The Good About the Ivy League
I’ve been an education writer for some time and a college counselor for a short time. In either role I have never perceived that the Ivy League schools are necessarily “better” than other colleges, whether they are liberal arts colleges or larger research-focused universities. These schools are too often considered together, as I wrote in a prior post. But at the same time, I appreciate why students want to attend Ivy League schools. Admission to an exceptionally selective college is a rite of passage for many extremely bright young people; getting in can be seen as a reward unto itself. I also have relatives and siblings who attended these schools. All of them got back as much as they gave.
Here are some reasons why I respect Ivy League schools:
There are some genuinely great academic programs
Cornell has unique schools in Industrial and Labor Relations and Hotel Administration that are the best for those fields, by far. Penn’s Wharton School was the first business school associated with a university, and it is among the very best. Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School offers some incredible opportunities in public policy analysis. Each of these schools has among the best computer science and engineering programs in the country, though Harvard is less experienced at engineering than the other Ivies. That makes sense with MIT nearby.
You cannot beat the brand equity
Everyone will presume that you are smart for the rest of your life, no matter how many bad decisions you actually make in your life.
You will meet and compete with some of the smartest people you have ever met in your life
There is really no such thing as “entering at the top of the class” at an Ivy League school. Everyone had to have excellent grades and communications skills to get in. Walk a block on any Ivy League campus and you will meet at least one person who was rejected by another Ivy League school. If you’re fortunate your learning experience can be more collaborative than competitive. If you’re not, well…mazel tov. But good news–you don’t need to be at the top of the class to have the opportunity to do research with a faculty member or write an original thesis. In some cases everyone must do it.
You’ll never worry about the grades the star athlete had to get in
Ivy League schools use an athletic index. Athletes cannot deviate too far from the mean GPA and test scores of the rest of the student body. They must still show that they have challenged themselves academically and write the best essays that they can.
You don’t have to worry about athletes dominating the campus culture
Athletes might get some privileges–hockey is important at Cornell, for example–but they do not expect their classmates to make way for them as athletes at a major sports power do. In addition, the Ivy League schools play at Division 1 level in every sport, excluding football where they play scholarship-granting playoff-eligible schools such as Bucknell and Colgate. They are competing against schools that offer athletic scholarships–and often winning.
Alumni loyalty is higher than it is at most schools
Only leading sports/academic schools: Stanford, Duke, Notre Dame and Southern Cal had similar loyalty among private research universities. Among state universities only graduates of the University of Alabama are similarly loyal to their alma mater. Ivy League schools also have large alumni clubs and networks that will be with you for the rest of your life.
You share the resources of a much larger school among fewer people
Even Cornell, the largest undergraduate university among the Ivies, has less than half as many undergraduates as big state schools such as UC-Berkeley or UCLA. Yet the resources are no less extensive, including career services.
The Ivy League graduate and professional schools will not question the quality of your undergraduate education
It’s no surprise that many graduates of Harvard Business School or Wharton, for example, earned their undergraduate degrees from another Ivy League school.
These schools try harder to meet financial need.
They have the largest endowments, but they also discount more aggressively. These schools will do more than most to help their students avoid graduating with excessive debt. This is not to say that other schools cannot offer lower prices and similar experiences. I’ve visited and written about many such schools. But Ivy League schools can prove to be a good value, presuming you can get into one.
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