DISCUSSION / The Merits of the Ivy League / Engaging from Within, not Dropping Out
by Stephanie Ban
William Deresiewicz wrote an article in the New Republic Magazine entitled “Don’t Send Your Kid to the Ivy League,” where he criticizes Ivy League and other top-tier schools for favoring the upper-middle class over genuinely deserving underprivileged students, stifling the spirit of intellectually curious learners, and breeding a culture of stagnation and entitlement instead of social change. As I will be enrolled in one of the “top-tier” schools that Deresiewicz is attacking, I feel the need to defend my school a bit.
I’ll start by acknowledging that I agree with some of his assertions. There does tend to be a “bubble of privilege” at many top schools, but at the same time, there are scholarship and mentoring efforts developing to mitigate the gap. It’s not perfect, but it’s a start. More minority representation is absolutely something to strive for. College will also never be a true meritocracy, since there will always be students accepted for reasons other than merit and deserving students who are denied. Deresiewicz points out that the resumes of many applicants are heavily padded and homogeneous. I agree that resume padding is an issue, but I also think he is far too pessimistic when it comes to who gets admitted. I come from a middle class background. My disability prohibited me from committing to more than two extracurricular activities. I won no national awards, and yet I was admitted, as were students with lower-than-average scores or GPAs and students whose main extracurricular was a service job. I wonder: are we really that rare? There is absolutely undue pressure placed on high-achieving students at top schools (both internally and externally) that can lead to issues like stress, anxiety, and depression. However, the answer is not for motivated and bright students to move to public education; it is to improve the climate and mental health services at top universities. Not every high achiever should go to a top school, but those that do should be supported.
Now come the points where I disagreed outright with Deresiewicz. He asserts that “religious schools…deliver the best education.” I have nothing against religious schools, but how can Deresiewicz make such a broad generalization? I don’t believe a religious school would be a better option for some nonreligious students, for example. He praises liberal arts colleges, asserting that top-tier schools are prone to crushing creative spirits. I can’t speak for every school, but the University of Chicago blatantly encourages creativity, with a core curriculum designed around the liberal arts. It is possible for schools to incorporate a love of learning into professionalism. Deresiewicz asserts that most Ivy League graduates go into finance or other “professional” fields. Even if this is true, I don’t understand how it’s harmful. Students at religious colleges can just as easily pursue finance as I can pursue a history degree. College is about individual choice, and not everyone wants to be a banker or an activist. Most students fall somewhere in the middle.
I would urge parents to “go ahead and send your kid to an Ivy League school if that’s what your kid wants.” There is no doubt that top-tier schools aren’t perfect, but the only path to improvement is engaging from within, not dropping out.