Thoughts on picking a college. What Would Yo-Yo Do?

Yo-Yo Ma, the celebrated cellist, declined Julliard for Harvard. This may seem like an odd decision within a brilliant musical career, but it is illustrative of an important choice.

Harvard in the mid-1970‘s had many fine things to offer, but musical performance was not one of them. Why would Ma interrupt his exceptional talent’s development? Why would he intentionally sit out four years of world class musical education?

Julliard was the obvious choice. But did it add diversity to his whole development? Not really. He was a musical prodigy, already winning international competitions. He expected a musical career. College was really the only time he could experience something different. Harvard offered diversity in his life.

I thought of this story yesterday, working with a wonderful young woman, an international student from Asia. She expects to return to Asia to live and work most of her life. We’ve made lots of lists--schools good in the sciences, near New York, with a broad curriculum. We are also talking about the size of a college’s Asian population. At first we talked about a strong Asian presence as a source of support--food, culture, language, dating, and an automatic bridge to upperclassmen. 

Clearly support is important. But can it also be limiting? Four years in college could be her only time to experience something totally different. Limited support forces her into a wholly different world which she might only live in for these four years. The struggle could be the challenge. She is a magnificent writer, and likely one day will publish a great retelling of her American college experience. So now she is considering schools with Asian populations of less than 5%.

We often talk about diversity as something that a student brings to a college. Equally important is the diversity that a college brings to a student’s life. Can you make a choice to be with people you might never otherwise know, study something not directly related to a career, live in an area you might never visit? As you pursue your college search can you ask yourself, what would Yo-Yo do?