Why the Ivy League Isn’t Right for Everyone (From an Ivy League Student)

Princeton University

Princeton (6035183309)” by popejon2 from Paddington, Australia – PrincetonUploaded by russavia. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Commons.

One very thoughtful high school senior has been solicited for his college admissions advice almost endlessly after being accepted to an Ivy League college early action. Emil Friedman writes articulately about some of what is so incredibly flawed about the way students and parents view our broken college admissions system.

Mr. Friedman talks about the misplaced emphasis on college rankings and carefully constructed resumes that drive today’s college searches. He makes the analogy that creating a college list has become much like choosing the highest status car possible. This is a bold assertion by someone who just got into one of the most selective colleges in the country.

But, he’s absolutely right.

It’s not always right

Not everyone needs to be driving a Porsche or a Maserati in order to be successful, just like not everyone needs to go to Princeton, Stanford and the like in order to fare well in life. We upstate New Yorkers choose cars that are good in the copious amounts of snow we sometimes get. Percussionists choose cars that will tote their large instruments to the gigs and auditions that allow them to showcase their talent. Triathletes often choose cars that can double as a locker room on wheels. None of these constituencies would be well served by driving a high-priced, prestige-mobile. These fancy cars would not further the interests or passions of these people. Similarly, not everyone is well-served by making college choices based on rankings or perceived prestige.

For some, the Ivy League is a perfectly legitimate aim. But, for many, it’s simply not the right fit. And we should stop allowing ourselves and our students to become obsessed with such trivial matters as rankings while ignoring the much more important cultural factors that will help them be successful.

Passion matters most

In Friedman’s article, he writes, “Students need to give themselves the moral courage to ignore reputations…. Students need to give themselves the freedom to live their high school lives doing the things they actually like, not the things that fit tidily on a Common Application activity list. Students need to give themselves the intellectual flexibility to pursue the subjects that speak to them … And today’s status- and competition-obsessed helicopter parents need to get out of the way.”

I might be inclined to think that this advice is a little disingenuous coming from the newest Yale Bulldog, but the dozens and dozens of very high achieving students I’ve ever known have done exactly what Friedman has suggested.  They’ve followed their hearts, which has led them to their passions which is what these selective schools find so intriguing about them.

They are not the group of students who normally set out to win an academic and extracurricular arms race. They pursue what they love and they do it with significant, sometimes relentless vigor.

And if that’s the case–if your student follows their passions relentlessly and unapologetically–and it happens to lead them to the steps of the academic elite, then so be it. Then perhaps that is the place they’re meant to be.

But, if you’re spending time meticulously curating every part of your life and studies (or your child’s) to try to cater to the unknown requirements of some far off admissions person, then you’re doing it wrong.

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