DISCUSSION / The Merits of the Ivy League


Harvard University Campus, one of the many ivy league universities in America.

To Attend or Not to Attend: The Point of an “Elite” Education?

Foreword by Mitchell Chan
Essayist and critic William Deresiewicz has set the debate about American higher education ablaze with his recent article “Don’t Send Your Kid to the Ivy League: The nation’s top colleges are turning our kids into zombies.”  Deresiewicz has raised important questions about the value of a degree from one of America’s “elite” institutions of higher learning.

Deresiewicz’s controversial piece criticizes the educational philosophy of elite universities and argues that they have failed to provide the fancy education that they are believed to offer.  Rather than encouraging intellectual discovery and self-growth (which Deresiewicz argues is the true purpose of higher education), these schools are intellectual factories where students become “great at what they’re doing but with no idea why they’re doing it.” Deresiewicz dismisses the idea that an Ivy League education encourages students to think creatively, going as far as claiming that “colleges four levels down on the academic totem pole…deliver a better education” than the Ivies because they focus less on prestige and more on personal exploration.

One of the most divisive elements of the article is the incendiary (and often offensive) language that Deresiewicz employs.  His opinion of the likes of Harvard, Penn, and Princeton are brutally plain: they are “exacerbating inequality, retarding social mobility, perpetuating privilege, and creating an elite that is isolated from the society that it’s supposed to lead.”  The piece becomes personal when he writes that “It’s partly because of the students that I’d warn kids away from the Ivies.” Other memorable adjectives that Deresiewicz hangs on Ivy Leaguers’ heads are “out-of-touch,” “sleepwalker,” and the now-famous line, “entitled little shits.”

But underneath the coarse language (and what a UPenn freshman has jokingly called “Mister Grumpy Deresiewicz[‘s]…midlife crisis”), the article does raise some legitimate concerns.  It is true that affluent students make up the majority of students at Ivy League schools.  Elite private high schools and high-performing academic magnet schools provide the overwhelming majority of Ivy League applicants every year.  There is truth to the social and cultural elitism that Deresiewicz alludes to throughout his article.  And the question remains: does an exclusive education place too much value on quantifiable and socially-expected forms of success?

Readers across America have responded with enthusiasm and emotion to Deresiewicz’s words, with the discussion turning into lengthy Facebook threads on Yale, Columbia, Penn, and UChicago Facebook student groups, just to name a few.  Here, several resident writers at The Undergraduate Times respond with their own insights and analysis of Deresiewicz’s arguments.  All of our responders are current undergraduates at American universities.  Like undergraduates everywhere, we have all asked the same question: is a fancy college education worth it.


    Are Ivy Leagues Poisonous?


    Are Ivy Leagues Poisonous?

    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... CONTINUE READING


    Why I Chose a Public University.


    Why I Chose a Public University.

    by Neel Swamy

    With public universities rapidly climbing in acclaim, the thought of “the Ivy way or the highway” is slowly disappearing. I applied to the University of Michigan with no intention of actually attending. Indeed, all I needed back in September was a quick perusal of the admissions website to convince myself... CONTINUE READING


    Engaging from Within, not Dropping Out.


    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... CONTINUE READING


    Zombies or Intellectuals?


    Zombies or Intellectuals?

    by Gabriela Goitia

    Last Monday, William Deresiewicz started a fiery debate over the validity of an elite education. While students around the nation– including myself– found a large amount of his arguments grossly generalized, Deresiewicz does raise valid points on the true definition of “service,” the underestimation.. CONTINUE READING


    Blame the Root, not the Ivy.


    Blame the Root, not the Ivy

    by Jessica Lu

    The question has been thrown left and right at us: What do you want to be when you grow up? When you’re young, this question is wonderful. There are a million and one answers: astronaut, ballerina, cowboy—and they’re all feasible. It’s when you start to grow up that you realize it’s a flawed inquiry. CONTINUE READING


    Why Generalizations are Damaging.


    Why Generalizations are Damaging.

    by Keenan Smith

    I would like to clarify a few things about myself before I begin. I am an incoming freshman at Columbia University, a member of the Ivy League. I am from Flint, Michigan, a town that receives more than enough bad press about its dangers and economic downturn. Lastly, my family is situated firmly on the poverty line. CONTINUE READING

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