Anything vs. Ivy

Being the son of two Ivy grads (Princeton and Penn), I’ve been heavily exposed to and pushed towards various “elite” institutions that I’m expected to attend. Whether they’ve implied it or outright said it, my parents are constantly stressing an Ivy education over anything else. Well, I’ve toured UPenn twice now, and as much as I wanted to like it, nothing about the place clicked with me. Schools like Vanderbilt, Lehigh, and even Tulane were the places I saw myself at. Yet every time I try to have a conversation with my parents about possibly switching my ED from Penn to Vandy, they absolutely flip. I know in the end they’ll be happy no matter where I go, but right now my shot at getting into Vanderbilt is about even with my chances of getting into Penn, so they can’t see why I would choose any school over a chance at an Ivy. So I need something to convince them that Ivy prestige isn’t everything, because I know I can’t articulate my feelings/opinions in a way that would convince them.

You will never convince them. Apply to the Ivies and others then choose the school that admits you and you like. If your parent refuse to pay for a non-Ivy, you have more problems than just college selection.

Tell them if they won’t let you ED to Vandy, you won’t do ED at all. ED-ing to a school you don’t care for will not end well at all.

I’d say the case is more easily made when the competing school differs in size, structure or overall environment in comparison to a school like Penn. If you wanted a smaller school in the country, for example, then you could articulate your position based on your personal preferences. If you simply want a school that’s “not Ivy,” that’s roughly as arbitrary as wanting “only an Ivy.” So if you like Vanderbilt, first define for yourself, and then try to explain to your parents, what it is you find particularly appealing about the school.

You only get the legacy bump at Penn for ED. So that’s likely why. You know your parents better than us. Seems they feel they benefited greatly. What do they say when you told them you weren’t ‘feeling’ Penn?

Also, can you gauge the boundaries of your parents’ perception of prestige? Would they really be so devastated if you chose Stanford or MIT over Penn? Or Amherst over Penn?

What are their limits and how far does their tolerance extend? There may be a happy medium somewhere - e.g if you tour Johns Hopkins, love biomedical engineering, and want to study there would that make them crestfallen?

Unfortunate or not, some schools - like Lehigh, Wash U, Emory, and Vanderbilt, still hold less of a draw than Penn, Columbia, etc. others, like Stanford or MIT or Hopkins (in some subjects) or smaller places like Amherst or Wesleyan, don’t have that problem.

There are many great schools out there, and maybe you can find one that you like and, happily, they like.

Schools like Vanderbilt, Lehigh, and even Tulane were the places I saw myself at.


Let’s start by asking why. So why?

As a Princeton legacy, your chance of admittance is 5x greater than the average Joe. I agree, Nashville is by far the nicest of the three college towns and would be my choice for lifestyle, but Princeton is arguably a superior school unless you have some special requirements, like you want to dual major in music. The only thing I found odd at Princeton is the eating clubs.

You say your parents have heavily exposed you to and pushed you towards various elite schools.
If you don’t like Penn and Princeton, but they don’t like Vanderbilt, isn’t there some other college that appeals to all three of you?

Vanderbilt ranks up there with Brown and Cornell in the college-ranking hit parade. What do your parents not like about it? The location? The distance from home? If they want you to stay in the mid-Atlantic area, there are quite a few good alternatives.

Could finances be an issue, or are you full pay anywhere?

Attending an Ivy is no guarantee of success in life. Ted Kaczynski went to Harvard. If success and happiness were reserved for graduates of the Ivy League, we’d be a country of dismal failures, since Ivy League graduates are about 0.3% of the population.

If your parents are trying to push you towards these schools because they’re Ivies rather than because they’re well suited to your academic interests and the sort of environment you’re looking for, they’re doing you a disservice. About 95% of students are happy with the college they eventually attend, so your parents shouldn’t be overly concerned with what your top choices are.

The college flowchart doesn’t look like this:

Other Ivy League school–>possible success
Anywhere else–>failure

It looks like this

Princeton–>Chance to succeed
UPenn–>Chance to succeed
Any other top 100 school with a strong program in your area of interest -->Chance to succeed
Somewhat selective colleges with strong programs in your major–>Slightly lower chance of success
Community college–>Considerably lower chance of success
For-profit college–>Degree that may or may not be worth the paper it’s printed on.

As long as you attend a good college (and no, “good” doesn’t mean that it’s only a top 20 school), you’ll have the opportunity to accomplish anything you may want to achieve. What matters then is taking advantage of that opportunity. Statistically, it’s more difficult to do well if you’ve graduated from a not-very-selective school or a community college, but it’s still possible. And in any case, if your parents are even thinking of UPenn or Princeton, you’re perfectly capable of getting into a lot of good schools.

Two people I’ve known for a long time chose colleges their parents were pushing over the school they wanted to attend (they grew up in families where their fathers’ decisions were final). They both regret that choice, even now. One of them, 35 years later, is still angry at his parents. I would urge your parents not to present you with a similar choice of attending the schools they want you to, or angering them.

This is one of the aspects of the college application process that I really loathe. Your parents aren’t the ones who will be admitted to these schools-you are. Nobody is going to think less of them because their kid wasn’t interested in their alma maters. Nobody is going to think more of them if you get into Penn or Princeton. They should let you make your own decisions in this, perhaps the most important choice of your teenage years.If you’re a few months away from being eligible to vote for the next leader of the free world, I think you can be trusted to gauge which colleges are right for you, and which ones aren’t.

Every Ivy has its drawbacks and if you’ve only visited two of them it’s easy to get a skewed sense of what each one is really like. If you don’t like Penn then try Cornell; they’re a lot like Penn except it’s rural, not in the middle of an inner city neighborhood. Are you not from the east? That could be a legitimate reason not to want to go to an Ivy or a Little Ivy.

What do you want to study?
Where did you grow up?
Do you prefer urban schools or suburban schools?

This assumes the OP will get into any of these schools, which is unlikely.

This is absurd - What is “success?” Will going to USNWR school #110, or an unfamous CTCL really give you less of it?

I think you should find out whether your parents simply want you to take advantage of the legacy “bump” for ED at Penn, or whether they have archaic notions about college admissions and relative prestige. I think you could easily persuade them to allow you to apply for Tulane’s non-binding Early Action. Is it still a free application? That would give you an admissions offer by Thanksgiving, so that you wouldn’t have to worry about additional safeties. Win-win for everyone, isn’t it? If Penn really doesn’t appeal to you, then you should try to reason with them. Philly turns off a lot of people, although my son loves going to college there. Nashville’s live music scene is hard to beat, and there are some gorgeous wilderness areas nearby for day-trips. Maybe you could compromise by agreeing to apply ED to Princeton, the most selective among the colleges you mentioned, and then - if you don’t get in, ED2 to Vanderbilt. If your parents are utterly rigid and impervious to reason and compromise, then there’s nothing anyone here can do for you other than commiserate and exhort you to get away from home ASAP.

Are they really stressing “elite” and “ivy” or are they stressing Princeton and Penn specifically? I ask because if they are really just stressing the Ps specifically, then what’s driving them is probably a very different motivation than if they are just stressing “ivies.”

If they are really just pushing Penn and Princeton then it’s probably mostly that they want you to follow in their footsteps/have such fond memories of those schools. They may be mentioning those other things, but it isn’t really about getting an elite or an ivy education, it’s about going where they went. It’s about fulfilling fantasies they have probably have had of having a kid who lived in the same dorm as them or going to reunions together, etc.

For example I had a high school classmate who was 8th or 9th generation legacy at Harvard. His parents wanted him at Harvard. Period. End of discussion. Yale or Princeton? NO way was he allowed to go there (and you surely can’t argue there’s a real difference there from a prestige standpoint). His dream actually was Williams if I recall. Obviously a very different environment from Harvard, which was more suited to what he wanted, but just as elite and prestigious. They weren’t having it. He at least was able to get out of applying early to Harvard (they didn’t allow him to apply early to Williams like he wanted to) but in the end he ended up at Harvard (and had a good time FWIW).

So clarify for us (and if you’re not sure, maybe you need to clarify for yourself) whether this is really about making sure you get a prestigious education or about making sure you go where they went.

Just so you have a list right in front of you…

Omitting the schools you have mentioned – Princeton, Penn, Vanderbilt, Lehigh, Tulane – here is a list of 30 elite private schools, both universities and LACs. Find some your parents also like and use them as a means of easing them away from Penn/Princeton and toward Vandy/Lehigh/Tulane. And who knows, you might really like some of these for their own merit, too:

Pomona/CMC/Harvey Mudd
Johns Hopkins
Notre Dame
Carnegie Mellon

If they seem dead-set now on Penn and Princeton, and you want to move them away from that obsession… you have to find some other schools they like. Once the Penn/Princeton wall is broken, maybe you can begin to warm them up to the schools you really like. But first, you need to convince them of some other schools that they like, and which you might like too.

@snarlatron By “success” I mean the ability to achieve what a typical college applicant’s parents are looking for, especially when they veto a certain school: research/career opportunities upon graduation, a stable income, etc.

Unfortunately, in a lot of fields a student who attended Dartmouth will have better odds of achieving these things, ceteris paribus, than a similarly capable graduate of (insert college with 60% admit rate here). I think it’s ridiculous, but in some professions (especially law, consulting, or finance) you are your alma mater.

Of course, this is true only to the extent that you need to attend a very good school, with the actual school mattering little in most cases-maybe one stubborn firm will be composed solely of Harvard grads and another will laugh at those same Harvard grads as inferior to the clearly better Yale, but these industries as a whole will always have room for a student from Penn, Notre Dame, or UNC-CH.

Princeton has SCEA, and that’s an option I strongly recommend considering. OP would get a legacy bump, and Princeton is as generous with financial aid as it gets. Even if admitted, there’s no binding decision as in ED.

If @thrillburn2016 is rejected or deferred - not an uncommon outcome, even for good legacy applicants - that opens the door for RD applications at less selective universities, some of which (s)he may prefer.

If you have a nearly perfect GPA and high test scores (which you’d need for a good shot at Princeton/Penn), you would be a strong candidate for generous merit scholarships at many colleges…something for you and your parents to consider. Of the colleges you list, Tulane in particular has been pretty generous with merit scholarships.

You certainly don’t have to attend an Ivy to succeed. As just one example, Evil_Robot chose Vanderbilt over various elite colleges (Yale, Stanford, Berkeley EECS, etc.) a few years ago due to financial reasons and wound up doing rather well for himself.

Tell your parents that you are not them, you are your own person. Following in your parents’ footsteps is for those who lack imagination and courage. You want to carve your own path, make your own future, just as they did (or whoever was first in their family to go to those schools).