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Do the Ivies (and other top schools) secretly suck?

RoundGeniusRoundGenius Registered User Posts: 410 Member
I've recently stumbled across several articles enumerating various reasons why attending an Ivy (or other elite school) may not be the best idea. While some of the points seem valid (at least from what I know and the research I've done), I feel as though the writers opted for hyperbole and exaggeration in order to sensationalize their pieces a bit. However, as someone who has already committed to an Ivy and will be attending in the fall, the idea I may have just made an enormous mistake is terrifying. So how much truth do these articles hold? What do you guys think: are elite institutions as great as they are made out to be? Or is the image these schools present to college-bound seniors just smoke and mirrors, an elaborate facade?


Here are a few of the articles:
http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2014/09/01/poison-ivy

https://newrepublic.com/article/118747/ivy-league-schools-are-overrated-send-your-kids-elsewhere

https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/going-to-an-ivy-league-school-sucks-400


For those of you who do not wish to read through the articles, some of the main points include:
- stressed and depressed students
- many students' laser-like focus on a superficial definition of success (e.g. students giving up on their passions to go into finance or consulting)
- alongside the focus on "success", an apathy towards intellectuality and a lack of passion for ideas
- an unfriendly, competitive, and cutthroat environment
- a student body that isn't all it's hyped up to be (lots of mediocre people who have rich parents), with many uninteresting and/or moronic people
- unchallenging academics and massive grade inflation
- instead of teaching the ability to think critically, top schools merely prepare students for life in business and the professions


I'm not saying I believe these points to be 100% accurate whatsoever; however, I fear they may contain large grains of truth in them. What are your thoughts? Can you provide any information that would contradict these arguments? Please feel free to share your opinion below!
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Replies to: Do the Ivies (and other top schools) secretly suck?

  • happy1happy1 Registered User Posts: 16,026 Senior Member
    Breathe. You haven't made a mistake.
  • mommyrocksmommyrocks Registered User Posts: 935 Member
    The glass is half full, and the glass is half empty. It just depends on who is looking.

    Congrats on being Ivy-bound! You will be able to network with Ivy alumni your entire life, and benefit from the Ivy network and reputation, and use it to help you get top internships and job offers. Nothing wrong with that. Try to see your experience at the Ivy with the "half full" perspective and not get caught up in what is wrong with it.

    Every university has its pros and cons -- there is no such thing as a perfect university. Be proud and confident of your choice and consider how many thousands of other students would love to have your slot if only they got admitted or could afford it (since many who get admitted to Ivies don't go because of cost and lack of financial aid). All those thousands of people would love to put up with the negatives you described, and would consider that it's worth it.
  • Penn95Penn95 Registered User Posts: 1,604 Senior Member
    edited April 20
    @RoundGenius some of the things these articles say have some truth in them to an extent, some others do not. but even those that do, they are not the dominant characteristics of the ivies

    You will meet many people who fit this description at your ivy, but you will also meet many that do not.
    There will be a few unimpressive/moronic rich people who got in because their family has gone to x ivy for centuries,but most are not like this. In fact rich legacy students were some of the smartest most motivated people i met at the ivy i went to.

    The academics are what you make them to be to an extent but in most cases however, almost all students at these schools are going to be challenged to some degree or another. These students are used to being top of their class in high school, but they come to an ivy and they are no longer that. That can be a huge blow to their ego and self-confidence but most get over it. They come to recognize that being able to learn from much more accomplished/smart peers is one of the perks of attending an ivy/top school.

    People are competitive but it rarely/almost never gets super cutthroat or hostile. People are competitive with themselves and push themselves to achieve more but in general most are friendly and willing to help each other out.

    Regarding your point about defining success in a shallow way and conforming to the secure and prestigious consulting/banking route, that is true for many. However they are so many that go against the grain and follow their passions too.
  • ANormalSeniorGuyANormalSeniorGuy Registered User Posts: 273 Junior Member
    its more about the possibility of a good outcome. With an ivy league, the options are more open in that the name carries itself. Ivys have a monopoly on being "smart", and others are forced to compare, and as such whatever major you do you will be automatically be seen as capable and intelligent enough to learn on the job. Granted, you can be out interviewed by someone at a lower college or have flaws that are glaring, especially academic ones going to tough schools, but you get the benefit of the doubt so that your flaws are forgiven and sometimes you will be automatically assumed to have no fault. Its not garenteed, but its definetly easier.
  • Arwen1Arwen1 Registered User Posts: 464 Member
    I remember you posted a thread about Yale, yeah?

    As a recent Yale alum, chill and be happy. In my 4 years there, I met a total of one person who truly loathed the institution. Sure, people were stressed out and had issues, some people took time off, etc., but there was a general...love for the place even if in that moment people were unhappy or stressed. Did you go to bulldog days? Having spent plenty of time at Penn, Harvard, Brown, and Yale, I'd say that Brown and Yale students were on average a bit chiller and more relaxed as a student body.

    At my reunion, about 50% of my class showed up, which is way higher than a lot of peer schools.

    There will be people who focus on prestige and success, but there will also be plenty of people who really love learning or doing whatever they're doing. You can find a group of people who truly care about what they're doing. Singers, athletes, researchers, theatre stars, future politicians...the gamut is huge.

    Have fun in New Haven. :)
  • PengsPhilsPengsPhils Registered User Posts: 2,750 Senior Member
    What do you guys think: are elite institutions as great as they are made out to be?

    No, I think many here would agree that they are overrated. They are still incredible and top options, though. Additionally, fit is something that has to be considered here - some will fit a lot better with Ivy's than others - they aren't for everyone. That distinction is why you'll hear mixed reviews. Ivy's also aren't all the same and have different cultures.

    Did you make a mistake? People here are going to say of course not. I agree with the sentiment that they are trying to convey with it: that you're going to be fine either way. It's possible it wasn't a great fit compared to other school X. However, even in that scenario, classifying it as a mistake is quite a tough sell. You're going to be surrounded by smart people and have tons of opportunities, and can make the most of a less than ideal choice quite easily. So relax, forget what people generally say for X and Y, and take your own experience in stride and shape as needed :)
  • PennCAS2014PennCAS2014 Registered User Posts: 336 Member
    No, going to an ivy does *not* suck, as a general rule. It *can* suck, but the vast majority of students at these schools report satisfaction with their experiences in the institutional surveys the schools use to determine student contentment. Something you'll discover quite quickly (if you haven't already) is that the ivies have an outsized hold on the public imagination. So when someone writes an article about how absolutely gosh darn terrible the ivies are, it gets published and viewed a billion times. It's the strongest brand in higher education and considered the training ground for the next generation of elite leaders. Thus when they don't meet the loftiest, most specific expectations for absolutely every student and scholar, they write articles about it that sell magazines and drive page views. People just care a lot about the ivies and everyone loves a story about how the elites aren't really so elite, even if in reality they are still the elites and this small sample size of experiences doesn't really represent the actual lived experiences of the vast majority. At the end of the day, a much smaller percentage of the population is going to care if your experience at a small liberal arts college in the middle of nowhere lived up to your hopes and dreams-- but say you don't like Columbia University, the famous, hyperselective, powerful manhattan institution full of Nobel Prize winners just waiting to teach the children of the rich, famous, and foreign oligarchs-- and suddenly you've got a story to tell!

    All that is to say- don't worry!!! You're gonna love it -- but only if you go in with the right attitude. If you start looking for the negatives you imagine exist, confirmation bias will drive you crazy.
  • tk21769tk21769 Registered User Posts: 9,572 Senior Member
    The William Deresiewicz criticisms don't seem to get too much traction on College Confidential. Fairly or not, they've been dismissed as an emotional rant by someone upset that he didn't get tenure.

    A simpler criticism of elite colleges goes something like this:
    they don't provide significantly better (or worse) education than an average college, because learning outcomes depend almost entirely on the abilities and efforts of the individual student. Mostly, learning depends on a lonely process of reading (or working through problem sets) by yourself, then testing your understanding on exams and written assignments. That process doesn't differ very much from college to college ... except, perhaps, when you add the element of classroom/dining room/dorm room discussion, or team projects, in which the caliber of other students may make a difference. Then there's the "networking" (both in college and after).

    The Ivies (and other top schools) do tend to provide generous need-based aid, excellent facilities, distinguished professors, and a Meet Market for some of the country's most talented students. Much of the pressure may be self-imposed (so, if you want to coast along, or focus much of your effort on something other than classes, you probably can do that, at least in some majors). Even it amounts to the same game of golf, but in a better Country Club at a lower (or at least competitive) net price, you've still made a pretty good choice. If however you're paying a huge price premium over a good state flagship, or a solid LAC with merit money, in the belief that you're buying a guaranteed ticket to a golden future, then arguably you've been suckered.
  • prof2dadprof2dad Registered User Posts: 621 Member
    edited April 21
    Let me try.

    #1: "stressed" and #6: "unchallenging academics." So, which one should I believe?

    #2: "many students' laser-like focus on a superficial definition of success (e.g. students giving up on their passions to go into finance or consulting)" The statement of students giving up on their passions implies that they do have passions. At the state flagship university I currently serve, I have quite a few students who do not even have a passion and do not know what to do with their life.

    #6: "with many uninteresting and/or moronic people" Now you should have visited a few of them over their admitted student days and have met many new friends. Surely you now can form your own "independent" opinion on this, instead of reading about it from somewhere else, right?

    #7: "instead of teaching the ability to think critically, top schools merely prepare students for life in business and the professions." Many of them are basically liberal arts colleges, and they do not have professional units and a business school at the undergraduate level. If they were merely preparing students for life in business, why won't they set up business majors? Think!

    #6: "unchallenging academics" again. You can come back to this thread in December and let us know how much time each day you and your suite mates spend on study.

    #4: "competitive" of course it is. If a student is not competitive enough, how can he/she be admitted when the admit rate is < 10%? When you have an student population that is almost surely competitive through out, can we reasonably expect most of them drop their competitiveness afterwards so that the school culture is somehow not competitive?


  • PengsPhilsPengsPhils Registered User Posts: 2,750 Senior Member
    "competitive" of course it is. If a student is not competitive enough, how can he/she be admitted when the admit rate is < 10%? When you have an student population that is almost surely competitive through out, can we reasonably expect most of them drop their competitiveness afterwards so that the school culture is somehow not competitive?

    Yes, you could. There are at least a few highly selective schools with collaborative student bodies. Harvey Mudd comes to mind. LAC's probably have more of this. Admit rate and community competitiveness are not inherently related and is an odd correlation to draw in my opinion.
  • ucbalumnusucbalumnus Registered User Posts: 60,338 Senior Member
    If you are going to Yale, is it the case that Yale has a somewhat less pre-professional / pre-finance / pre-consulting tendency among students then some other Ivy League schools like Penn or Princeton?
  • bookguybookguy Registered User Posts: 170 Junior Member

    All institutions of higher learning are highly problematic. They all have their strengths and weaknesses. We could come up with a list of problems for public flagships, elite private, not-so-elite privates, LACs, regional publics, community colleges as well as Ivies. The types of problems may differ, but all large institutions have them. Furthermore, some students may experience certain challenges that others at the same institution do not.

    The important part is learning how to live with whatever challenges and situations come up in your institution and then seizing opportunities, exploring new areas for intellectual growth and doing your best work.

  • VLGianVLGian Registered User Posts: 79 Junior Member
    from my experience the pure prestige of attending and obtaining a degree at one of these schools will automatically set your paycheck ahead of your pures (assuming they didn't attend a prestigious school)

    For example two highschool calculus teachers who have the same work experience but attended two different schools had about a 15k difference in paycheck (85 and 100k respectively)

    That's my only real life example^ in general my perspective is that attending these schools doesn't guarantee youll be successful but it certainly helps put your foot in the door (plus youll have a better networking/ friend group)
  • CorbettCorbett Registered User Posts: 2,287 Senior Member
    edited April 21
    One of the less-noticed metrics in the USN&WR rankings is "average alumni giving rate". This component gets much less attention than metrics like "acceptance rate" or "SAT/ACT 25th-75th percentile" or "peer assessment score".

    However, some people think that "average alumni giving rate" is a reasonable proxy for the quality of the undergraduate experience (i.e. whether or not it sucks). USN&WR, for example, calls it "an indirect measure of student satisfaction". The thinking here is that if ~50% or more of a school's living undergraduate alumni are willing to open their checkbooks every year, then the undergraduate experience probably doesn't suck.

    By this metric, Princeton and Dartmouth are significantly ahead of the other Ivies, as are many top LACs. However, the other Ivies do well in comparison to most research universities.
  • prof2dadprof2dad Registered User Posts: 621 Member
    edited April 21
    "Yes, you could. There are at least a few highly selective schools with collaborative student bodies."

    "Competitive" and "collaborative" are different notions, and they are not mutually exclusive. There are surely student bodies that are both competitive and collaborative.
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