Daniel Chambliss, co-author of the book, “How College Works,” recently participated in a virtual Team Up session for Punahou parents looking for insight on identifying the best colleges for their children. During the Webex presentation, Chambliss – who authored the book with Christopher Takacs, and is a longtime sociology professor at Hamilton College in New York – discussed the vital role that personal relationships play in college. The findings are based on an extensive 10-year study at Hamilton, as well as research from other schools nationwide.
While many people often consider facilities, curriculum and programs when looking at different colleges, Chambliss said such factors are not drivers of student success. “Best research, and ours certainly back this up, show that the major a student has in college most of the time really doesn’t matter,” he said.
What does matter are the relationships that students make while attending college. “A college exists to bring people together and help them meet each other, and the relationships a student forms in college are critical,” he said. “In particular, to succeed in college, a student first needs a couple of friends. We say two or three friends. One is critical… Friendships are a prerequisite for learning. If students don’t have friends, the evidence is just really, really strong. The whole game is over.”
Along with two or three friends, students need to find one or two great teachers. Instead of choosing classes based on topic, students would be better off taking classes taught by the best teachers, Chambliss said. Having a trusted mentor is a key factor for success at college.
The reason why these relationships are critical is because drive they motivation, and that’s what leads to success at college, but also in life, he said.
Thus, when selecting a college, students should research the type of people who attend different schools. “If you want to be an army officer, you should go to West Point,” Chambliss said. “If you want to be a computer scientist, maybe you should go to Stanford or Carnegie Mellon or wherever. Look for the kind of people who you like.
“Don’t be buffaloed by all the stuff on the website about, we have this major, that major. What you really want to know is, who goes to this school? And what are the professors are like? You’ll find there are certain types of people who gravitate to different kinds of colleges.”
Recent alumni of colleges are good sources of this information, as well as current students.
Here is the video of the Team Up Webex session with Chambliss.
Here is some additional information regarding college: