Do Your Homework: The Ivy League Schools Are Not Alike
I enjoyed doing my interview with Joie Mills, a rising junior at Brown University, a member of the Ivy League. Joie is not only bright; she is also quite perceptive. She did her research and found that Brown was the best fit Ivy League school for her.
I meet too many people who believe that one Ivy League school is just like another. It doesn’t matter if you get into Columbia or Cornell; you’re in the “the League.”
Unfortunately, it does matter.
Columbia is essentially two liberal arts colleges (Barnard and Columbia) and the Fu School of Engineering in Harlem while Cornell is divided by gorges and has several undergraduate schools. Dartmouth, the smallest Ivy, is in quaint Hanover, New Hampshire, with just over 4,100 undergraduates. Princeton and Yale are the next-smallest, with around 5,300. Cornell has more than 14,000. Penn, which is divided into schools, has around 10,000. There are a lot of differences between small and mid-size schools. There are also differences between schools that are in college towns and schools that in large cities.
As I’ve started to counsel the brighter students, I ask if they have a particular school in mind. Whenever they mention an Ivy League school, I ask them if they have visited that school. If they have I ask them what they liked and disliked about it.
To the credit of the students they know that admission to the Ivy League school is a crapshoot. But, I ask, what if we can find a few schools that also have most of the things you like about that school? This gets them thinking: Why do I want this school, and why? It also gets us working on a list of similar schools.
Suppose my student likes Cornell for the academics, the student body size and the location. We try to find schools that have all three features. If s/he is interested in architecture, for example, we might add the University of Virginia (which actually has about the same number of students and about the same endowment value-between $4.8 and $5 billion) We might also add Syracuse, not far from Cornell, where s/he might also qualify for a scholarship. Then there are other public schools such as Miami of Ohio, Penn State, the University of Illinois and the University of Michigan that have great architecture programs and are based in college towns.
Could I have suggested Penn? Of course. But going to school in Philadelphia is very different from going to school in Ithaca, New York. Could I have suggested Princeton? For sure. But it has less than half as many students as Cornell, and is harder to get into. If the heart says “Cornell is my reach,” then put the most energy into applying to Cornell. Don’t put it into the other Ivy League schools that do not have what you truly want.
When I see someone apply to eight exceptionally selective, but distinctly different Ivy League schools, I tend to believe that the student is shopping for a brand, as opposed to an education. I also tend to believe that such a student is usually due for some disappointments.
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