October 11, 2018
BY GERALD M. BRADSHAW
Bradshaw College Consulting
Dear Mr. Bradshaw,
I grew up in a working-class family and while I did not graduate from an Ivy League school I did graduate from an elite state college. I turned down Princeton for a full scholarship to a top state college that paid for most of my undergraduate expenses. I now feel that the full scholarship may have been a double-edged sword. On one hand I saved money by going to a state school, but on the other hand it took me nearly a decade longer for me to gain a top management position than it did for a number of other colleagues who had attended Ivy League schools. It is never lost on me that I am the only public college graduate among my associates. Is this something that students should take into consideration as they decide between an Ivy League or a top state school?
Ivy Leagues have advantages, but also downsides
You pose an interesting premise that is strengthened by your personal experience in the workplace. Your question should be especially helpful to first generation college students from working-class families, who are given the choice between an Ivy League school and a less expensive state college. In short you say that you can get to same place in your career by attending a state school, but that it may take a lot longer.
If you opt to attend an Ivy League school, you will soon realize there is a certain stigma attached to schools outside their world. This is expressed in the arrogant euphemism that anyone educated “West of New England” must be looked upon as a reminder of the ongoing class struggle that meritocracy was supposed to have ended. While this is an exaggeration, a bias still does exist on the part of some students who arrive on an Ivy League campus from the privileged position of an elite boarding school on the East Coast. For some working-class students, it is a culture shock to find out that your roommate is the son of a famous billionaire, and that he skis in Europe and summers in Hyannis Port. It doesn’t take long to learn what group you fit into and where you feel most comfortable socializing.
It is unfortunate that intimate friendships do not always form easily across socioeconomic lines. There are complex social dynamics taking place that rarely get talked about in public high schools or in college brochures. As you pointed out, these dynamics may be played out over several years after graduation and some career paths are directly linked to understanding these relationships. I always suggest that students visit the schools of their choice. The “gut feeling” that you have about your comfort level on the campus is important. Are the students enthusiastic about their education? Are they eager to share their positive experiences? Your academic success will be determined by your comfort level with both students and faculty in the professional area that you choose.
On your visit you should explore the success of the school’s placement and internship programs in your career area. An elite state school may well provide you with opportunities that rival those at the Ivies.
While there is evidence that a diploma and social connections that come from an Ivy League education are worth it, there are many other things to weigh when making a decision.
Gerald Bradshaw is a top US college admissions consultant with Bradshaw College Consulting.
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