Ivy League
July 8, 2004 9:44 AM   Subscribe

Who went to an American Ivy League School? Did you think it was the best?
posted by the fire you left me to Education (16 answers total)
I went to Dartmouth College in Hanover, NH. It is a somewhate atypical Ivy in that it is (I think) the smallest, is the most rural, and has a very clear focus on undergraduates. I had a great experience, but fully appreciate the fact that you can get an education that is as good (or better) at many schools that are not in the League. It all depends on the student and what you are willing to put into your education.

To be honest, the real benefits of an Ivy League education, in my opinion, are the opportunities that are easily available, and the alumni network waiting for you when you graduate.
posted by gregchttm at 10:04 AM on July 8, 2004

I'm at Brown. It's nice. I would by no means call it "best" but it was my first choice. For what it's worth, I haven't found my peers any brighter or less bright than those at the state school I transferred from. But what gregchttm said.
posted by rafter at 11:02 AM on July 8, 2004

The best for whom? My years at Cornell are an important part of who I am but I would've been fine elsewhere I'm sure. I have no regrets, but it isn't for everyone. The main thing about an Ivy League school is, and I can say this with authority after 15 years and several graduate schools, no one EVER asks your GPA. This has been very handy for me, as it turns out..
posted by dness2 at 11:20 AM on July 8, 2004

It was total crap, but I would have felt that way about anywhere I went. Nonetheless, people are impressed by it, the wankers. I'll second the notion that no one cares about your GPA, and anyway it's meaningless, what with grade inflation. 90% of my class graduated with honors, and I can tell you with complete honesty that I definitely didn't deserve it.

If you can get in, definitely go; it looks good on your resume. And if you're willing to put up with the self-important, attention-whoring Type As you'll meet there (and there are lots), you'll also meet a few decent people who hate everyone else as much as you do. As a bonus, if you *are* one of those all-work-and-no-play folks (the sort who did every activity in high school because *I have to get into a good college!*, you know who you are), you'll fit right in.
posted by uncleozzy at 11:55 AM on July 8, 2004

Hey rafter, you'll be glad to know that a lot of people think that Rutgers is an Ivy League school. I went there too and I loved it. Couldn't have asked for a better college experience. However, it is indeed a state school. So - I guess this isn't really answering the original question.
posted by MsVader at 1:07 PM on July 8, 2004

I am returning to Cornell in the fall to finish my honors thesis, and I'm not sure about the grade inflation everyone-gets-honors thing. According to my advisor, approximately (changes year by year) 8% graduate cum laude, and per department only 1 or 2 individuals - and sometimes none - graduate suma cum laude.

My appraisal is basically this:

1) Everyone is right that merely 'having the piece of paper' from an Ivy commands alot of repsect; chances are your interviewer went to a "lesser" (I do not condone the term, but for the sake of this argument...) school, and won't ask about GPA or extra-currics or awards or whatnot, unless you bring it up.

2) Cornell, known mostly for its engineering and research, is very, very difficult if you go into those fields. I started as a Computer Science major, but after spending 12 hours a day in the computer lab my freshman year, I changed majors. If you are really dedicated and really brilliant, then you must challenge yourself and go into the most difficult program you can find. I was neither. You may be, I don't know, but like they say about luxury cars, "If you have to ask how much work it takes, you probably aren't up for it." There is a very large community of people at Cornell who will do whatever it takes.

3) Arts and Humanities, which are graded more subjectively, really are you-get-what-you-put-in type programs. I know some people who are brilliant and do no work and get by fine, and I know people who are "Daddy must have donated a building" cases who work their asses off and do just as well.

However, I have friends at other schools all over the country, and I don't think that there is very much difference in the educations we've recieved. Having said that, if I had to do it again, I'd pick Cornell, if simply because the $120,000 shelled out elsewhere may get you a similar education, but it won't get you the Ivy-colored piece of paper.

I do have two pieces of advice, however:

1) Seriously consider one of those "lesser" schools. As I've said, you will get a fairly comparable education, but your chances to excell are much greater. The old big-fish-little-pond theory. Would you rather be one of the best students at a Colgate or a Tufts or an NYU* and be showered with academic laurels and awards, or a just another mediocre-to-poor student at an Ivy? I can't answer that for you, but it is definitely something to think about.

2) Find a teacher you love early, grab them and don't let them go. Again with the big-fish theory, which I guess applies to most of college life now that I think about it. Would you rather be a teacher's prize pupil, getting in on their research, getting great letters of recommendations from them, and having an expert resource to guide you, or just another face in a crowded lecture hall? Most people who do it will tell you that individual projects, participating in research, and 1-on-1 independent study with a favorite professor was one of the singular joys of their educational lives.

One more: Good luck, have fun, and try not to take it too seriously. As I heard on South Park: "There's a time and a place for experimentation, and its called 'College'."

*Please don't post telling me that these are not lesser schools. As I've already said, I don't really buy into the my-school-better-than-your school game, but enough people do that for simplicity I played along here.
posted by ChasFile at 2:21 PM on July 8, 2004

I also went to Rutgers, and I can't imagine getting out of any other school what I got from there. It was just a perfect fit for me based on who I was when I went in there, and I'm sure other people will be happy to report similar success stories with other schools. My tuition was low, they offered summer and winter courses, I managed to avoid Friday classes altogether after my first term there, and I picked up some very impressive academic credentials.
posted by alphanerd at 2:48 PM on July 8, 2004

Penn grad here, class of 2001 (SAS), sister was class of 2003 (Wharton). Dad, one uncle, and paternal grandfather went to Ivies, too. The Ivy league is great if you actively want cachet along with a ridiculous tuition bill, and admittedly a bit of a leg up in your future job searches (especially in your first post-college jobs). But I think I would have been just as happy going to NYU, or UCLA, or Georgetown, or any number of other academically rigorous schools in big cities.

I went to a private college prep school in NYC, nicknamed the "pressure cooker", which put a lot of emphasis in getting into the "right" school. And the Ivies were considered the top, and I had friends who refused to come into school for days after the "shame" of being deferred Early Admission at Harvard. But honestly, the Iveis are not all that and a bag of chips: college is really what you make of it. And the Ivies vary wildly from school to school in their social worlds and political tone and academic strengths; Princeton is a very different place and climate than Brown in almost every way.

Penn was just...okay. However, I did, very surprisingly, meet my wonderful husband at Penn, and that made it all worthwhile. So I ended up both a BA and a MRS. :-)
posted by Asparagirl at 4:16 PM on July 8, 2004

Also, something to think about: are you a minority student? You may want to avoid Penn; it's the absolute whitest place I've ever seen, and black students have been picked on by the cops and campus security, who mistake them for the sometimes-violent local West Philly residents (there have been many holdups at gunpoint in recent years). Also, many feel pressure to self-segregate into DuBois College House.

Similarly, are you gay/lesbian/bi or think you might spend some of your college years "experimenting"? If so, your dating life is likely to be better at Brown, or Wellesley/Bryn Mawr/Mt. Holyoke/Vassar, or NYU.

Hate the idea of sororities and frats? Then don't go to Cornell, which has very few off-campus housing arrangements other than Greek life.

Are you Jewish? Is Kosher dining or on-campus religious services or having a Jewish dating pool important to you? You may want to stick with Harvard, Yale, or particularly Penn, which has a huge Jewish population. and avoid Berkeley and SFSU like the plague. (Despite the fact that I've got a brother-in-law and a cousin-in-law who are students at Berkeley, and my mother-in-law went there too, it's just not very safe there right now. The number and intensity of recent anti-Jewish hate crime attacks there have been scary.)

Are you a WASP looking for the "right" girl to bring home to the country club? Then it's Dartmouth all the way, baby!

Yes, these are all gross generalizations and other people may have different experiences. But you should think about them seriously. And read the online student newspapers. Good luck!
posted by Asparagirl at 4:30 PM on July 8, 2004

I think most people here are totally right--college is what you make of it, but there is an almost disturbing level of benefit that you reap after the fact from going to an Ivy. (I certainly wouldn't single out the Ivies as the only places where you can get an education that's simultaneously deep, broad, and challenging, but I think their reputation for academic excellence is well-earned. It's definitely hard to do better.)

That being said, I really didn't expect the Yale degree to matter as much afterward as it has. More than once--especially earlier in my career, when I was more junior--I've had someone like a CEO or VP learn where I went to school, and totally treat me differently (read, "much better") after that. Now, it's not so much impressing a boss as it is sort of instant bonding with my peers, but for better or worse, there's a lot of folks who automatically give you the benefit of the doubt once they know where you went to school.

It's certainly not a reason to go somewhere you're miserable, but it's definitely something to take into account. I also knew a fair amount of people who were absolutely miserable there, for all the reasons I really liked it, so you definitely want to make sure a place clicks for you, if you can.
posted by LairBob at 4:59 PM on July 8, 2004

My sister went to Harvard undergrad (class of '87), and I went to "Ivy-comparable" Washington University in St. Louis (class of '91). Comparing notes, we've pretty much come to the conclusion that I probably had a slight edge in terms of the quality of education (in such areas as class size, being taught by faculty rather than TAs, etc.); I certainly seem to have had a much more pleasant time socially as well. She's definitely had the benefit of the Harvard cachet on her resume, although as Wash. U. gets more well-known, I occasionally get the "ooh, very impressive, I'll assume you're really smart now" response similar to what Lairbob mentioned. We both got comparable debts for our student loans, though.

On preview: Are you Jewish? Is Kosher dining or on-campus religious services or having a Jewish dating pool important to you? You may want to stick with Harvard, Yale, or particularly Penn, which has a huge Jewish population.

Can't speak for Kosher dining on campus (at least not while I was there), but Wash U. also fits this bill.
posted by scody at 5:24 PM on July 8, 2004

I just graduated from Cornell, and I second what chasfile said. It's amazing what that name on a piece of paper gives you.

Also, Cornell tries to limit grade inflation. His quote on "with honors" is dead on.

The great thing about Cornell is illustrated in this simple saying: It's the easiest Ivy League to get into, and it's the easiest Ivy League to get kicked out of. Other Ivy's will basically hold your hand but Cornell doesn't.

Hate the idea of sororities and frats? Then don't go to Cornell, which has very few off-campus housing arrangements other than Greek life.

I'm just curious where you get that generalization from because there's basically a whole town devouted to Cornell (and Ithaca College) housing. And with a fairly decent public transportation, it's really easy to live off campus.
posted by Stynxno at 6:15 PM on July 8, 2004

wow. i know this is turning into a rutgers reunion and a bit of a derail in a sense, but i too must sing the praises of the state school on "the banks of the ol' raritan."

when i graduated from high school (an all boys school in northern new jersey), i was truly disheartened at my financial situation and my subsequent inability to fund an ivy league education, especially when my more affluent classmates (or the ones whose families were "legacy") were all going to an ivy.

it turns out that rutgers was, indeed, the perfect fit for me and perhaps one of the best things that ever happened to me in both the intellectual and the personal sense: i ended up changing my career path, going to a graduate school in new brunswick, and making some friends for life.

my brother went to the cooper union and my sister is at brown. in terms of prestige and the "wow"-factor, they've got it.

but... we each found our niche and our own successes on our own terms. in retrospect, your college experience is truly what you make of it.
posted by ronv at 9:35 PM on July 8, 2004

I agree with ChasFile's notion of finding a teacher who inspires - one's whole educational experience changes tremendously, Ivy or not.

As a minority student who did go to Penn (Wharton '96), I found that if one wanted to segregate yourself from any particular ethnic group, one could, but I personally didn't feel a tremendous pressure to do so. In speaking with friends and family (minorities and not) who attended other schools, they had much the same experience. YMMV.
posted by shinyj at 6:33 AM on July 9, 2004

Hate the idea of sororities and frats? Then don't go to Cornell, which has very few off-campus housing arrangements other than Greek life.

Nonsense -- there are plenty of blood-sucking landlords who will rent you a third-world grade place at NYC prices.

From what I can tell, it's possible to find a comparable quality of education at numerous non-Ivy schools, just as long as you are willing to put in a little initiative rather than being dragged along by your program like a deflated whopee cushion. Sadly, a large portion of the benefits do seem to lie in that piece of paper...
posted by Krrrlson at 8:28 PM on July 9, 2004

I got into Columbia and Cornell, but chose Georgetown (a "near-Ivy", I suppose) for it's superior reputation as a language and government school. (It's also two hours away from home, which means during the summer I can drive up to Washington on the weekends if I want to -- and I often do want to).

Is it the best? For my fields of interest (Japanese language & government), I'd say so. But there are probably several other close seconds. I will say this: if it wasn't for my rather specialized interest in Japanese, I'd probably be at UVA or W&M -- in-state schools that would only have cost me about $18,000 a year instead of the $40,000 a year Georgetown does. But the school has grown on me, and I love being in the city rather than a college town.

But what gregchttm said about alumni applies -- the networking possibilities from an Ivy or near-Ivy are unrivaled. Being from Georgetown, in particular, helps when getting certain government jobs and such simply by virtue of the name and by the fact that many folks in government service are also Georgetown graduates.

(Disclaimer: I have a deep-seated annoyance for Penn, by the way -- could have something to do with the fact that they wait-listed me but let my ex-g/f in -- but I'm told that if you go there for the Wharton business program, it's second to none.)
posted by armage at 5:51 AM on July 10, 2004

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