Archive for the ‘Personal Opinions & Experiences’ Category


Unfortunately, elite schools don’t necessarily provide any real-world job skills. In spite of all the hype, the sad reality is that many of these supposedly superior universities are churning out students with no marketable skill sets whatsoever. And although I don’t have a statistic to back it up, I’d bet dollars to pesos that this lack of practical skills is the most common reason for post-graduation unemployment.

I repeat: Just because you graduated from Princeton doesn’t mean you’ll be able to land any job that you want. A famous name is great to have on your resume, but especially in hard economic times, employers are unlikely to take you on just because you went to a good school. You’ve also got to have a relevant skill set. And where are you likely to find that? An advisor gave me one answer, when I voiced my frustration with not finding work and asked if there was something more that my degree was useful for. She responded: “I’m sorry, but Duke is not a vocational college. Perhaps you should call Durham Tech.” So, in other words, “we don’t provide any real-world skills – what you want is a simple community college, which costs 1/10th of what our education does, and might actually help you find a job when you finish.”

And yet, this was something that continued to frustrate me for quite a while after graduating – how can an employer reject me, for God’s sake? I’ve got a degree from Duke! I was one question short of a perfect SAT score! I mean, I’m clearly head and shoulders above the competition when it comes to brains and learning ability, so why don’t they hire me? So what if I don’t have all the skills they need? They ought to train me, and they ought to recognize that it’s a good investment to do so!

But after a time, I began to realize: Actually, in most cases, it’s not worth it for employers to provide training, especially of it’s extensive. It’s easier and more financially pragmatic (especially these days) to hire the guy from Indiana State or Portland Community College who already has all the skills the company needs. Eventually, I came to appreciate that the employer’s perspective makes more real-world sense. My degree doesn’t make me a shoo-in for any job I apply for.

I don’t care if you graduated Summa Cum Laude from Harvard with a degree in Nuclear Physics – if you don’t have the skills the company needs, you’re probably not going to get the job.

But then, if an Ivy League degree won’t land you a job that you couldn’t have gotten otherwise, then what is it good for? I still haven’t found an answer to that question.

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For me, the only thing worse than the feeling that my “top-10” diploma is completely useless is the fact that I can’t convey why I feel this way to people I meet on the street. The reality is that very few people go to private schools, let alone top-tier universities that require vast personal sacrifices of time, money, and effort. And consequently, there are very few people who can appreciate just how significant these sacrifices are, let alone relate to the frustration of a recent grad who just sank $200K and four years of his life (actually, closer to eight years if you include all the pre-college preparatory work that most Ivy League applicants pursue) into his education. They simply don’t get it, and how could they? It’s not their fault for being a part of “normal” society – it’s our fault for having bothered with any of this “elite schooling” BS from the start.

The other thing that’s frustrating is the embarrassment of admitting that you’re unemployed with an Ivy League degree. A lot of folks still believe that if they could get a degree from Harvard or Stanford, they’d have the world by the balls. To a lot of the general public, an Ivy League diploma is like solid gold – and if you have one but still can’t find a job, well, there must be something really wrong with you. They think you’re a crybaby and a loser, someone who couldn’t cut it in spite of having endless advantages. And it’s quite hard to explain the reality of the situation at times, especially if you’re face to face with a 23-year-old who’s making six figures without even having gone to college (true story).

Sigh… Let me reiterate to all you would-be or soon-to-be Ivy Leaguers: post-college life is a good bit lonelier than it would be if you attend a state school. Unless you choose to work as a professor or do some other work on the campus of your alma mater, be prepared to be surrounded by folks who have no understanding of your experiences and no ability to empathize, even if they’d like to.

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Attending an elite university can lead to a reduced number of post-college friendships, and reduced networking opportunities, since most students move away shortly after graduation. In spite of the common belief that top-tier schools provide more and better tools for post-college networking, I think they make the most basic and effective form of networking difficult: meeting with friends, face to face. This is because most students at top-tier schools come from out of state, and consequently most of them move away after finishing school – either to return home, or to head somewhere else. After all, most only lived in their college’s city for four years, so they’re unlikely to become too attached to it (unless perhaps, their school is located in a place like New York City). State school students, on the other hand, usually are from the area, and having grown up there, are more likely to stay. In addition, some studies indicate that students in general do not move far from home to attend school, so if you’re an Ivy Leaguer who traveled across the country to attend school, the post-college experience of being surrounded by people with greater ties to their local communities may prove to be rather alienating.

Ultimately, college friendships are more likely to develop into meaningful long-term relationships or professional partnerships if you attend a state school, whereas private school students more frequently disperse, and generally don’t keep in touch (sorry, but in my book, Twittering and occasional messages on Facebook don’t count as “keeping in touch”). Speaking from experience, most of my friends from Duke disappeared from Durham, NC within about six months of graduation.

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I was born into a modest, middle-class background, in a small town near a larger city.  Like many “gifted” children, I had parents who thought they should encourage the flowering of my intellectual talents, and deemed that accelerated educational programs were the best way to do so.  Consequently, I sacrificed the better part of a decade of my short existence to studying – math, writing, SAT preparation, etc.  I participated in pre-college programs through Stanford, Duke, and Princeton, and the fruits of my test-preparation efforts were a 1570 SAT I (out of 1600, not 2400), a 790 average on the SAT II subject tests, and offers of admission to Yale, Duke, and MIT.  I ultimately chose Duke for its life science programs (my father wanted me to become a doctor, but that’s another story).  Four years later, I graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Biology and a respectable 3.6 GPA, and entered “the real world,” where I thought that my elite schooling credentials would open up a plethora of professional opportunities and would ensure that I had nowhere to go but up.

I think that expectation is one I share with all students who pursue an education at a high-ranking private university, and I don’t think it’s an unreasonable one given the sacrifices that we have made to get where we were.  Unfortunately, since I graduated nothing for me has worked out as anticipated.  More than four years post-graduation, my life is a living hell.  I’m broke, I’m unemployed, I’m living with my mother, and I’ve been forced to re-enroll in college again, essentially re-doing my education from ground zero because my Duke degree – along with a laundry list of other academic achievements – has gotten me nowhere.   For a long time, I accepted my plight with good graces and kept silent out of both pride and embarrassment.  But recently, something inside me snapped.  I will be silent no more.

Those of us who pursue the “Ivy Dream,” as I will call it, make tremendous sacrifices – of time, effort, and money – for our educations.  I, for example, spent $100,000 of my own money on college.  I was lucky enough to have a trust fund set aside by a grandparent, but now, it is all gone, and I have nothing to show for it.  I could really use that money now, since I can’t find work, but alas, I have nothing to fall back on – entirely as a result of my choice to attend an “elite” university.  I was scammed; there is no other term to describe what has happened.  Had I attended a simple state school, as I’ve ultimately ended up doing anyway (I’m at a community college at present), I would have saved all that money – as well as avoided a tremendous amount of the academic burnout I experienced from facing such a challenging curriculum.  I might have led a normal existence of partying, dating, traveling, and enjoying life to its fullest.  Instead, I bit the bullet and decided to devote my time to an education which I believed – erroneously – would open doors that would otherwise be closed.

It is not unreasonable for those of us who make these sacrifices to expect that our credentials should pull some weight.  But to an ever-increasing degree, I notice that many of us haven’t seen our dreams come to fruition, but instead have fared no better than our state school counterparts.  In addition, many of us are burdened with crippling debt on the order of $100-200,000.

In the worst economy since the Great Depression, I have found that no one cares where I went to college.  But this is precisely the sort of economic climate in which my “elite” credentials should make a difference.  This is when guys like me are “supposed” to be getting job offers, while those lesser mortals who attended “regular” schools are struggling to scrape by.  Instead, my diploma isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on.

U.S. News and World Report, you lied to us.  Elite education sucks; it lands students (and parents) in tremendous debt, and frequently leaves them burned out, jobless, and hopeless.  Harvard, you suck.  MIT, you suck.  Yale, Princeton, Duke, Cornell, Brown, Dartmouth, Columbia – you’re all a laughable joke.  You duped us into working our asses off for you, and then you threw us to the wolves.  You destroyed our dreams and wrecked our credit ratings.  You left us with no hope.  You are no better than the slimiest snake-oil seller.  The only difference is you dress a bit better.  And even now, you have the gall to continue asking for money in the form of alumni donations.  You’ll never see another penny of my money.  The first $200K was $200K too much.

I am sorry that I ever chose to attend a private school.  I am sorry that I wasted my time on accelerated, “gifted” academic programs that deprived me of social development and what might have been an normal adolescence and an enjoyable college experience.  Whereas most people refer to college as “the best years of your life,” my college years were far and away the worst of my life.  Attending an elite university was the worst mistake I ever made – one which may haunt me for the rest of my life – and I think it’s important not to see others fall into the same traps that I did.

This blog will serve as both a sounding board for my personal rants about life during and after “the Great Sacrifice,” as I like to refer to my “elite” education, as well as a source of stories and articles from others like me whose lives haven’t worked out the way they anticipated.  This is not a frivolous exercise for me; I sincerely hope that this blog can provide some useful information for many soon-to-be college students, and that I can help others to avoid making the mistakes that I made.

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