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On not buying into the mythology of “prestige” universities

The numbers make it clear: the best of Catholic liberal arts education prepares students for any intellectual or professional endeavor — and does so in a far healthier environment.

(Image: Mick Haupt/

Some years ago, a Catholic prep school invited me to address its parents’ association on the future of Catholic education. After describing how a truly Catholic education, stressing human and sacramental formation as well as intellectual competence, equipped young people to meet the challenges of a world that had lost its way, I got into a protracted dust-up during the Q&A period.

In my prepared remarks, I had extolled the virtues of small Catholic liberal arts colleges with rigorous core curricula that introduced students to the best that western civilization has to offer. I also took a few shots at the high-priced schools that fill the top tiers of those foolish college-ratings systems, but which are too often sandboxes of political correctness in which intellectual silliness (and worse) is on tap for something like $90,000 per annum.

The pushback was fierce. Unless Johnny or Jane went to Stanford or Duke or the Ivies, parents insisted, he or she would be ruined for life. I countered with the example of my daughters, graduates of the University of Dallas who had gone on to fulfilling family and professional lives after attending top-tier graduate schools (in medicine and arts education) for which UD had prepared them magnificently.

The pushback continued. What about “networking”? I suggested that serious professional “networking” took place in grad school and that the undergraduate years were better spent furnishing one’s mind and soul than in schmoozing with an eye to the main chance — especially in a campus environment hostile to Catholic understandings of what makes for genuine human happiness.

This went on for 45 minutes or so, but I don’t think minds were changed. Too many parents had drunk the Kool-Aid of “prestige schools” for me to make much of a dent.

The following morning, I had coffee with some of the monks in charge of the school, several of whom thanked me for having challenged the myth of the prestige school; they had tried for years to do the same, and to no effect. Did I have any suggestions for trying again? After a moment’s reflection I said, in so many words, “Next September, send the parents of every entering senior a copy of Tom Wolfe’s novel, I Am Charlotte Simmons. It’s pretty raw at points, but it’s an accurate portrait of undergraduate life at a high-end university and it fits right into your view of education — because in Wolfe’s telling, the bright young innocent of the title gets intellectually corrupted before she gets morally corrupted. Being told there’s no such thing as ‘the truth’ in a first-year class is the opening wedge to her finally caving-in to the behavioral pressures pandemic on campus and getting abused by a hotshot athlete.”

I don’t know whether my advice was followed, but I still commend that splash of cold water to parents overheated by the notion that “networking” (at a very high price tag) is worth the human cost of four years filled with intellectual nonsense and social pressures no young person should have to confront.

My friends at the aforementioned University of Dallas recently confirmed my thinking with some instructive statistics. UD offers one of the most rigorous core curricula in the country in a campus climate where woke is not king (or even deuce-of-clubs), where Catholicism is celebrated rather than deprecated, and where undergraduates are transformed by a Rome semester from which they emerge as custodians of a civilizational heritage.

So how do its graduates do in the competition for graduate school? In 2019, UD grads had an 84% medical school acceptance rate: twice the national average, 21% higher than Cornell in 2016, higher than Duke in 2017 or Dartmouth in 2020, and higher than Penn, Johns Hopkins, and USC in recent years. Moreover, UD was first in the country in the percentage of its math and statistics majors who later earned doctoral degrees in those fields. The numbers make it clear: the best of Catholic liberal arts education prepares students for any intellectual or professional endeavor — and does so in a far healthier environment.

Parents and high school seniors making those tough college decisions would do well to look beyond the U.S. News and World Report college rankings and consider UD, Benedictine College, the University of Mary, Christendom College, Thomas Aquinas College, and other small Catholic liberal arts colleges. By any measure, they punch far above their weight. And as a rule, they don’t graduate woke snowflakes, detached from or contemptuous about Catholicism.

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About George Weigel 411 Articles
George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of Washington's Ethics and Public Policy Center, where he holds the William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies. He is the author of over twenty books, including Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II (1999), The End and the Beginning: Pope John Paul II—The Victory of Freedom, the Last Years, the Legacy (2010), and The Irony of Modern Catholic History: How the Church Rediscovered Itself and Challenged the Modern World to Reform. His most recent books are The Next Pope: The Office of Peter and a Church in Mission (2020), and Not Forgotten: Elegies for, and Reminiscences of, a Diverse Cast of Characters, Most of Them Admirable (Ignatius, 2021).


  1. George misses an essential distinction between the Newman List of colleges and the rest in the junk heap that passes itself off as “higher” education.

    In the first instance, genuinely Catholic liberal arts colleges promote an opening of the mind in the search for Truth. The end result of such a pursuit is freedom.

    The junk heap of the rest charging unconscionable fees offer only brainwashing and ultimately lifelong servitude.

    Moreover, if your choice of college doesn’t get you closer to Truth, it makes it more difficult to attain the greatest prize – an eternal life lived in the presence of Truth. And, besides, what the world does not need more of are: doctors, lawyers, ph.d’s, financial smart ass*s, and cpa’s. We could use well-educated farmers, plumbers, electricians, carpenters, mothers and fathers. When the Great Collapse comes, it is the latter to whom we will turn. I certainly would not want my kid to turn out to be a Pelosi, Biden or a Cuomo.

  2. A prestige degree will loosen the hinges on a few doors of opportunity, but once inside you sink or swim on your own abilities. I’m not sure that those loose hinges are worth the cost, financially, intellectually, or morally.

  3. It is worth nothing that Mr. Weigel did NOT mention a University to which he once referred, long ago and far away, as the “flagship of American Catholic Universities” – The University of Notre Dame.

  4. Three of my kids dropped out of high school and are now doing ok. I advised my kids against attending a conventional liberal arts college.

    • Actually several of my children did the same & got a GED. They then went on to take classes at a community college. Once you have college credits you can truthfully say on a resume that you have “some college.” If the community college courses are transferrable to a 4 year college you can also save quite a bit of money towards a 4 year degree. If that’s what you want to do.

  5. Thank you for the article. I have two students majoring in engineering at Benedictine College and they are being challenged both academically and spiritually.They are loving their experience and growing in their Faith. They are truly happy and joy filled! My daughter had a perfect ACT and GPA and could have gone anywhere, but she chose a good Catholic College. That is what I pushed for because it is a better college experience. It would be horrible to be immersed in woke propaganda. That benefits no one and creates unhappiness since it is diabolical.

  6. Not UD nor any other “Catholic” university. It is better, nowadays, to avoid university altogether. Any institutional education, nowadays, is an issue from an “educational” standpoint, but, in addition, a major latent function of higher education, nowadays, appears to be the facilitation of drunkenness, and sins against the Sixth Commandment.

    It is probable that a technical degree is okay with regards to “the core,” but there are the “general education” classes. I went to a public university and got technical degrees, and they required at least one Cultural Marxist type of course as a requirement.

    A person has a right to earn a living regardless of his education. It is much more likely that the legal system would be of help here. Focusing on sucking up to potential employers with pieces of paper and running the risk of endangering one’s eternal salvation is NOT a good idea.

  7. Thanks for this insightful article. Bottom line: no degree and no professional advantage is worth risking your child’s faith.

    One of my sons, as he was considering college, compared today’s small, faithful, colleges to the monasteries of old: a light of faith, formation, community and authentic culture in a dark age. As such, they provide something superior to a technical education or simply going to work after high school.

    George lists faithful Catholic colleges… Time for me to give my plug for Hillsdale College, where Bishop Athanasius Schneider is visiting this week to give a talk on Communism and say a Latin Mass in the College chapel. Every time I receive the Hillsdale Catholic Society’s newsletter, I’m reminded of the excellent formation in truth its students receive.

  8. I will second George W regarding UD. Our son attended, eventually earned an MD after and will forever have an excellent background of genuine education in the truth.

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