When one hears the term “Ivy League”, most people immediately make associations with other phrases, such as “best of the best”, “elite” or “cream of the crop”. And that would be accurate, because Ivy League schools have extremely rigorous admission standards that take in only a tiny percentage of the tippy-top of the tip-top, over-achieving high school students. But I submit to you that you should consider associating another phrase with Ivy League – “not for my student”.
And here’s why…
For starters, diversity. Not in race, ethnicity or sex - the Ivy’s do a great job on that score. Where they fall short in terms of socio-economic diversity. There are exceptions to this, of course, but there’s a reason these schools are called “elite”. Working-class and rural students are extremely under-represented - by the schools’ own admissions - so the chances of your student’s college experience being enriched by exposure to diverse backgrounds is slim. One Yale professor was quoted as saying that elite colleges will never allow their students’ economic profile to mirror that of society as a whole because they can’t afford to. They need a critical mass of full payers and they need to tend to their donor base. The chances your student will be enriched by the perspectives of a waitress’ daughter or the son of a fireman aren’t great, and this economic under-representation can diminish the overall college experience.
But these schools are the very best, right?
William Deresiewicz, author of Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life, has a lot to say about the Ivy League. And he would know… He spent 24 years in the Ivy League – first as a student, then as a professor. He points out that its super-rigorous and competitive to get into these schools, but suggests that’s where the rigor ends, except for certain disciplines like the sciences and law.
About these elite schools, he says the following:
“Professors and students have largely entered into what one observer called a “nonaggression pact.” Students are regarded by the institution as “customers,” people to be pandered to instead of challenged. Professors are rewarded for research, so they want to spend as little time on their classes as they can. The profession’s whole incentive structure is biased against teaching, and the more prestigious the school, the stronger the bias is likely to be. The result is higher marks for shoddier work.”
“They are the most prestigious, yes. They are the wealthiest, for sure. Their research may be the finest in the world. But none of those circumstances tell you that they do a particularly good job educating undergraduates, and the last one tells you that they probably don't. Their professors are selected for their scholarship, not their pedagogy. They are actively discouraged from spending more time than necessary on teaching. Everybody in the academic profession knows this.”
Mr. Deresiewicz goes on to mention that at a state school, an A student might get a D on a paper for handing it in an hour late. At Ivy League schools, there are extensions, excuse-writing counselors and entire support systems in place to insure that failure’s not an option.
Most successful entrepreneurs didn’t go to Ivy League schools
Crunchbase is a platform for discovering the most successful and innovative companies and the people behind them. In a collection of 10,000 profiles of top entrepreneurs from their website compiled by SchoolApply, the educational background of the highest-ranking CEOs/founders were examined. This is what they found:
Among the top 10 universities that have produced the most Crunchbase entrepreneurs, there are no Ivy League Schools.
Among the entrepreneurs with a Crunchbase rating from 1 to 500, 51.2% graduated from lower-ranking schools (i.e., schools that are outside the top 400).
Around 70% of the entrepreneurs from their sample attended only one university, which means that they obtained only their bachelor’s degrees.
School brands have little to no bearing on how you will perform in your future career.
The same percentage of Crunchbase entrepreneurs sampled attended an Ivy League School as did those who got their first degree from a university that is not featured in the list of the top 1,000 world universities. 11%.
SchoolApply pointed out that the Wall Street Journal published a list of top 25 universities whose graduates were top-rated by recruiters. The top five were mid-tier schools - Penn State, Texas A&M, University of Illinois, Purdue and Arizona State – all public schools. Even Princeton economics concluded that students who could have been admitted but did not attend Ivy League schools earned the same salaries as Ivy League graduates.
In the end, the school you choose will not determine the person you become
The Ivy League can absolutely enhance your chances of having a head start in competitive professional fields like medicine or law or working on Wall Street. And in certain circles, the brand may always matter. But, generally speaking, as you progress in your professional life, your diploma becomes less and less important and a brand-name school doesn’t affect your career path. There are outstanding academics at mid-tier universities that don’t require you to take out hundreds of thousands of dollars in student loans. And there are many schools that don’t top the university rankings but are leading ones in your chosen field. In the end, you need to get an education that maximizes your potential and allows you to become the best post-graduate you that you can be.