Upon stepping into the gym, the crowd of eager parents and students was rippling with similar anticipation: the Ivy League, the crème de la crème, the holders of the sacred chalice, the very definition of an elite liberal arts college education. I went in with a similar attitude to many of my friends: I would absolutely love to go to be a part of ‘the League,’ but I wouldn’t bet a great sum of money on my entrance. Take your pick of any of the six universities there: one of them probably has an ideal undergraduate program for every mid to over-achieving high school student across the world.
As we sat restlessly in the crowded bleachers, surrounded by parents wanting the best education for their children (or the better-than-their-own-education for their children), we listened to the well-dressed representatives explain, with a subtle but present competitive edge, the highlights of their respective schools, such as community (Dartmouth); energy (Columbia); structured programs (Princeton); clubs/organizations (U Penn); athletics (Stanford); and overall liberal arts excellence (Harvard, of course). To be frank, I felt that most people in the room either had their hearts set on a particular Ivy school with a particular programme or had few questions that could not already have been answered via the extensively informational website.
Still, as I sat and listened to the representatives explain the distinct atmospheres in which each university thrives, I could feel myself getting excited, thrilled about the prospect of perhaps becoming a member of one of these fantastic institutions, then using their countless resources and astute professors to achieve greatness for the world. My personal path of interest leads to some sort of research-like position in neuroscience, a complete and utter shock to numerous friends and teachers who expect me to study English, pursue politics, or drop out to become some sort of traveling painter/ musician. I suppose that is the allure of these big-shot liberal arts colleges; they allow you to foster numerous interests, learn a number of skills that enable you to decide precisely what you wish to pursue, how to pursue it, and how to use the tools given you to be the best out there.
Their reputation, while deserved, is fueled by many years of over-promoting of their prestigious graduates (there are countless Wikipedia pages listing grads who went on to become senators, supreme court judges, Pulitzer-prize winners, Olympic athletes, and so on). It is the nature of these sorts of institutions to accept “the best,” nurture them with “the best” knowledge, and hope that the best do their very best to give “the best” funding, in order to refuel this cycle. These super-achievers then brandish their knowledge to find cures for cancer, HIV/AIDS, bring peace to the Middle East, write great pieces of fiction, work for Google, and so on and so forth, widening the gap between the ‘elite’ and those just on the cusp.
Of course, this is just one cynical girl’s opinion, mostly built with bricks of jealousy of those who have the stamina to study for hours on end, can wield a musical instrument with the skill of an entire philharmonic, play highly competitive provincial sports, and take AP Calculus in Grade 10. One of those bricks could be the fact that affording one semester at any of the Leagues would be a miracle. Needless to say, I’m not exactly counting on admission; I will most likely remain at that cusp of those admitted and those politely rejected. Or, if fortune plays me a few lucky cards, I’ll be accepted, but sadly, unable to afford it.
I’m definitely not one of those over-stressed teens who doesn’t get 90% or above on a test and moan about how I’ll never, ever get into any college, or that I’ll fail the SATs and my life will end. There are over 7000 universities in the world, and one of them is bound to like me enough to dish out some cash for my education. Though the undergraduate neuroscience programmes at Princeton or Brown would an excellent playground for my fancies, and would probably symbolically dip my future resumes in gold, there are just so many options out there, so much opportunity, that it is ineffectual and tiresome to whine about never getting into Harvard. The best I can do is work on today what will inevitably aid my tomorrow, and know that, wherever I end up is only as good of a college as the students who go there.