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Archive for the ‘Personal Opinions & Experiences’ Category

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A pre-med wrote to me with some questions, which I’ve listed in bold, followed by my responses. I hope that this conveys some of the parental pressure and fatigue that is often experienced by students in intense majors.

 

“I can’t tell you how many times others would simply wave off my concerns and give me trite advice such as “no pain, no gain”, and “suck it up, you’re an adult now”.”

That pretty much echoes the feedback that I got as well, from my dad, my profs, and my advisors. I remember once when a student complained to the organic chemistry professor that the exams were obscenely difficult and his grades were jeopardizing his chances of getting into med school. The professor’s response was, “Well, the world needs ditch diggers too.”

 

“I’m lucky because I have parental support for my college education (so I’ll be graduating debt free), and also fortunate to have a good amount of financial savings on my own, so I can afford to take time off to travel.”

Awesome! You can at least be glad that your finances are stable. The most brutal stories seem to come from students who are in over their head with debt when they graduate… and then still can’t find work. I was somewhere in the middle – my parents covered my first two years at Duke, and I paid for the remaining two with a trust fund from my grandparents, which at the time had about $100K in it (suffice it to say, I spent the entirety of it on college). So I also graduated debt-free, but I was left with no savings, so when I couldn’t find work after graduating, I was forced to move out of North Carolina and into my mother’s basement on the other side of the country.

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Pyrrhus

A pre-med on a UC campus wrote to me this week (the response follows):

“Dear Clayton,

Thank you so much for writing your blog- I searched all over the internet for a blog that would express the way I felt, and I finally found yours. […] When I was a high school senior, I applied to all the Ivy Leagues (but was rejected from all of them) but was accepted to every campus of the University of California. At the time, I was very disappointed to not have gotten into any Ivy League, because I too had a carefully crafted resume with a 1500/1600 SAT, extra-curriculars with regional awards, and had sacrificed so many of the same things that you gave up to go to an elite college…basic things a lot of people take for granted in life such as a normal childhood and teenage social life. Those precious experiences that we really only get to experience once in life, I gave up because I had tremendous family and also personal pressure to “succeed” and go to an elite college. Because I didn’t get into the Ivies, I decided to go to the pre-med program, believing that the program would allow me to get into professional school a lot more easily and thus alleviating the academic and extracurricular pressure that has plagued me all my life. I also thought the program would be a lot easier than what I would experience at an Ivy League. It turned out to be anything but easy. My classmates were all of similar caliber (most would have attended UC Berkeley or UCLA if they didn’t come here), and grading is extremely rough with average of C. I cannot tell you how much I utterly despise my life here. Your experience really struck a chord with me- the cutthroat-ness of the place, how incredibly hard the classes are, how the work comes in massive waves that I try not to drown in…I spend literally all my time studying and I never feel good enough. My 3.7 GPA is a massive accumulation of pain and stress, and because the program is so accelerated, I will be finishing my bachelor’s degree in 2 years, because I came into college with a lot of AP units and I also took summer classes.

But at least, reading your blog has been a cathartic experience for me. I’m writing right now because its the week before finals, and I’m completely broken down right now. I’m at the end of the 2 years, but I can’t seem to push myself any further.I’m burned out beyond belief, and the worst part is that, I’ve completely lost interest in becoming a doctor. Life has become simply a matter of getting through one more day, and I’ve lost my original vision, goals, and dreams. (more…)

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Larson

One might think that America’s best universities would be intent on recruiting the top minds in the nation, but that’s often not the case. Instead, many highly-ranked private schools provide special preferences for anything but stellar academics. Brace yourselves: If you want a place at one of America’s elite universities, the answer may not be to study hard and get good grades, but rather to be born into the right circumstances – i.e., to be of the right race, religion, socioeconomic background, legacy status, or athletic ability.

Affirmative action – or just plain racism?

Not long ago, Harvard was charged with ethnic discrimination against Asian applicants. The following article discusses this issue at great length and suggests that the accusation is indeed well-founded. It additionally reveals a pattern of discrimination against gentile whites (Euro-Americans), as well as arbitrary favoritism toward Jewish students. Harvard employs an affirmative-action program to ensure that it has an abundance of ethnic minorities, but in the process knocks out some of its would-be best and brightest. How good can America’s top-rated university be if it’s not even meritocratic?

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AmherstMAHPI received this today:

“Dear Clayton,

My name is [redacted] and I am a rising freshman at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, majoring in computer science. I came across your blog after doing research for a final AP macroeconomics project on college grad unemployment. After being done with high school and information to be filled out as requested by college, I finally had the time and thought to write to you.

Your blog posts are well-written even if they rant – it is very hard to give logical arguments in the midst of anger and misery. Your collection of elite education “warning stories” are rich and convincing. Most importantly, think back to your past words:

“In the end, my goal is to help people make better decisions and to avoid making what could well be a catastrophic choice purely out of ignorance and naïveté. This is something my academic advisors never did for me, and I paid the price. It sickens me to see this happening to other people, and I want to put an end to it. My cause is as noble as any can be.”

I believe that you did what you intended to do with your blog, for me.

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princeton-university

In a few weeks, I’ll be setting foot on campus at Princeton as a freshman. Luckily, with financial aid and scholarships, my education turns out to be more than free, so I’m not overly worried about the prospect of undergraduate debt. However, I would still like, when I graduate, to be marketable to some extent so I don’t have to incur mountains of graduate debt. What advice do you have for someone in my situation? What would you have done differently?

My response:

Thanks for writing, and congrats on the scholarships. You’ve dodged a major financial bullet and one of the most compelling reasons not to attend a private school.

Some of the advice I would offer depends on what you study and what you choose to pursue as a career. It depends also on what you’re looking for in a college experience, and what you want your life to look like afterward. But I can at least make some general suggestions, based on what I like to think is 20/20 hindsight.

1.       Remember that, for all its fame, Princeton is still just a school – nothing more, nothing less. Whatever your experience ends up being, remember that it’s only four years, and regardless of what happens, you will have options in the future. If you’re bright enough to get into Princeton, then you’re bright enough to shape your destiny beyond it. So if for whatever reason you find you’re not enjoying the experience, don’t let it get to you. Your life is not over if you don’t get straight A’s, and it does not reflect badly on you if you find the experience less than stellar, or don’t fit in with your peers and professors, or don’t enjoy your coursework. I took college far too seriously, and wound up totally burned out and miserable by the end. The intense classes, the competitive students, the blood, sweat, and tears that went into getting my diploma – they just weren’t worth Ultimately, I ended up hating the classroom and resenting formal education in general, which is really not a healthy perspective to have.

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tomatoes

One gentleman wrote in with a litany of complaints and personal criticisms. Below is a copy of this e-mail, with his comments in quotes and my responses in italics.

“You need to change the name of your blog.  You keep referencing the Ivy League when you didn’t even attend an Ivy League university.  You’re lucky the Ivy League hasn’t sued you for libel yet.”

You’re right, I didn’t attend an Ivy, but this blog isn’t just about me, and no other phrase is so quickly and readily associated with top-ranked schools. Many people refer loosely (albeit erroneously) to roughly the top 15-20 universities as the “Ivy League,” and for lack of a better term, I’m doing the same. I suppose I could call it the “The Ivy-and-Ivy-Equivalent Lie,” but somehow that just doesn’t roll off the tongue quite so well. 

As for the accusation of libel: Last time I checked, our great nation still has something called the First Amendment. For me personally, college sucked, and I have every right to say what I please about my own experiences. As far as more general statements are concerned, it’s not libel unless it’s patently and demonstrably untrue, and there are plenty of articles cited on this blog to back up the assertions I’ve made.

“You made the wrong choice of school to attend.  You should’ve went to Yale or MIT.  Duke is a great school, but in reality, its national reputation doesn’t come close to Yale or MIT’s.  Regardless of the rankings, Duke is better known for its sports teams than for academics.”

Maybe. In my experience, the perception of any given school is heavily dependent on where you are and what job you’re applying for. On the East Coast, Duke seems to be very well-regarded, and to be known for having students were not only bright but also more well-rounded than some of their Ivy League counterparts. Duke has slipped a bit in the ratings the last decade – when I started there it was tied for 4th with Stanford and MIT – whereas now it’s hovering around #8 in the U.S. News & World Report rankings. Regardless, it’s consistently a Top -10 university, so I disagree that there’s a very substantial difference between Duke and say, Columbia or Princeton. And personally, I disagree that I would be better off had I attended Yale or MIT. The key problems for me would have applied at any of these universities – namely, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with my life, the tuition was exorbitant, and the coursework was painfully difficult and utterly irrelevant to any profession. If I could go back in time, I wouldn’t even apply for any of those schools, let alone consider attending one of them.

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hs

Hi,

My name is [redacted] and I stumbled upon your blog while searching for posts about the Ivy League.

I was rejected from all of the Ivies or Ivy-equivalents I applied to (or rather, mostly wait-listed and then rejected). I was accepted to Swarthmore […] as well as “safeties” which awarded me merit scholarships. I was also rejected by schools considerably less selective than the Ivies…

My high school experience was similar to yours. I graduated with highest honors in the top 10% of my class; took 11 AP and 6 honor courses; earned school wide, local, and national awards; and have extensive leadership experience in unusual areas (founder/president of two clubs, congressional intern, created and taught an actual class at my school, varsity tennis).

[…]

I’m not writing to you simply to vent–I’m looking for advice. Since my dismal decisions were released, I’ve been feeling great anxiety over the fact that I worked so hard for sub-par results. Of course Swarthmore is amazing, but I still regret not studying harder for the SAT points, or bringing that A- up, or my AP Stats score of 3. I also constantly rethink my essays, most of which I thought were great, coming up with possibly more successful topics. Like you, I traded a healthy social life for strong academic success, but without reaping the full, albeit possibly not-worth-it, rewards.

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