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And, of course, there's always that sinking feeling of reading the alumni magazine and thinkin, "Hey, [insert classmate here] is a successful neurosurgeon with a beautiful wife and baby, and I'm sitting in a third-floor walkup shouting distance from the college wondering if the only available area night school will offer a course that doesn't put me to sleep this semester."


It seems that you have hit upon the one disadvantage (albeit a minor one) of having attended a prestigious school-- that feeling of being self-conscious when you talk about it and kind of going out of your way sometimes not to bring it up in conversation even if it would be otherwise be natural to do so.


The comment about how "disadvantageous" it is for Ivy Leaguers because they feel self-conscious about where they went to school evokes a number of different emotions within me. Because there are many wonderful Ivy Leaguers out there, including true friends of mine who I like and admire, suffice it to say that some things are just better left unsaid. :)

I will say this: I can't even remember the last time I was in any situation where the subject of where I went to school somehow just... "came up."
Usually it comes up because someone very badly wants it to.


You hedged your comments about Ivy League schools quite a bit, so I don't think non-Ivy Leaguers need defending, but just to be sure I think I'd like to point out the following: Where I live, it's not the graduates of Ivy League schools, whatever those are, but graduates of Washington University and St. Louis University and the Univeristy of Illinois and Webster University and the University of Missouri and a few others who rule the world, or at least our small corner of it. Around here, it's largely graduates of those universities who are the hedge-fund managers, the corporate CEOs, the book-writers, the managing partners, the musicians, the state court judges, the federal judges, and so on. But with that said, I know what you meant, and didn't take offense. Just in case you thought I did . . .


My own, rambling thoughts are here.

David Giacalone

Sherry, thank you for voicing many of the advantages that I have always felt came from my attending a college with people who were very likely (because of their noticeably excellent talents, skills and potential) to be the "future leaders". [and Evan is correct that "Ivy League" is just a historic adjective for schools of excellence that exist throughout the country] Seeing and experiencing my classmates' foibles and humanity, as well as their many talents and interests, did indeed help me realize my own potential, and my need for humility.

It also helped me to see that IQ and measures of brain power and talent have very little to do with common sense, emotional intelligence, and one's value as a human being.

PJM, I can tell you that at 50+ -- even if not at 30 or 40 -- comparisons of my lowly status with that of my classmates is not very painful. In fact, I chuckle at the brochures for expensive alumni trips, and at the letters suggesting that I donate $1000 for every year since I graduated.

UCL, don't let the frailty of those who need to flaunt where they went to school irk you -- write it off to their insecurity about their self-worth and give them a break. I am personally in the group that dislikes being asked where I went to college or law school, especially now that I live in a city where very few folks went to prestige schools. That perhaps makes me an anti-snob, but it is not particularly a virtue either.


Dear S,

I am glad I read your post. I have been thinking a lot about why I wanted to go to an Ivy, what I wanted to get out of it when I first applied, and whether it all will be worth it in the end. Now, I'm not sure it's worth my energy to try to figure all that out. It takes too much time out of enjoying the fact that I am here, at what could be a wonderful place.

When I think about the first three years, all the stress and anxiety about classes and work, how incredibly insecure I was and to some extent still am, and how everyone I met was trying to hide the fact that they felt just like me, UGH, it was agony! Now, I just want to shake all that off. I'm trying to learn how to be comfortable with myself, and I think part of learning that involves being around other people and conquering those silly but often disabling fears about making an ass out of yourself, etc. That probably isn't news to you, but it's taken me some time to figure that out. Anyway, I wanted to share. It seemed like everyone else's post was so far and removed from my Ivy league experience that I felt I needed to qualify some of my experiences, which were more confused and sometimes even sad than anything else. Okay, okay, there were some bright moments, too, but seriously, I would have liked to met some of you when you were an undergrad! Didn't you ever have doubts or felt insecure about LIFE??



I know a guy who graduated from Yale who has always felt cheated because he didn't become rich and famous. He assumed that wealth and prominence would automatically follow his graduation from an Ivy League school. While I admire the Ivy League tremendously, I know it is certainly possible to receive a comparable education elsewhere.


The idea that the people you meet are so wonderful is a cliche; the people I met at Harvard were cutthroat, arrogant, cagey, and generally unpleasant. Of course, other cutthroat, arrogant, cagey, and unpleasant people were thrilled similarly by "the people you meet." If the people who will run the world value, as many of my peers at Harvard did, status over human relationships, self-image over compassion, and speculative, idealistic, unrealistic visions of humanity over the way people really are, then the world is in deep trouble.

Som Bhattacharyya

I read the articles about Ivy League Schools. I am an engineer and growing up in Missouri, if you didn't get your engineering degree from Univerisity of Missouri-Rolla, they looked down on your engineering degree. Rolla and Columbia loved to compete and if any of you know calculus, you'll appreciate this: When the GPA is approaching Zero, UMR=Mizzou.(UMR is Rolla, Mizzou is University of Missouri-Columbia)

Another problem I see is how others perceive one another. There are those who graduated from the Ivy League schools and believe the world owes them something because they graduated from a particular college. So they have to get the jobs from the best companies at the highest salaries and will not do work they deem to be menial or beneath them.

One thing I'm learning, no task is petty. If there isn't someone to do it, you have to do it yourself. Since employers are looking at experience over the college degree, it's appreciated that one has a well-rounded experience.

One thing I'm learning, many of these Ivy League graduates, especially the female ones, are so vain that noone wants to be around them. When they get to the top, they make me understand it's lonely at the top. Because that's what a lot of these people are: unhappy and lonely.


i love this article and all the comments. it shows a nerve was struck. going to an ivy league school as a 37 year old single mom, i ahve noticed a few things. much like in hitting the lottery and all that...even though i am a plain spoken waitress, i have been ostracized in my home town for getting into an ivy league school, and hear a lot of crap about it. i was goolging for articles about how it feels to go to school in the ivy league becuase it is weird, i guess like being famous. certainly a lot must suck about being famous but you arent allowed to say it.

but people are allowed to say anything they want to you...like my son's baseball coach who said "someone must have really wanted to get into your pants" in the admissions department, or strangers on teh train platform who want to know what its like at penn because that's the train stop you get off at and very few others are trying to decipher machiavelli and Racine at 7:30 am...

it is great though, and comforting, for the first time in your life to know you arent the smartest person in the room...it feels so good to see that the flutist next to you cant figure out her french homework either...or that the weird dude who sleeps through classand i wonder what that would have done for me if i had tried when i was 18, instead of going on tour with the grateful dead...haha


I have very recently decided to apply to Yale. I keep running it through my mind, why Yale? Am I so self-concious that I need to do something for recognition?
After reading this article and comments, I decided on something. If I graduated from Yale, I would be starting a legacy for my children, grandchildren and so forth, that they might not have otherwise. No one in my family could ever dream of going to such a grand institution. My parents want the best for me, but they honestly believe that you have to have money or influence to get to a school like that. I want to break free from stereotypes like that. I want to prove that there is no difference between me and the people who run the county. I want to prove that the reason why the son of the CEO of a large corporation got on the board of directors is because he is smart like his father because his father has been the biggest influence in his life, not because his father is the "boss". I think hard work and good marketing (to the admissions people), will be the main determinate. I want to do it, because I know it will be hard. I know it will be one of the greatest challenges in my life. I am very excited.

James Sewell

I almost graduated from an engineering school, but gave it up for an opportunity to travel. My work involves travelling around the world, but I never received a college degree and never went back.

The only thing a college degree does, no matter where you go, is open doors. One friend told me that a degree is like a bank account, and the experience you receive is the interest. So the more experience you have, the better your degree looks.

btw, How is we have the first MBA President of the United States(who went to Harvard and Yale), and he behaves like a complete idiot?

If you don't believe me, why would Saturday Night Live portray him as one?


As a fellow Ivy League grad, here is my estimation of who is really running the world:

1. Harvard University
2. Yale University
3. Columbia University
4. Princeton University
5. Stanford University
6. University of Chicago
7. Dartmouth College
8. Brown University
9. Mass. Inst. of Technology
10. Georgetown University

anthony d'agostino

Hi there. It's really good of you to report your good fortune at going to an Ivy League School. I myself feel fortunate to be able to go to a Community College in Boston.

One thing that an Ivy League School can't do for the individual that goes there is to give that student a sense of what it's like to be a "regular," person. Sorry, guys.

The Ivy Leaguer will never have that same hunger that the so-called "lesser man" feels.

The Ivy leaguer even misses the oh so very delicious gift of getting to have disdain for the "Ivy Leaguer."

A first-generation immigrant can be a self-made man or woman, but not an Ivy Leaguer.

Being the only person in my family who has ever read a book from start to finish, I can feel a true sense of accomplishemnt at finishing college. For the Ivy Leaguer, I'm sure it's just a matter of doing what's expected or even demanded of them.

How many among you have really ever done anything all by yourself? ...without the social network? ..without the inertia of privelage propelling you forward (or else?)
Without your parents wallets propelling you forward?

From my perspective, "achievement," in the sense that you describe it is not all that valuable.

I'd rather talk to the guys from the local halfway house than rub elbows with the types of people you describe.

But we need each other to feel the way we do, so please keep it up.


I was put on the Ivy League track (college prep) in 6th grade. I'm from Philly so my mom was shooting for U of P. I hated the competition. I hated the hypocrisy--the two-facedness.

My first job was in a bagel bakery on Penn campus. My Mom got a second job there and couldn't hack it after the first day ot so. I thought she was crazy for wanting ME to go to school with those snots. Those kids had such a sense of entitlement they made me sick.

Now, I work at an agency that has a community partnership with an Ivy League school and half the kids I deal with have very little commonsense. ("Tomorrow's leaders"? Scary!)When I graduated from h.s., my biggest fear was that I would go to college and be as disconnected from the real world as most of those people seemed to be.

From observing my working class parents I knew the real world was a scary place and not being a trust fund baby, I didn't not want to go out into it unprepared. So I didn't go to college at all, trying to turn my mom off of pressuring me to go to some of the high-powered schools (Penn wasn't one of 'em)that sent me materials after my SAT scores came back. i just saw more pressure, greater disconnect; I was already an oddball.

Now, my daughter is preparing for junior high and i realize that the biggest problem for me was that my mother hadn't given me what I needed to balance out the isolation and disconnect that occurs in upper-echelon academic circles; she didn't know better. But I do. I'm prepping my kid to appreciate the fruits of her own labor, her own blood, sweat and tears. I'm training her to appreciate the strength of social numbers and the blessings of social access--at every level--even in the ghetto.

Above all, I'm doing my best to see that she gets the best education the public school system (charter schools) can provide and I enlist the help of those within my family who are actively pro-education to supplement her academic experiences in order to approximate a classical education as much as possible.
She won't be perfect, but she'll be a helluva lot more balanced than I was.

I don't knock Ivy League education, 'cause there's no fool like an educated fool, but I know that you can't judge quality by labels alone.

Shane Michael Whittier

Good evening. My name is Shane. I live in New Haven, CT - sometimes I joke and tell people that I "live at Yale." I enjoyed reading this blog - your comments and views are intriguing and honest - I appreciate that. Personally, I have experienced the destructive effects of "Ivy Obssession." For the most part I grew up surrounded by poverty, violence etc. My father was a "proud criminal," if you could imagine that - a person that actually took pleasure in receiving a prison sentence - smiling behind bars as if the world could not punish him enough. I was told my entire life that I was a loser - that I was nothing more than a financial burden. As a defense I developed a desperate version of the "overachiever" mentality - and even as a young teen I can recall they way I interacted with the "enemy" around me; my parents, my "ghetto" neighbors. I was filled with unwarranted hostility. I distanced myself from that "crowd" and pushed myself to succeed beyond measure. I graduated valedictorian from a public high school in New Haven, I had near perfect SAT scores, all that good stuff. When I was accepted to Yale, I relished in the idea that I had overcome the faults of my past; however, what I had missed in all those years of being an angry achiever was truth and perspective. I was never told that my family troubles were not my fault. I was never told that I was, in fact, not a loser, overachiever or otherwise. My self-image was built around the praise I received for being a "model" student. At Yale; however, the praising ceased - because every undergraduate studying the sciences had near perfect SAT scores and everything else. Though it is never expressed by the student body, everyone understands and attempts to accomodate the "winner-take-all" mentality. Achievement is the biggest motivator on campus. By the time I was a senior, I was so obssessed with achievement, so obssessed with hearing praises, I rarely left my dormitory. I wouldn't talk to women, I wouldn't take part in extracurricular activities. I was looking for my self-worth and I couldn't find it. I took my MCAT's that fall. A month later, when I received my scores, the reality of being imperfect became overwhelming real and as a result I tried to take my own life. My MCAT composite score was 14.3 - scaled that's a 37. No other yale undergraduate that year received a score a composite score above 14. Yale alone, was not the cause, but it did not help. When I look back on my college experience now, I believe that I would have been successful even at an average State University - because the students bring the talent to any institution, the institution does supply it. I have spent the last several years actually learning how to be "normal" and "regular." I read an NEJM article that cites the risk factors for heart diseases associated with the consumption of trans-fats while I'm enjoying a Big Mac. And all that good stuff. I received the treatment I needed - the "perspective." And I am still in the Ivy League - as a medical student. Though my motivation comes from a higher source. There is nothing more valuable in this world that knowing who you are - being able to look into a mirror and smile and "know" that nothing in the world has the power to rob you of such a truth. Yale cannot instill that kind of truth. Yale is facinating, full of a myriad of pontentialities - but it occupies a very small surface area on the globe. The reality is that Yale is an amazing place, but there is a greater reality in life - the miracle of learning lies in the hearts of the students. At Yale, or at the local Mcdonald's six blocks down the street - anyone with a desire to learn and a willingness to work - is worthy of the title "student."

Big Mac Connoisseur

I like Big Macs. I like French Fries. I like education. Thanks.


I still do not get this. i have been told i can enter any ivy league university, seeing as i have great potential.
if it means going to them for something as shallow as a career, i think i would pass
secondly, i feel they are just universities that were built earlier on.
I have been taught buy people who went to top universities all over the world, who saw 'my potential' as they put it. They do not and i do not know why i don't bother going to any ivy league universities.

Tracy Strelser

I didn't go to an Ivy League. I have a high school freshman getting straight A's and I'd like her to have the opportunity to go to an Ivy League. Your post gave me the words that will make sense to her about why one should seriously consider at least making that option available. This means taking the harder classes and being an idiot about getting A's. It is a game of odds. No, you don't have to go to an Ivy League school to run the world. You just have better chances if you do. When you live in America, the world of opportunity, you are a bit foolish if you don't stack the deck in your favor and take advantage of every available opportunity to you. I'm glad you listened to your dad.


This comment is for Christine who said who runs the world(May 20, 2006). Did you ever see the 60 Minutes report back in the early 2004 that talked about the India Institute of Technology?

India(who is becoming a strong economic power)produces one third of the world's engineers. If one cannot make it into India Institute of Technology, they have to settle for an Ivy League School in America.

Some of these graduates became the entrepreneurs(sorry. I didn't have my dictionary for this word) of Silicon Valley.

Is the U.S. really controlling the world, or are we all living in a bubble that's about to burst.

There is more between heaven and earth than what is dreamt of in our philosophies my dear Horatios.


I am hampered by not having Ivy League credentials. Employers and professional schools kiss the butts of the never had a job Ivy graduates whose summers consisted of European travel or riding around with friends in their Jeeps.
I had to WORK while at a STATE university. I had to attend an INFERIOR sttae dental school, also while working. My father would NOT fill out an FAF because it cost $15. TRUST FUNDS ARE GOD to the admissions officers.

Erin Fetherman

I dreaded life for 5 years while in the military and upon release, moved to New York immediately to study at Columbia. I have not attended any other colleges, so what I say about my experience is only limited to what I know, and maybe what my friends at non-Ivy schools have encountered/become/done with their lives.
For me, contacts are a big part of going to school here- and that is not to say that it just comes along with going here, or that it is this great thing that I am chasing after- instead, what I mean by it is that you are able to meet other people with ambitions and interests that are very similar to yours (especially if, like me, yours are somewhat esoteric), where you might have not at other schools. The other key ingredient is the social pressure to be great. This all sounds very snobby, of course.

The operative words here are "ambitions" and "social pressure".

My friends of comparable intellect who went to state schools all graduated with good grades and went on to do jobs in whatever field they studied. I think this is just a side-effect of the particular social atmosphere surrounding non-Ivy schools, even the really amazingn ones.
At Ivy league schools, I feel that there is a different awareness. Students may very well be no brighter than those at other schools, but they are more aware of the potential things they can do with their lives.
My parents aren't loaded; I definitely have to get a job when I graduate. But my options are much greater than the average college student, because, at the very least, employers think I am better-educated than many of my peers. Beyond that, attending an Ivy league school has forced me to realize that there is more out there than the 9-5, and that I can actually make a positive change in the world- I don't just have to be a cog in the wheel of someone else's dream.
There are a lot of things you can do with your education and your life. You actually can change the world, even though that sounds so incredibly corny, idealistic, and naive. Where I go to school, people win Nobel prizes. This makes me feel like: I'd better at least try.
Because of people like these, there is an awareness about being able to do "anything", which makes me feel like I should be doing something amazing. There is a social pressure to be great, to be a pioneer, to do something that no one else has done yet. Of course most Ivy students are able to achieve in (and be admitted to) Ivies because their families have led prosperous lives. While this is something that I feel must change (meaning, we need to definitely level the playing field, work toward undoing racial segregation, and lobby against the disparities in higher education), this is still no reason that the kids who are already there should hold themselves back in their studies.
At any rate, because I am going to this school, I was able to start a non-profit art program for homeless teens. If I went to a state school, I don't believe I would have had A. the ambition, B. the connections, C. the open-mindedness, or D. the desire to do something like this. It's not entirely practical. I'm not making money doing it. It takes up a lot of my study time. BUT it is amazing and I think that I am making a teeny part of the world a better place for a few hours every Saturday morning.
So, for those considering going to an Ivy league school, I can say that from my perspective, the payoff is that you are not only more able, but more *LIKELY* to do great things. And doing great things is, in my opinion, way better than paying off loans for a degree that gets you a job answering phones at some big name company for the next 10 years.


I am at Columbia, and in response to a comment that someone made that an Ivy League grads tend to think the world owes them something when they apply for jobs is absolutely absurd. Let me ask you this, do you think it is easy to get into an Ivy? Secondly, do you think it's a breeze to graduate? No it's a mission, which is an understatement. How many undergrads in other institutions spend their weekends in the library? I think corportations and employers recognized this tremendous effort, and therefore, Ivy League grads should believe that they are more than capable of landing a dream job because of THEIR hardwork and NOT because of the schoo name.


Ivies? Please. That's just too narrow. The last time I checked, places like Stanford are NOT part of Ivies. Not is Caltech. And guess what? The toughest coursework and education is not in Ivies like Harvards and Yales, but in places like Caltech (and Harvey Mudd). So be careful when you cite Ivies because that is a broad term that is narrow at the same time. I am not even mentioning Berkeley, that amazing PUBLIC UC. So if you want to talk about schools, you may call them presitgious, elite, or whatever else, but Ivies exclude to o many great schools to be complete.
As far as the impact, think: these schools DO NOT create geniuses. What they do is ADMIT them. It has been demonstrated many times that places like Harvard have an eroding educational system not worthy even of some average public schools. Just read to what happened to the last Harvard president (Summers). So why go elite? Simple - for the connections and prestige associated with it. Sometimes you also get a superior education, but only in places like Caltech and Berkeley. Harvard is not in those ranks anymore. I haven't followed others, but they may have eroded too.

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