DISCUSSION / The Merits of the Ivy League / Are Ivy Leagues Poisonous

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by Shirin Chen

Deresiewicz’s outspoken article “Don’t send your Kid to the Ivy League” touches on a topic that has been a source of contention for many years now: to Ivy or not to Ivy?

It would be hypocritical of me to agree with his article and yet still attend an Ivy League school. However, as much as I stand by my choice of school and, for the most part, dissent from his point of view, an issue he raised did resonate with my personal belief. That is the topic of how many parents and students today aim mindlessly for these prestigious schools and this results in students with exceptional skill in their chosen field but little direction for their life.

The Ivies are certainly not for every bright student. It is wrong for parents and students to hold the pursuit of studying at an elite institution with little thought for the reasons for why they want this goal. A high achieving student should not strive to gain admission into a top-tier school; rather, one should aim to become a confident leader, an independent learner with a curious mind, and someone who can contribute back to society. If you have these qualities and continue to develop them, you will attain true success and happiness.

Education does not start when you enter high school and it certainly does not conclude at the end of four years of university. Education is a lifelong journey that begins the day we are born and will span till our last breath. It is imperative to realise that at the end of the day, university is just four years of our entire life, and while it may shape our life, it surely does not define it. Attending an Ivy League does not guarantee success or happiness as Deresiewicz points out repeatedly.

With all this said, much of Deresiewicz’s argument is not only flawed, but to an extent, insulting. He claims that attending an Ivy League school engenders “toxic levels of fear, anxiety, and depression, of emptiness and aimlessness and isolation” within students. It is no secret that young people in general—even the creative and curious youth—are very susceptible to “teenage angst” and periods of self-loathing and confusion. While in no way am I advocating for youth to dwell in such desolate emotions, “fear” and “anxiety,” among other experiences, are almost a rite of passage for young people. Show me someone who has never hit a low point and I’ll show you someone who has neither understanding nor appreciation for the beauty that lies in struggle.

He mentions phrases like “little intellectual curiosity,” “a stunted sense of purpose,” and “heading meekly in the same direction, great at what they’re doing but with no idea why they’re doing it.” Today, the masses of college graduates struggling to find jobs with little direction of where they are headed are a societal problem, not one that is exclusive to Ivies. I would argue that if one were immersed in an environment of less challenge and competition, he or she would be far more prone to be headed down the path of ennui and meagre meaning. I agree that going to an Ivy does not guarantee to fully equip one ready to overcome the obstacles in the “real world,” but generally the students who attend these schools have proved that they have what it takes to orchestrate independent thought and a thirst for liberal learning. Ivies are far from being monolithic businesses that strip away these qualities.

Mr. Deresiewicz, you make a few points worthy of credit, but you are doing a huge injustice to my fellow peers and me. The people I have come across who will be attending or already are attending Ivies and other top schools have been nothing but self-directed, incredibly interesting, and intelligent.

Yes, there are flaws in the admissions process at top-tier schools; yes, there are students who come out after four years with a “stunted sense of purpose,” but you are referring to a small patch in the grand sea of students. Correct me if I’m wrong, but sending your child to an Ivy is not synonymous with “becoming an out-of-touch, entitled little shit.”

The Participants

Why Generalizations are Damaging

Kennan Smith
Columbia University

Blame the Root, not the Ivy

Jessica Lu
The University of Chicago

Zombies or Intellectuals?

Gabriela Goitia
The University of Pennsylvania

Engaging from Within, not Dropping Out.
Stephanie Ban
The University of Chicago

Why I Chose a Public University.

Neel Swamy
University of Michigan

Are Ivy Leagues Poisonous

Shirin Chen
Brown University