Thursday, April 15, 2010

Things That Are Overrated: The Ivy League

One time I went to a job interview and there were two people there and they were apparently choosing between me and some other guy and they were sortof thinking out loud while I was right there and the gist of the conversation was, "well, all else being equal, this guy went to an Ivy League school. It feels so right it can't be wrong. Do you want the job?" I didn't end up taking that job, but the point is that the only reason they offered me the job was because I went to an Ivy League school. That's wack. It's especially wack for the other guy who was just as qualified.

I am not trying to suggest that the quality of the education at the Ivy League schools is deficient in any way. In fact, the education I got at my Ivy League school was spectacular, and I'm thankful to have gotten it. When I went to college I really had no idea what I wanted to be. And when I left college I still really had no idea what I wanted to be. But still I ended up with an education that was applicable to really any field that I was potentially interested in. My studies in no way represented those of one who would one day become a math teacher, but when i decided that was what I wanted to do, I was qualified to do it based on my undergraduate coursework.

What I would like to suggest, however, is that the education available at almost every other school is as good, or, depending on your focus, perhaps better, than any Ivy League school. This is especially true at the undergraduate level. And what I've realized after teaching at an inner city high school that would under no circumstances be related to the Ivy League of high schools for seven years is that school is really what you make of it. If you want to study hard and make something of yourself, then you will. The concentration of those kids at Ivy League schools is high. At a state school, perhaps less so. But it's certainly not nonexistent. And we could make a list of colleges that would go on forever where the quality of the education and the student body is on par with any Ivy League school.

I could really go on and on about this.


Open Bar said...

What was the percentage of dumbasses at Columbia?

For example, I went to a small New England liberal-arts school with a good/very good, if not top-shelf, academic reputation, and holy crap were there a lot of dumbasses there. It really seemed like at a school with only about 1600 students, the ratio of people who I thought were really sharp to keg-standing monosyllabic date rapists tilted toward the absurd sometimes.

Maybe those kids made up the majority of legacy or sports-scholarship students, but then again, I met enough smart kids who were legacies or athletes to think that that couldn't fully explain it.

Anyway, if that's how it was at my school, I can only imagine a place like Ohio State or something.

Also, after reading this: "School is really what you make of it," did anyone else think, The More You Know...

jenn said...

I have to admit, I was always (and perhaps still) a lil' jealous of those who had the opportunity to go to an Ivy League, or even a private institution, compared with my state school education. I think the biggest difference is the money. The bigger and more "illustrious" the school, usually means there are more resources for both the students and the faculty. Just an ex. while teaching at a state college I had to pay my own way for conferences and such, as the $200 stipend sometimes did not even cover the fee to submit a conference paper, whereas a colleague friend who worked for an Ivy League was able to go to international conferences on the school's dime. Does this mean that he is/was a better, more informed, better educated educator than I? Perhaps. Does this mean that his students were better educated than mine? I'd like to think not. I agree, school is what one makes of it.

ChuckJerry said...

There were predominantly three types of kids in my experience.

First was kids who were preternaturally smart, but were terrible students. They got through high school by having good memories, but doing little to no work. I was in this category. I didn't realize until my junior year that I was actually a terrible student, at which point I started to work harder. Also, even though I was in this group, the difference between the 98th and 99th percentile is like light years. There were a bunch of kids like a billion times smarter than me who did absolutely zero work and/or did hard core drugs all the time, but still managed to persevere to an acceptable level.

Second is kids who are average smart, but work super crazy hard. They do things like go to office hours and make sure the professor knows their name in the class of 150 kids. They never get less than a B+ because they know exactly what's required in order to get an A. They may fall a little short, but rarely.

The third group was super smart kids who also worked really hard. Those are the kids who won Rhodes Scholarships and the like.

The fourth group of kids who are no so smart and don't work so hard is essentially non-existent. Few and far between, but there's the occasional guy who was pretty smart for a football player, but not so smart next to the class of Ivy League students. But even the sports teams didn't suffer from this too much. Marcellus Wiley, former NFL player, current ESPN football analyst went to Columbia while I was there. You watch him on TV and he's obviously pretty intelligent. That's a small sample size, but that's my general experience. Although, now that I'm thinking of all the football players I knew, some of them must have found someone to take their finals for them.

But that also speaks to my point. A dumbass who went to Columbia is still a dumbass. The degree doesn't take that away.

ChuckJerry said...

Jenn, I feel you on the money. It's really the unequalizer. Harvard's endowment makes it something like the 12th richest country in the world if it were a country. (I just made up that number, but I know it's not far off.)

But from a student's perspective, the difference between a state school education for $10,000 a year versus the $40,000 a year for an Ivy is not realistically worth $30,000. It's possible that it's worth more for the reasons you mentioned (resources, etc.), but definitely not that much more.