008 at 11:47 am

    Seeing as Harvard may see their yield decrease a little bit as a result of abandoning EA, BYU might actually get to be #1 with matriculation rates. Which says a whole lot about devotion to BYU.

    It actually makes me wonder though… with Harvard, you know where the 21 percent of people who don’t go are. They are at Yale, or Princeton, or they took a really good scholarship somewhere else. Those who get in but don’t matriculate have their reasons, and its pretty easy to identify what those might be.

    Who are the 21 percent of people who get into BYU and don’t go? I’d imagine some of them are the people who get into more prestigious and decide to go there instead, but I don’t know about the rest. You can’t beat the price, and it seems like there would really have to be a pretty strong reason for someone to go somewhere besides BYU if they wanted to go enough to apply in the first place.

    When I think about it, I’m actually kind of surprised that the yield isn’t a little bit higher.

  2. Ray
    March 24, 2008 at 12:14 pm

    Megan, there are quite a few Mormon students who apply to various “prestigious” universities as their first choices and BYU as the “safety valve” – those who know they will be admitted to BYU (and get a good scholarship offer) but hope to be admitted to a different school for a specific academic reason. For example, my second son will be applying to specific schools for his chosen field of study and BYU in case he doesn’t get admitted to any of them. He will be admitted to BYU, but he might not attend. Iow, BYU is to Mormons (particularly outside of Utah, since there is relatively little allegiance to the UofU outside of Utah) as the Univ. of Nebraska is to Nebraskans.

    Jonathon, do you have the figures for the combined BYU campuses? I wonder what the acceptance and yield rates are for all students who complete the generic BYU application and are admitted to a BYU school.

  3. Adam Greenwood
    March 24, 2008 at 12:16 pm

    Good stuff, JG.

  4. dangermom
    March 24, 2008 at 12:31 pm

    I got into BYU and didn’t go. I went to my own state’s flagship university instead; it was both more prestigious and cheaper (and a family tradition to boot). Also, I wonder if I would have had a hard time at BYU, being part of the mainstream for the first time in my life. I’m really good at being in the minority, but at the time I wasn’t much good at being in the majority–I’m working on that one. I’m not sure I would have appreciated BYU.

    The OP brings up a point that I had never considered. Could football actually be a pretty good thing for a school? Just the other day, my friend and I were driving back from Utah and discussing the BYU football scandal from a few years ago (she is a BYU grad). Both of us were pretty much of the opinion that football is expensive and almost pointless, and frequently elevated to an undeserved status. Since when is a great football program so important that it’s OK to bring in players who don’t live up to the school standards (moral or intellectual)? So I’d love to see some discussion on that.

  5. March 24, 2008 at 12:54 pm


    I applied only to BYU and got in. Same with my wife. The cultural ties and economic incentives were very strong. And it’s easy to stay in the minority if that’s where you like to be: I was a beard-card carrying, liberal Mormon from California who read the Student Review. That put me in the minority in so many ways.

  6. Megan
    March 24, 2008 at 1:00 pm

    Ray – Right. So I’m definitely part of that population. BYU was my safety, and I didn’t go. But, because of this, I’m aware of the numbers, at least for the more “prestigious” schools. And it isn’t more than a fairly small fraction of that 21 percent (at least… I don’t THINK so). I’m less sure about what numbers look like for some of the better state schools, so maybe those are the places where the majority of these students who didn’t matriculate at BYU are hanging out. This is totally plausible, just surprising because I would assume that almost anywhere that is a better or comparable school would be substantially more expensive, and very few schools offer the kind of financial aid necessary to offset the expense.

  7. Mark M
    March 24, 2008 at 1:02 pm

    I’m intrigued but not surprised that 79% of those admitted to BYU actually go there. I would hypothesize that many high school students who desire to attend BYU are likely to apply to *fewer* total schools that the average of those targeting other schools.

    I would be the extreme case. I applied to one school, was admitted, and attended BYU. (That’s risky business today, but not so much 2 or 3 decades ago.)

  8. Mark M
    March 24, 2008 at 1:03 pm

    I’m intrigued but not surprised that 79% of those admitted to BYU actually go there. I would hypothesize than many high school students who desire to attend BYU are likely to apply to *fewer* total schools that the average of those targeting other schools.

    I would be the extreme case. I applied to one school, was admitted, and attended BYU. (That’s risky business today, but not so much 2 or 3 decades ago.)

  9. Mark M
    March 24, 2008 at 1:05 pm

    Of course, my personal admission (pun incidental) in #7 immediately forfeits any credibility I ever had in the eyes of 70% of T&S readers!

  10. Joel
    March 24, 2008 at 1:12 pm

    I was admitted to BYU three times and never went once. I just never felt like was the right place for me to be, and I’ve never regretted the decision.

  11. Lupita
    March 24, 2008 at 2:11 pm

    #4 I’m impressed that you found somewhere more economical than BYU. I’ve always thought an undergraduate education at BYU was an absolute bargain, especially for a kid who’s looking to finance their own education (there may still be some of them out there–I’m weary of the bizarre pressure to finance all of your child’s education). Ten years later, still one of the best decisions I ever made. Save the debt for a great grad school.

  12. March 24, 2008 at 2:13 pm

    I was just admitted to BYU Provo, and I can’t wait to go… even though my well-meaning branch members keep stopping me randomly and sharing little nuggets of wisdom on how-to-survive-in-Utah. I was actually at the temple this past weekend, and my branch’s Mia Maid teacher stopped me to inform me that “getting married is going to seem like the thing to do there, and a lot of people you meet will be getting married all around you. But you DON’T have to do that, even though that might be how the message comes across sometimes. They just don’t want people to wait so long to get married that they make a mistake.
    And I had to laugh. You know you’re headed to Mormon Country when you get marital warnings from your branch’s Young Women presidency.

  13. Ray
    March 24, 2008 at 2:34 pm

    “You know you’re headed to Mormon Country when you get marital warnings from your branch’s Young Women presidency.”

    That truly is funny.

  14. March 24, 2008 at 2:35 pm

    First, let me set the time frame: 1971. So it’s been a while.

    I actually wanted to go to CalTech, but my dad was a retired Navy man and my mom was a nurse — and I took one look at the tuition costs and said, “Nope.” (Some years later, I realized that I probably could have gotten financial assistance, but that didn’t occur to me at the time.)

    In the meantime, I applied to three schools: Humboldt State College in Eureka, CA (oceanography was one of my key interests), UC San Diego (ditto, plus I lived in San Diego), and BYU. Here were the results:

    — Humboldt State turned me down, even though I had great academic credentials and was a National Merit Scholar. A few years before, the State of California had changed admission policies to all the State College campuses to basically a lottery system; in other words, if you met the minimum entrance requirements, your name was thrown in a hat along with everyone else who met those minimum requirements, and then the school would randomly draw out however many names they had openings for. I believe they abandoned that system once it became clear that it largely rewarded (or, at least, encouraged) academic mediocrity among California high school students.

    — BYU not only accepted me, they awarded me two full scholarships: a National Merit Scholarship and a Joseph Fielding Smith scholarship. Sadly (from my point of view), they only paid me for one. Back then, a “full scholarship” was the grand total of $1500/year — which was still enough to pay for tuition plus (for example) my housing at Deseret Towers.

    — UCSD accepted me, but not until June or July — about 3 months after BYU offered me the scholarships. I probably still would have gone to BYU.

    Incidentally, my mom (not LDS; I was the only member in my family) had some reservations about my going ‘so far away’ to BYU. So I dragged out a map and showed her that Provo and Eureka (Humboldt State) were just about the same distance from San Diego. Heh. She didn’t bring the issue up again.

    Note that incoming BYU frosh nowadays are pretty bright; when I checked about a year ago, I found that their average (high school) GPA is 3.78 and their average ACT score is 27.8; the latter places them at or above the 90th percentile for college-bound high-school graduates. ..bruce..

  15. Mark B.
    March 24, 2008 at 2:47 pm

    So, Bruce entered BYU in Fall 1971, and took one of those JFS scholarships.

    That’s probably the one I would have got if he hadn’t got it.

    $#%%^ you, Bruce!

  16. gst
    March 24, 2008 at 2:51 pm

    My top schools where I want to apply to are Oxford and the Sorbonne. My safety’s Harvard.

  17. Jonathan Green
    March 24, 2008 at 3:21 pm

    GST, I assume you mean applying for teaching positions? As long as your blog comments are listed as publications on your CV, you’re a shoe-in.

  18. Adam Greenwood
    March 24, 2008 at 4:00 pm

    Oxford? Guys from Oxford shine my shoes.


  19. gst
    March 24, 2008 at 4:07 pm

    That is a quote from my favorite go-cart racer, beekeeper, thespian, fencer, and high school student, Max Fischer of Rushmore Academy.

    Dr. Nelson Guggenheim: We’re putting you on what we call sudden death academic probation.
    Max Fischer: And what does that entail?
    Dr. Nelson Guggenheim: It entails that if you fail another class, you’ll be asked to leave Rushmore.
    Max Fischer: In other words, I’ll be expelled.
    Dr. Nelson Guggenheim: That’s correct.
    Max Fischer: Can I see some documentation on that, please?
    [Guggenheim hands him his transcript]
    Dr. Nelson Guggenheim: Too many extracurricular activities, Max. Not enough studying
    Max Fischer: Dr. Guggenheim, I don’t want to tell you how to do your job. But the fact is, no matter how hard I try, I still might flunk another class. If that means I have to stay on for a post-graduate year, so be it…
    Dr. Nelson Guggenheim: – We don’t offer a post-graduate year.
    Max Fischer: Well, we don’t offer it yet.

  20. Bill Anderson
    March 24, 2008 at 5:14 pm

    I’m skeptical that being a “big football school” or even that school self-identification is the biggest factor; nothing empirical to back me up, just a personal oberservation. I grew up in Oklahoma where Sooner football rules supreme over much of the state. And to boot, it’s the state’s flagship university. My point being, that lack of professional sports teams and lack of competing universities (sorry OSU) has made self-identification to OU extremely high (for attendees and not) in the area and yet I don’t see the university on the list at all.

    I’d be curious to compare these numbers to application fees/application requirements, perceptions on the ‘difficulty’ to get accepted, and where the applicants ultimately end up.

  21. Bill Anderson
    March 24, 2008 at 5:27 pm

    Actually, glancing over the complete list I’m more inclined to say that the highly selective schools tend to have higher yields. High selectivity usually translates into being a better school so it makes sense that once those students are accepted they’ll choose to go there, rather than their “safety school.”

  22. Eric Russell
    March 24, 2008 at 5:52 pm

    Jonathan, for the record, BYU isn’t the crimson of anything. In fact, I’m pretty sure the color is banned on campus. The Duke or Yale of the West, perhaps.

    Bill Anderson, the list only tracks Top 100 schools and OU falls at #108. I bet they do have a relatively high yield though, for the reasons you mention.

  23. KCB
    March 24, 2008 at 5:52 pm

    Graduating in \’90, applied and admitted to 3 schools (Texas A&M – my backup safety, in state tuition, only required a pulse & my app to be in on time; BYU – seemed like the right thing to do and the price was right; and the US Military Academy at West Point-where I really wanted to go). The federal military academies are one of the few alternatives money-wise to BYU and quite prestigious in their own right (maybe not so much as Harvard, but Army did win 3 football national championships once upon a time). So my choice to attend West Point made the most sense – great education at the right price (free, well 5 years of my time but I looked at that as guaranteed employment after graduation). So my choice would have negatively impacted the yield rate at 2 of the schools on the list. Wouldn\’t change a thing…

  24. Bill Anderson
    March 24, 2008 at 6:21 pm

    Eric Russell- Is the complete, complete list somewhere online?

  25. Eric Russell
    March 24, 2008 at 6:56 pm

    You can get the full stats for all schools only if you pay for the online premium edition.

  26. Bill Anderson
    March 24, 2008 at 7:25 pm

    Thanks, Eric.

    Although it’s not exactly the same stat, this study confirms that collegiate sports success boosts the number of applications a university receives. I guess if one decides to apply based on sports, why not enroll?

  27. March 24, 2008 at 8:10 pm

    My wife and I attended BYU and I don’t think we’ll be sending any of our kids there. We enjoyed our time there but couldn’t wait to leave. I found quite a bit of irony in the slogan “Come to Learn, Go Forth to Serve.” Go forth where? to Sandy? I was disappointed in the amount of friends we had that came from places with smaller LDS populations than Utah (almost everywhere) and ended up finding a job (which barely paid a living wage) and got stuck in “Zion.”

    I lived in DC for a few years and in our wards BYU was the end-all-be-all for graduating seniors. Kids were getting into UVA, Georgetown, W&M, etc. but BYU was the only school that really mattered. (which would lead to a frightening testimoney meeting where all the kids accepted to BYU would thank H.F. for their acceptance letters. Those that didn’t get in? – Terrestrial Kingdom for you!!!) I wondered if their parents had put such an emphasis on BYU that it became the only “worthy” option higher education (and I don’t think it was just a money thing).

  28. March 24, 2008 at 9:43 pm

    “BYU accepts 70%.” A recent local newspaper article talked about how BYU was down to accepting about 40%.

  29. Alex T. Valencic
    March 25, 2008 at 1:08 am

    When I graduated high school in 2001, I applied to only two universities. The University of Illinois and BYU. I applied to BYU because my mum wanted me to go there, just like three of my five older brothers had. I really wanted to go to U of I, but I told Mum I\’d pray about it. And that\’s how I convinved her I was going to go to U of I. Incidentally, my choice of school was determined entirely by the academic program offered for my major, not because we have had, at times, a decent football or basketball program.

    I imagine the reason BYU has such a high yield ratio, though, is that, unlike me, most people who apply to BYU want to go there. The other 21% are the folks like me, who are doing it to please a parent, or because it is somewhere lower than choice one within their range of options.

  30. veritas
    March 25, 2008 at 2:16 am

    “I lived in DC for a few years and in our wards BYU was the end-all-be-all for graduating seniors. Kids were getting into UVA, Georgetown, W&M, etc. but BYU was the only school that really mattered. (which would lead to a frightening testimoney meeting where all the kids accepted to BYU would thank H.F. for their acceptance letters. Those that didn’t get in? – Terrestrial Kingdom for you!!!) I wondered if their parents had put such an emphasis on BYU that it became the only “worthy” option higher education (and I don’t think it was just a money thing).”

    This way my experience graduating from HS in Houston in 98 also. There was BYU and nothing else. In fact, the kids that uttered the notion of some other school were literally pegged as the ‘bad’ kids. They were in danger of falling away. The only way one would ever serve a mission or find a mormon husband was if they went to BYU. Thats just the way it was. In fact, it wasn’t just BYU – it was only the one in Provo. My parents wouldn’t hear of me going to a school other than BYU (though neither of them went there) so I went to BYU hawaii as a compromise. My LDS friends treated me like I was apostate. BYU Hawaii is actually a great school though, way better than I could handle. I did much better at a state school in Texas :)

    I do think BYU’s appeal is more social than anything. Regardless what the academic types around here like to think, most HS seniors have no idea what they want to major in or pursue a career in. Sadly, most of the girls I knew (and we had 60 laurels in my ward if you can believe it) definitely were not choosing college based on academics or career path or even football programs – they were going for the RMs. Those who were all anti-BYU went to Utah State or UofU even though it was out of state tuition and they were an hour away from a school just as good. Most guys weren’t thinking past their mission- admittance to college was just a party year before they left and they would worry about an academic program when they got back. BYU is just part of the social order of the church, at least in the states – most of those kids came from families that originally came from Utah as well (even though the kids themselves had never lived there) and so they went to college there and once the parents retired they returned to Utah as well. It

  31. Jonathan Green
    March 25, 2008 at 2:36 am

    Stephen, no offense, but your local paper is full of it, and unsourced statistics irritate me. According to BYU itself (, acceptance rates for 2004-2006 are 76%, 78%, and 68%, respectively.

    One of the mysteries is how BYU is able to maintain a high acceptance rate and a high average GPA/ACT score at the same time. Do Mormon students with lower GPAs self-select out, because they’ve heard that BYU has become incredibly difficult to get into?

  32. Bill MacKinnon
    March 25, 2008 at 11:21 am

    A few comments re this thread on the subject of choices and standards in college selection decisions. Without access to “U.S. News & World report” and only eight days of formal education under his belt, what did Brigham Young decide to do about educating his children? The decisions were, if you’ll excuse the pun, instructive. I don’t know how all of the Young offspring — more than fifty of them — were educated and which decisions their mothers and the children themselves made vs. those of B.Y., but in a few cases that I know of, several of the sons went to very demanding, high quality schools. B.Y. was in the habit of instructing Horace S. Eldredge, his business agent in St. Louis, to buy only “first quality” items, and he did the same on matters of family education apparently. So his son Willard Young and another son were sent to West Point and Annapolis, respectively. Maybe this was because the education was free (at government expense), but my gut tells me that deep down B.Y. respected the education there and wanted those engineering/military skills back in Utah at some point. These were pretty counter-intuitive decisions inasmuch as B.Y. had squared off against a brigade of U.S. Army regulars led by West Pointers only a few years earlier. And these sons were not being consigned to a bed of roses…Willard suffered tremendous humiliation ( he was widely described in the Eastern newspapers as illegitimate because of his birth to a polygamous marriage), but he stuck with it (supported by periodic visits from missionaries from Brooklyn and wonderful letters written by his father), prospered, became a general officer and was beloved by his brother officers. The son who went to Annapolis didn’t like it there and switched to R.P.I. in Troy, NY — then perhaps the finest technical school in the country. Not too shabby. One of B.Y.’s grandsons, Richard Whitehead Young, followed his uncle Willard Young to USMA, and he too became a very senior and admired officer. Richard also picked up a law degree from Columbia Law School along the way. Brigham Young often railed at professionally-educated people — especially lawyers — but when you look at who he surrounded himself with, among the rough ‘n ready types like Porter Rockwell and Bill Hickman were some very well-educated, smart people — like Albert Carrington, editor of the “Deseret News” among other things, who was a Dartmouth alumnus. When B.Y. died in 1877, he was attended to by a physician-nephew who had gone east to medical school, notwithstanding some fairly hard words that B.Y. had for doctors at times. The point is that B.Y. aimed high, and I would urge you to do the same in going through your family discussions about your own and your kids’ college applications. There’s an old saying in the philanthropic world (“Give until it hurts”) that I think applies to the educational standards arena as well. I suspect that more than one reader of these prattlings will note that Brigham Young was a wealthy man and could afford to send his offspring to places like Columbia or R.P.I and that today’s Ivies are grotesquely over-priced and financially out of reach. I’d just urge you to think through Bruce’s restrospective comment (#14) about the need to research what really goes on at those places in terms of financial aid. Many of the Ivies as well as places like Stanford have admission policies that are “needs blind,” i.e. they admit applicants without reference to their financial resources. Once those schools make the decision to admit, their attitude is that they will work with the student to make sure that a financing package is assembled that will permit her to attend — a package made up of parental support, grants, loans, and a student job. Put crudely, the attitude is one of “if we want you to come, we’ll see to it that you can.” The days of a place like Harvard being the home solely of the offspring of plutocrats and social-register types ended with World War II; since then an astonishing number of students are the first in their families’ history to attend college. How do you think that happens? The loan part is, of course, daunting, but I would urge you to think through the math of saving, say, $3,000 a year every year for 15 years with the compounding impact of the time value of money. American families these days are not famous for their willingness to save, but that’s a choice. Think about it, and what the trade-offs are re today’s cash flow , how it’s used, and the childrens’ future. Bingo! Neither of my parents had a degree, yet through a combination of these factors in tandem with very high standards, they were able to send five kids through eight degree programs at colleges and graduate schools , six of them at Yale and Harvard. (BTW, don’t assume that Harvard is the premier undergraduate experience in this country — compare it to other places in terms of who does the teaching [T.A.s versus full-time faculty] and whether or not full professors holding endowed chairs every get in front of freshmen.) One other thought about the service academies. They provide a fine education, but going there primarily as a matter of a free education rather than as a “calling” could be a mistake for some kids. The discipline there is not that of a college; being a military/naval officer is not the same risk experience as being an engineering major. Would B.Y. have sent his kids to BYU if it had existed in his day as it does today? I suspect that for some he absolutely would have chosen BYU (it’s a fine school that provides an experience that is unique for LDS kids), while for others he would have chosen Stanford or Claremont, or the University of Michigan, or Hyrum Smith’s Dartmouth. Aim high. It’s a decision with very long-term implications.

  33. March 25, 2008 at 1:45 pm

    #31 – I’ve seen several LDS kids not even send in applications to BYU because they weeded themselves out. My sister-in-law applied and got put on the waiting list at BYU – she was devestated to the point where she thought H.F. was punishing her for something. She decided to go to Marymount (VA) which was a very good education, but very expensive. Seeing the stress her “non-acceptance” put on her and her parents, her two younger brothers decided to not even apply to BYU for fear of rejection.

    For many LDS kids I fear that a rejection letter from BYU is much worse than a rejection letter from another institution. Once people in your ward figure out you’ve applied to BYU or want to go there it becomes a topic for discussion until everyone knows if you did/didn’t get in. No one in your ward cares either way if you got into UCLA or not.

    #32 – I agree, aim as high as you can. And for many kids I think setting their sights on BYU is too low.

  34. March 25, 2008 at 1:47 pm

    Sorry, my first comment was in response to 30, not 31.

  35. Adam Greenwood
    March 25, 2008 at 2:07 pm

    #32 – I agree, aim as high as you can. And for many kids I think setting their sights on BYU is too low.

    Maybe some kids are betraying the ideals of the meritocracy if they set their sights on BYU over Harvard, but so what? We don’t owe the meritocracy our loyalty. A valid point of view can see BYU as the *best* school on offer, so setting sights higher wouldn’t be possible.

    Now, I agree that not every man needs to go to BYU and depending on what God wants for you, sojourning at Yale or Princeton might be the right thing to do. And if God wants you to, deciding not to because you don’t think you are good enough would be setting your sights too low.

    But I reject root and branch the poisonous suggestion that a man is “setting their sights too low” if he wants the BYU experience or wants to go to a state school because its close to home. The smug strivers would like to think that anyone who hasn’t been conferred the same status via degree as they have is a failure, either of brains or of self-confidence and drive. But some folks have found that aiming as high as they can means aiming for something higher than status or networking or the last 1% – 2% of intellectual capacitation. If a degree from the most prestigious institution is as high as you can go you’re in hell.

  36. Western Dave
    March 25, 2008 at 2:46 pm

    I have it in my head that LDS members in the fifties and sixties were often encouraged to go to a few non-LDS schools often based on reputation and networks. Thus, Harvard and U of Michigan had populations of LDS faculty that could nurture LDS students who were passing through. The Harvard connection was enabled in part by Evon Z. Vogt who was deeply connected in the Ramah area and part of the massive Rimrock project that Harvard led there in the 50s. Vogt was non-LDS but apparently trusted enough to host students etc. I saw something like that at Columbia in the 90s with Richard Bushman as well. I also have it in my head that at that time it was okay to do either graduate or undergraduate at BYU but not both.

  37. March 25, 2008 at 2:51 pm

    A kid wants the BYU experience? Fine. A school close to home? Great. Trust me, my degrees have no smug value whatsoever and I do not mean to say that kids should only strive for prestige. There are numerous factors that go into choosing which school to attend – but I fear thoughts of “my parents really want me to go there” or “its the only place I will find and LDS spouse” or “people will think I’m weak/inactive if I don’t go to BYU” are far too prevalent.

    Also, I think about the influence LDS people could have by not attending BYU but rather attending schools with few or perhaps no other LDS students. One’s candle can easily hidden in the midst of hundreds of other candles.

  38. Adam Greenwood
    March 25, 2008 at 3:18 pm

    “my parents really want me to go there” or “its the only place I will find and LDS spouse”

    Neither of these are intrinsically bad reasons.

    P.S. When you get more candles together, you get more candle-power. :) No, obviously, you have a point that the right kind of LDS man or LDS woman can make a big difference at Rensellaer or Duke, etc. What I object to is the attitude one sometimes finds that BYU is all right for spiritually weak people, but if you were really worth something you would be out mixing it up at Berkeley. Which is not to say that spiritual weakness shouldn’t be a consideration. Circumstances forced me to go to BYU much against my will, but I discovered I needed it spiritually like a bird needs air.

  39. March 25, 2008 at 3:29 pm

    I’m not saying they are bad reasons, but the first one may or may not be true and the second one definitely isn’t true.

    Hey – I only applied to BYU and went because my mom wanted me to (she thought it was the only way I would stay active and go on a mission), so what do I know?

  40. Adam Greenwood
    March 25, 2008 at 3:45 pm

    the second one definitely isn’t true

    The second one definitely isn’t true in the *extreme, categorical way you stated it.* My anecdotal experience and common sense suggests that Mormons are more likely to marry soon and marry other Mormons if they go to school where lots of young Mormon singles are. BYU is the chief such place. We saints take pride that getting some college education makes you more faithful, not less, because we think it shows how amenable to reason the gospel is. Wouldn’t surprise me if the real reason was just that you were more likely to meet and marry a committed Mormon if you go off to school.

    P.S. Like yours, my mother wasn’t exactly *displeased* that I went to BYU. She knew me too well.

  41. March 25, 2008 at 8:56 pm

    Another reason for ending up at BYU: BYU makes, or at least made, it easy for Mormon kids to apply when they didn’t know what else to do. I was the first one in my family to get any college experience. I didn’t have any clue how to get to school, couldn’t tell one college from another, had no help with the process from either parents or high school counselors, and didn’t know who to ask — didn’t even know that it was the counselor’s job to give that kind of advice. (Hey, I was only a kid! How was I supposed to know these things?) Somebody from BYU came through town on a recruiting drive when I was three years out of high school and held a fireside, which was announced from the pulpit, so I went. The recruiter passed out applications, so I filled one out. There was a box to check if you wanted to be considered for a scholarship, so I checked it. BYU accepted me, gave me a scholarship, and I went. If it had been Harvard or Podunk Tech that had handed me an application, that’s where I would have applied.

  42. Bill MacKinnon
    March 25, 2008 at 8:57 pm

    Further to Western Dave’s point (#36), I’m not sure that Harvard should be wholly viewed as non-LDS, or at least its business school. When I was there one of the senior faculty members was George Albert Smith, whose pop was the Prophet, and the later dean, Kim Clark, was recently called to the presidency of BYU-Idaho. HBS’s student and alumni list is almost crawling with names like Romney (Mitt) and Eyring (Henry) among others as well as a VERY active LDS website and network. HBS, where one of my classmates was named Hinckley, might be viewed by some as BYU-East.

    Adam, I realize that your comments in #35 were aimed at someone else’s #33 rather than my #32. I’d just simply say that I agree with your opening thought that seeking admittance to BYU ISN’T “aiming low.” I’m sorry to see, though, that all of a sudden the dialogue then started running to words like “poisonous,” “smug strivers,” “failure,” and “hell.” I think something came off the track there in terms of encouraging open discussion, but I may have missed a subtety here.

  43. Bill MacKinnon
    March 25, 2008 at 9:03 pm

    In #42 “subtety” should have been “subtlety.” I have problems with “potato” and “quail” too.

  44. rjamesh
    March 25, 2008 at 9:31 pm

    I sent my 3 daughters to BYU (their choice) and was glad to do so based on their chosen fields of study. My 1st son is going to Univ of TN (engineering) and did not apply to BYU, stating that their engineering department had too few options. UT is not the most selective school (74% aceptance) and he certainly had other options with his ACT=35. But he received a full 4 yr scholarship at UT and took it. He knows he could have aimed higher for a school choice but also knows he can probably go anywhere he wants to for grad school if he does well at UT. People asked me “Why doesn’t he apply to MIT or some place like that?” and I told them it would not work with his personality. We make our choices for a myriad of reasons and sometimes I think the obsession with where we go to school is nuts. Ultimately, personal qualities and hard work rule the day.

  45. Ivan Wolfe
    March 25, 2008 at 10:27 pm

    I went to BYU because of the Science fiction symposium and the Folk Music program.

  46. PnGrata
    March 25, 2008 at 11:53 pm

    Undergrad, I went to a local school for medical reasons. For Law School I set my sights further afield. I applied to Stanford, Harvard, Georgetown, William and Mary, Washington and Lee, BYU, and Lewis & Clark, with preferences roughly in that order. Only got accepted to the last three (waitlisted on W&M and it was roughly equivalent to W&L so I didn’t send the interest renewal paperwork back in). I was torn between W&L and BYU – I had already done my time in Utah, but BYU is a great bargain for law school. Then W&L offered a scholarship that brought the cost down almost to BYU levels, sealing the deal instantly. Plus W&L is 10 minutes from Southern Virginia University, an independent mini-BYU, so I still had had plenty of young Mormons to hang out with if and when I felt like it.

    While I was there, my whole family, including my BYU attending sister, went inactive. Me, going to school among the heathen, didn’t. Weird, huh?

  47. Adam Greenwood
    March 26, 2008 at 10:13 am

    sorry to see, though, that all of a sudden the dialogue then started running to words like “poisonous,” “smug strivers,” “failure,” and “hell.” I think something came off the track there in terms of encouraging open discussion

    Sometimes when the conversation wanders into someone’s pet peeve you get a full dose of that pet peeve, even if the full dose doesn’t fully apply to the folks in the conversation. Credentialism is one of my pet peeves. I didn’t mean to imply that you or Aaron were smug strivers and I apologize that the implication appeared to be there.

    While open discussion is good, sometimes you got to speak the truth and shame the devil.

  48. norm
    March 26, 2008 at 12:49 pm

    i went to byu for the sole reason: my parents made me. (I will not entertain arguments that I could have gone elsewhere–and if you knew my family and personal circumstance you would understand). I am (still) a lifelong BYU fan–both of my parents and several of my siblings went there. but i didn’t go back after my mission–which was devastating for my parents.

    byu is great for some people and hell for others. i had an amazing freshman year–made wonderful friends, was well-prepared for a mission and enjoyed wonderful classes. but byu was hell for me–probably mostly due to the only reason I had gone.

    it’s hard for me to be objective about the subject. but, generally speaking, parents forcing their school of choice on a child is a terrible mistake. even (or maybe especially if) that school is byu. but people like me continue to contribute to the high matriculation figure–and low retention/graduation numbers at byu.

    it is common for us (myself included) to dismiss byu’s abysmal graduation numbers as skewed by 1) missionary service (since such numbers typically look at 4- or 5- year graduation rates) and 2) those mysterious kids who go ‘just to find a husband/wife’. i think that despite (or because of?) its high “yield” byu probably has a very high drop-out rate–especially among kids forced to “try it” or who get kicked out or choose to leave for honor code reasons. wish i could see those statistics (maybe i’m wrong).

  49. Bill MacKinnon
    March 26, 2008 at 2:19 pm

    Adam (#47), thanks for the clarification. I think that we agree more than we differ, and I couldn’t agree more about your comment re credentialism. In my little historical diggings about territorial Utah and Mormon history, no better example pops out than President James Buchanan. A poor lad but alumnus of an elite Pennsylvania college (Dickinson), member of the Pennsylvania bar, a veteran of the Pennsylvania State Legislature, extensive service in both the U.S. House and Senate, ambassador to both Russia and the U.K., and the senior member of Polk’s war cabinet (Secretary of State) during the Mexican War. A man who on paper (credentials) appeared to be magnificently prepared for the presidency but who, in fact, was wholly unsuited for it by temperament, character, and experience as he presided over debacles in both Utah and Kansas as the nation slid toward the bloodbath of disunity. Where you and I may differ a bit, though, is on the real meaning or value of time spent at a demanding school like Buchanan’s Dickinson in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. It’s still a first-rate (but very expensive) school, but the reason to consider sending someone there isn’t the credentialing/ticket-punching thing but rather because below the placid, ivy-covered, nearly-200-year-old surface of the place lurks an educational boot camp that really presses the students to think and perform as they probably would not at a school with a less demanding faculty. One of the late Professor Bill Mulder’s recent obituaries included snippets of an interview he had given about the importance to him of his doctoral-program days at Harvard and what he got out of studying as a graduate student with Oscar Handlin. I could be wrong, but you might well hear similar comments about the place from Richard Bushman and Laura Thatcher Ulrich. It’s not the credentialism associated with those places — although I’m not naive enough to think that that doesn’t enter into the equation, perhaps heavily for some people — it’s the educational experience that comes out of (1) a very demanding, rigorously trained faculty, and (2) a very bright, rigorously selected student body (most of which is on scholarship). That’s what I meant by high standards.

  50. Jon in Austin
    March 30, 2008 at 1:32 pm

    I was accepted to BYU as a freshmen but went to play football at Snow College before and after the mission. Upon graduating from Snow, I saw the light, repented my sins and went to the UofU.


  51. March 30, 2008 at 10:36 pm

    There was a recent study reporting that schools that do well in the Men’s NCAA Tournament see their enrollment applications jump by 3%, supporting your notion of BYU sports contributing to their recruitment.

  52. Mark M
    March 31, 2008 at 4:57 pm

    #51: There is a problem for BYU in that statement. BYU’s record of 12-26 in NCAA tournament play does not qualify it as “doing well” at that level! Why do I even pick them (year after year…) in my family’s NCAA bracket challenge?

  53. AF
    April 12, 2008 at 12:48 am

    I like BYU. I like BYU football. I like Max Hall. I hate Trent Plaisted.

  54. AF
    April 12, 2008 at 12:50 am

    When I was applying to law schools two years ago, George Mason sent me a postcard announcing their appearance in the Final Four. Seems like a good school, but I’m glad I wasn’t enticed by the sirens of a one-hit wonder basketball team……

  55. Raymond Takashi Swenson
    April 12, 2008 at 2:00 am

    When we lived in Richland, Washington, in the eastern part of the state, where perhaps 15% of the population is LDS, almost all the college age kids in our ward went to BYU. On the other hand, here in Idaho Falls, the far and away favorite college is Utah State in Logan, only two hours away. Some of course go to BYU-Idaho. Nobody wants to go to Idaho State in Pocatello, only 35 minutes away. Occasionally someone goes to University of Idaho, but the road there is four hours to Boise and then five more to Moscow! You might as well drive to Las Vegas or Denver.

    I attended Utah because I was an early admissions student who was too young not to live at home and they offered me a scholarship. When I was choosing a law school, my wife’s mother had cancer so we wanted to be close to her, so it was Utah or BYU, and Utah was marginally closer. My post graduate law degree program was at George Washington in DC because the Air Force wanted me to go there. Another factor in my law school selection was that military officers were not popular in 1975 at a lot of schools, just as they have tried to block military JAG recruiting recently. I felt sufficiently challenged, to my own capacity, by the schools I attended.

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