As you may know, I received my undergraduate degree from an Ivy League institution. Was it worth it? Well, I don’t know what that question means, but judging by the fact that you’re asking, the answer is probably “no,” as the only thing I really learned during my four years was how to spot bad writing.
For example, the article Is the Ivy League worth it? is a really bad article written by Donald Asher who is apparently “one of the nation’s foremost authorities on the graduate admissions process.” Let’s skip past the first few paragraphs of introductory drivel and skip straight to the thesis.
Asher states, “[the Ivy League schools] are undeniably good schools, but there are also by my count at least one hundred other good schools that do as good or better a job at educating undergraduates.” Besides the implication that all of the ivy league schools are undeniably good schools (sorry Brown and Dartmouth), I can agree with this. You don’t need to go to an Ivy League school to get a really good education, and in many cases, you can get a better education elsewhere. Asher continues his article with reasons why other schools will give you as good or better educations.
- Many Ivy League schools are primarily graduate schools. I think here, Asher’s making the point that other schools may be just as good as Ivy League schools because, despite the reputation, Ivy League schools actually devote most of their resources to their graduate or professional schools. The resource allocation is hard to refute. Graduate business, medical, and law schools just provide the significantly better return on investment than undergraduate schools. However, the thing about being Harvard is that you can devote most of your resources to graduate schools but still provide an education that is better than most other schools. This is similar to many other members of the Ivy League.
- Rankings of specific departments often don’t favor the Ivy League. This is one of those stupid arguments that have the implication that students applying to schools within the Ivy League have not looked up departmental rankings. But fine, this does support the argument that you could find a hundred schools that can provide better educations than schools within the Ivy League… until Asher goes on to point out that NYU is in fact ranked top in math (source?). OK. So, if you’re really good at math and know you want to pursue math for the rest of your life, NYU’s a great choice (by the way, for the rest of your life, you’ll be explaining to people that NYU did indeed have the highest score in math… yes even better than MIT… yes even better than Stanford… yes even better than Princeton… no you’re not kidding), but is it possible that in your sophomore year, you’ll decide you prefer engineering? Good thing you’re at the #1 math school.
- Grad schools don’t seem to favor Ivy League grads over others. First whammy — this by no means supports Asher’s thesis that other schools provide a better education. Second whammy – Asher lists schools that produce the most Ph.Ds per capita. Not only is this cryptic, but it also doesn’t mean anything as he fails to establish causality with the correlation.
- The Ivy League scares some kids to death. This is another stupid argument. Asher argues that some highly talented students would fare better at schools with less stress and competition. Right. Great idea. Because really, stress and competition surface infrequently in the real world. Unfortunately for Asher, his thesis was that there are hundreds of schools that provide better educations than Ivy League schools, not that your student will do better at a school with worse students.
- Cutting-edge tech employers may not be as enamored of the Ivy League brand. This is a great argument as to why you do not need to attend an Ivy League school to succeed but once again fails to support the thesis.
So to recap, I’d just like to clarify that I do agree with the spirit of Asher’s arguments: one does not need to go to the Ivy League to succeed in life. My complaint is that the article is just a bunch of unfocused generalizations that won’t actually help real students or families.
My advice: When you’re looking at schools, really think about your goals (professional schools? PhD? industry?) and your expectations of college (PCU? A Beautiful Mind?). Then, consider reputation, departmental rankings, quality of life, testimonials, abundance of attractive coeds (eye-candy), abundance of unattractive coeds (reality), location, faculty, research opportunities, and atmosphere.
And when you’re rejected from an Ivy league school, then read Donald Asher’s article on how the Ivy League isn’t necessarily worth it.