In seeing the desperation expressed often on CC by students and their parents who aspire to HPYS and similar educations and who sometimes are willing to take out loans exceeding $20,000 a year to do so, I am wondering what exactly are the parents and students hoping to accomplish by attaining such educations.
Are such colleges viewed as tickets to becoming rich? If so, my guess is that the students/parents will be disappointed because from what I've seen, many of the rich people who went to HPYS were born into rich families. Others chose professions that allowed them to become reasonably well off such as being doctors or corporate lawyers. In many cases, they could have attained similar professions/wealth by getting top grades at a less highy ranked college and then going to law school or medical school. Students who aspire to be social workers, teachers, ministers, nonprofit directors aren't likely to become rich no matter what colleges they attend.
Are the colleges viewed as having connections that will pay off? I imagine that if one lives or plans to live in D.C., Boston, Philadelphia or NYC, being an Ivy grad will pay off in terms of being able to meet lots of influential people at alumni club meetings. However, as a person who in addition to having lived in D.C. has also lived in several places far from the Ivy towers, I can say that perhaps in most states, those who have attended state flagship U often have far more connections than do Ivy alum simply because of the size of state flagship u.
For example, where I live is a medium sized college town far from Ivies and similar colleges. The people running the local colleges and the city government as well as our major places of work are virtually all graduates of state flagship U or the state public that is the flagship wannabe. The few Ivy grads tend to teach at the universities, and have little power or influence locally.
Is it an a guaranteed excellent academic education? Nope. College is basically what you make it. Many of the Ivies and similar colleges aren't known for their excellence of teaching. True, one may be able to take classes with more Nobel Prize winners than the typical university has. However, that doesn't mean that one will be mentored by them. One probably has a far better chance of getting mentored by an expert by attending a less renowned college known for its nurturing and teaching excellence. Lots of the education at places like HPYS is what one learns by interacting with large groups of peers who are creative, brilliant, independent, etc. This is wonderful for people who best learn through peer interaction. It's not the optimal learning situation for people who best learn through close relationships with nurturing faculty.
Incidentally, I'm a Harvard grad who is glad that I went to Harvard. What has stood me well for a lifetime is the exposure to such fascinating peers who felt that they could do anything. Their hubris about being willing to try anything, and Harvard's allowing them to do that, broadened my perspective forever about what's possible for me and others. I also left Harvard with a lifetime commitment to community service, something that virtually all students there do by choice.
I chose not to enter high paying fields, so I'm not rich (which doesn't bother me). I live in a part of the country that values State Flagship U and State Flagship Wannabee, so my Harvard degree doesn't give me connections where I live. My thoughts are that students in my area who center their lives around getting into Harvard and whose parents take out second mortgages to finance Harvard may feel that they got a bad deal if the students return after graduation to this city because they'll notice that the people who have the connections, respect and power are the ones who had the low priced education at State Flagship and State Flagship Wannabee.