Mom-Approved Tips: Are the Ivies “All That”?


iviesPardon the improper grammar and slang; but seriously–are the Ivies all that? This past week the news media was enamored with the praise of a young man that was accepted to all eight Ivy League colleges. Don’t get me wrong–the young man is to be commended for his efforts. But as usual, the focus was on the fact that it was the Ivies, not the fact that he was offered admission to eight colleges.

Why are the Ivies the “be all and end all” of college acceptance?

From the time my son was little, he said he wanted to go to Harvard. I have no idea why, but he said it so much we bought him a Harvard sweatshirt. If he had applied himself in high school, he would have applied. Instead, he went into the Marines. Did I feel like he had failed, or I had failed, absolutely not. The Ivies would never have been for him.

A recent study showed that only 0.4 percent of undergraduates attend an Ivy League school. However, you can go to any parent meeting about college and the discussion inevitably heads toward the Ivies. “My son is applying to Harvard”, my daughter is applying to “Brown”. And the parents whose students aren’t candidates for these schools immediately start feeling like they have failed their kids–along with a tinge of jealousy.

What should the conversation be about?

Instead of focusing on WHERE the student gets into college, the conversation should be about whether or not a/did they apply and receive an offer of admission (from ANY college) and b/are the colleges they applied to a good fit for their academic, financial and social needs. There are thousands of good colleges across the country, even some that might not be well-known, that offer students and excellent education at an affordable price.

What are we communicating to our kids?

All this hype around the Ivies gives our kids the impression that if you don’t attend an Ivy League college, your life and your future are doomed. You’re destined to work at a mediocre job with a mediocre salary. In addition, we are also communicating that all the kids that get into Harvard or Yale are the best of the best: the smartest, the elite, the successful. When the media puts such focus on college names and the importance of the name, our kids begin to feel pressure to attend these schools.

How can we change the conversation and the overall view of college and success?

It’s not about where you go, or the college name. It’s about what you do with the education your receive and how you leverage the education to move you toward success. A state college student is just as likely to become a CEO, and a Harvard graduate. If the education you receive lands you in a career you love, it matters very little where you got that education. Our kids need to know this and embrace the fact that exclusiveness is never a measure of success.

In a recent article in the New York Times by Frank Gruni, “Our Crazy College Crossroads“, makes an excellent point:

Corner offices in this country teem with C.E.O.s who didn’t do their undergraduate work in the Ivy League. Marillyn Hewson of Lockheed Martin went to the University of Alabama. John Mackey of Whole Foods studied at the University of Texas, never finishing.

Your diploma is, or should be, the least of what defines you. Show me someone whose identity is rooted in where he or she went to college. I’ll show you someone you really, really don’t want at your Super Bowl party.

And your diploma will have infinitely less relevance to your fulfillment than so much else: the wisdom with which you choose your romantic partners; your interactions with the community you inhabit; your generosity toward the family that you inherited or the family that you’ve made.

It’s time that parents start making this “college game” less of a competition and more of journey to find a college where their kid will flourish.

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