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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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Today I offer yet another laundry list of stories, this time focused on top-tier grads who face underemployment, some of whom work in minimum-wage positions.

Harvard to Homeless and Other Anecdotal Evidence Not to Go to Law School
http://butidideverythingrightorsoithought.blogspot.com/2010/09/harvard-to-homeless-and-other-anecdotal_21.html

“In April of 2009, almost one year after I had graduated from Ivy League, I began a pretty hardcore job search […] By September, I had my first job in the restaurant industry serving room service at 6 a.m. “
http://underemployedinnyc.blogspot.com/

“So here I am. Eight years of experience, a Master’s degree, and an Ivy League school. You’d think I could at least get an entry-level position.”
http://gawker.com/5992314/unemployment-stories-vol-32-you-are-slowly-erased-from-the-lives-of-your-friends

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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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homeless

After receiving a submission from someone saying he had never met an unemployed Ivy Leaguer, I felt compelled to find more stories of graduates of elite universities who can’t find work. Turns out, it’s not difficult… the more I look, the more I find. Below are about 35 more articles chronicling cases of unemployment, underemployment, poverty, insurmountable debt, and general shock-and-awe stories coming from graduates of top-tier universities.

A new Stanford grad on food stamps
http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-505145_162-57359795/a-new-stanford-grad-on-food-stamps/

Yale grad: “Turns Out My Ivy League Education Is Worth Squat”
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rek-lecounte/us-my-ivy-league-educatio_b_2924315.html

Columbia grad: “$60,000 Ivy League Degree Was Just a Pyramid Scheme”
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/lilly-odonnell/college-costs-loans-debt_b_1890254.html

55-year-old Dartmouth graduate is unemployed and homeless
http://www.viralviralvideos.com/2011/08/09/55-year-old-dartmouth-graduate-is-unemployed-and-homeless/

Harvard Grad Seeks Babysitting Jobs
http://www.forbes.com/sites/baldwin/2013/01/18/harvard-grad-seeks-babysitting-jobs/

Princeton grad works at a video store
http://money.cnn.com/galleries/2011/news/economy/1105/gallery.lost_generation/index.html

Dartmouth grad – “Ivy Leaguer Shocked By Likely Future As Burger Flipper”
http://gawker.com/5003010/ivy-leaguer-shocked-by-likely-future-as-burger-flipper

Stanford grad, unemployed and living with parents, reflects on his first year after graduation
http://www.voicewaves.org/2012/05/stanford-grad-reflects-on-year-since-graduating/

Yale, Penn, George Washington University sue graduates over loan debts that they can’t pay back
http://business.time.com/2013/02/08/schools-suing-graduates-for-defaulting-on-loans/

Stanford Law school grad turned call girl under house arrest after cheating the government
http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/law-school-grad-turned-call-girl-cristina-warthen-house-arrest-cheating-government-article-1.402237

Emory Law Student Lament: ‘We don’t need donuts, we need jobs.’
http://abovethelaw.com/2010/07/emory-law-student-lament-we-don’t-need-donuts-we-need-jobs/

Being an Unemployed Ivy League Grad
http://etiennema.wordpress.com/2012/06/16/being-an-unemployed-ivy-league-grad/

Even a Yale Pedigree Could Leave One Unemployed
http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/news/649281/posts

Discussion –how many elite school grads are in those unemployed statistics?
http://talk.collegeconfidential.com/parents-forum/1353870-how-many-elite-school-grads-those-unemployed-statistics-2.html

The adventures of an unemployed Columbia grad
http://blogs.tribune.com.pk/story/1177/the-adventures-of-an-unemployed-columbia-grad/

Unemployed Duke grad who got a spot on the TV show “The Apprentice” couldn’t even keep that
http://blogs.newsobserver.com/tv/duke-grad-called-elitist-kicked-off-apprentice

A self portrait created in 2003 may help this struggling, 2012 Duke graduate to find her way out of poverty
http://ireport.cnn.com/docs/DOC-795060

Cornell Grads Find Fewer Jobs, Earn Less Than In Previous Years
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/04/19/cornell-grads-find-fewer-_n_542476.html

“Underemployment hits double digits for schools listed below ninth-ranked University of California, Berkeley.”
http://www.deseretnews.com/article/865577918/Unemployment-crisis-for-law-school-grads-deepens.html?pg=all

From Ivied Halls to Traveling Salesman (includes a UPenn grad)
http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970203733504577024090027351410.html

Fewer University of Chicago and Northwestern law graduates finding jobs at law firms
http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2011-12-16/business/ct-biz-1216-chicago-law-20111216_1_law-firms-law-school-elite-law

“It’s interesting when an alumna suggests that a professor at her law school is interfering with her ability to find employment. And it’s downright sensational when the unemployed lawyer is a Stanford Law School graduate.”
http://blogs.findlaw.com/california_case_law/2012/08/stanford-grads-defamation-case-plagued-by-inadmissible-evidence.html

9% unemployment for recent Georgetown grads
http://cew.georgetown.edu/unemployment/

MIT grad still unemployed after a year
http://talk.collegeconfidential.com/parents-forum/1339593-graduated-year-ago-still-unemployed.html

MIT computer science graduate couldn’t find a job
http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704699604575342751927334436.html

“Six months after graduating from Princeton University, 22-year-old Kati Henderson was still looking for work.”
http://www.nj.com/mercer/index.ssf/2012/12/princeton_universitys_2012_gra.html

Georgetown graduate unemployment rises
http://georgetownvoice.com/2010/02/18/graduate-unemployment-rises/

“Unhappy anniversary: My first year of joblessness” – Recent Johns Hopkins graduate wonders what Congress is doing to help
http://articles.baltimoresun.com/2011-07-14/news/bs-ed-unemployed-20110714_1_informational-interviews-unhappy-anniversary-federal-unemployment-benefits

Discussion – Unemployed or underemployed recent Top-20 college grads
http://talk.collegeconfidential.com/parents-forum/794669-unemployed-underemployed-recent-top-20-college-grads-why.html

Report: Many Emory Law Students Underemployed After Graduation
http://vahi.patch.com/groups/editors-picks/p/report-many-emory-law-students-underemployed-after-graduation

“8 months out, no job… I guess my Ivy League Master’s Degree was a waste of money”
http://personalitycafe.com/education-career-talk/132189-8-months-out-no-job-i-guess-my-ivy-league-masters-degree-waste-money.html

Ivy League degree, no job
http://money.cnn.com/2011/05/17/news/economy/recession_lost_generation/index.htm?iid=HP_LN

Life after the Ivy League: Surviving unemployment without losing all self-confidence
http://talk.collegeconfidential.com/parents-forum/1172529-life-after-ivy-league-surviving-unemployment-without-losing-all-self-confidence.html

Google Is Not Impressed by Your Fancy Ivy League Credentials
http://blogs.the-american-interest.com/wrm/2013/06/24/google-is-not-impressed-by-your-fancy-ivy-league-credentials/

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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