Posts Tagged ‘frustration’


In fact, it could well wind up being the worst four years of waking existence you’ll ever encounter… Unless, of course, you’re one of the unfortunate souls who faces the post-graduation fate worse than death: that of chronic unemployment and crippling student debt. In that case, every four years after you graduate will probably be your worst, until and unless you manage to regain some financial and emotional stability. Welcome to hell, but no, don’t call it that: you’re living the American dream.

For me at least, the private school experience was a nightmare. The curriculum was obscenely difficult and massively time-consuming, the students were competitive – no, cutthroat describes them better – the classes were impersonal, and for the most part, the professors (assuming the classes weren’t taught by a teacher’s aid) came across as indifferent to the success of their students. The curriculum matrices that had to be satisfied for graduation were ridiculously elaborate, and left me in a position where I almost never had the freedom to enroll in a course without first considering which graduation requirements it would fulfill. By and large, I felt like a bee in a hive, an unpaid laborer in a fool’s-gold gulag, a cog in a superficially dramatic but ultimately profoundly overpriced machine. By the end of four years, I was so burnt out that the strange malaise of perpetual exhaustion which set in roughly 10 years ago has never lifted. The stress, the frustration, the anxiety all penetrated too deeply, and left a scar that will not fade. But the real salt in the wound is the realization that the four years you just spent in college, busting your chops to get straight A’s (and spending your half your parents’ life savings in the process) is totally useless, no one cares what you studied or how well you did, and you have to start over.

In fairness, not everyone has this experience, and in spite of what you’ve just read, even for me there were some good experiences mixed with the bad. I certainly met some very smart and fairly interesting people, I made some lasting friendships, I had more than a few wild and crazy and unforgettable experiences. But the outpouring of negativity you read in the previous paragraph – that accounted for 90% of my time at Duke: the perpetual grind. Thousands of hours spent memorizing textbooks and writing lengthy essays about obscure scientific factoids that in hindsight are laughably irrelevant and of no real interest to anyone but academic fools and immature students who don’t know any better. Thousands of hours wasted fighting to climb to the top of the curve, to achieve the most and be the best in what, it turns out, is really nothing more than a pointless game which no one gives two shits about in the real world (i.e. the next 60 years of your life).

Certainly much of my pre-and post-graduation experience owes to aspects of my personality and decisions that I made, including choice of major, study habits, values, and personal pursuits. Yes, I could have done things very differently, and could have had a better experience. But on the flipside, a lot of what left me feeling bitter was external: the pedantic and unnecessarily difficult coursework; the oversized and impersonal classes; the random hodgepodge of immature, nerdy bookworms, stuck-up rich kids, arrogant profs, and TAs that couldn’t speak a word of English; and the jaw-dropping price tag for what was, in the grand scheme of things, a stunningly mediocre experience.

College doesn’t have to be like this. Unlike me, some people I know actually look back fondly on their university years. Most of us are familiar with the saying that college is the best four years of your life. It’s cliché and I doubt it’s actually the case too often, but no matter how college plays out for you, there’s simply no reason to make catastrophic sacrifices investing in what may turn out to be a disappointment. If you attend a public school, at least you’ll save money and enjoy comforts like a moderate workload and less-than-fiercely-competitive peers – which in turn, will leave you with less stress and more time to spend making friends, building positive experiences, and figuring out what you really want to do with your life. And even if college doesn’t turn out the way you would’ve liked, hopefully you’ll at least graduate with enough energy and cash to find a way forward. The things which matter most in the end don’t require the phony glitz of an Ivy League diploma. Take it from a guy who gave up everything (like social skills, mental stability, life savings, and the opportunity for a normal childhood) for the sake of pursuing an “elite” education: it simply isn’t worth it. No, really, it isn’t. So save yourself the hassle now (and the heartbreak later), and throw that application to Harvard in the trash.

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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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