The Van Wickle Gates at Brown University, one of America's prestigious "Ivy League" colleges, in Providence, R.I. (Carol M. Highsmith / Library of Congress)

Opinion

Opinion: I got into the Ivy League. Here’s why it doesn’t matter

Don't overvalue college admissions. Choose a school because it has opportunities that appeal to you and its ideologies align with yours.
<a href="https://highschool.latimes.com/author/juddskarn/" target="_self">Judd Karn</a>

Judd Karn

September 25, 2023
Ok, let me reiterate what I mean by that headline: I got into Brown University, a member of the “ever-prestigious” Ivy League and ranked #13 on the infamous US News rankings. I am extremely grateful to have gotten in; however,  students, and the American population as a whole, put way too much of an emphasis on the university you get into. 

After all, the Ivy League is only an athletic conference, nothing more, and the US News ranking system has been called a joke by US Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona, basing its ranking on relatively arbitrary metrics to get a quantitative number for something that shouldn’t be quantitative, and instead much more personal.

I know many have this mindset of “if I get into [insert college name here] everything in my life will be better and I’ll have a successful life.” I had that same mindset in some points of my life, but that way of thinking can only be described as toxic and potentially hurtful. 

If you have a dream school, that’s great, but do not make your life dependent on it. Was I happy when I got into Brown? Yes, but then life returns to normalcy. Nothing changed except for my knowledge of what school I’m planning on attending next fall.

I also did not choose Brown because it was part of the Ivy League athletic conference, or because of whatever it was ranked on US News; I chose it because of its unique attributes that aren’t really found at any other school, most notably the open curriculum.

The open curriculum is an academic system where there are no general education requirements and, in the case of Brown, you have two years to choose what you want to study. This was perfect for me as I realized through the college process that I’m not sure what I want to do with my life; Brown is one of the few schools that would allow me to explore my potential interests to the fullest.

I also chose Brown because, due to their extremely generous financial aid policies, it was cheaper for me to attend Brown than to attend a University of California. There are dozens more factors that contributed to the reason I chose Brown, but at the bottom of that list is how ‘prestigious’ it is.

However, I could also give a hundred extremely great reasons to choose attending a local community college instead; there’s this stigma attached to attending a junior college, but in reality they are very similar in academic rigor to universities, but, instead of a ludicrous price tag, they’re free through California’s Promise Program. 

It’s also not like the community colleges don’t have amazing programs. Saddleback’s Psychology Club provides an all-paid trip to the annual Western Psychology Association convention for a select number of students, where they get to see some of the greatest minds in the modern American psychology academia sphere come to speak and discuss with each other. There are tons of amazing opportunities like this at community colleges, you just have to look for them.

It is also arguable how big of an impact going to a selective college is. Although a fairly old study (1999), economists Stacy Dale and Alan Krueger, using national surveys of high school students, found that people who “attended more selective colleges did not earn more than other students who were accepted and rejected by comparable schools but attended less selective colleges.”

There’s this conception that going to a more selective college gives you a major economic advantage, but, evidently, it doesn’t. It’s not about the institution you go to but about the drive and work ethic you have developed throughout the years.

And even if this was not true in the modern day, is it really worth it to spend so much of the most formative years of your life focusing on trying to be the perfect applicant? The answer is pretty clear, especially for the negligible difference in salary (if that is your reasoning behind it). If your reasoning is that you want the [insert selective college here] experience, then take a second to remember how much you are sacrificing for that, and ask yourself that same question once again: is it worth it?

Your success isn’t determined by what school you went to, it’s about your ability to learn, adapt, and persevere, to have drive in whatever you want to do. Your life isn’t defined by the next four years after college, nor will it have that major of an impact on your salary. You could put the same amount of effort into getting into a selective college into what you are looking to study in and get a similar amount of experience and step ahead financially wise. 

As a student you have such little responsibility, so just remember that and have fun whenever possible; don’t choose a school just because it has a notable name, choose it because its ideologies align with yours, because it has programs and opportunities that appeal to you.

An integral part of being a human being is our differences, and with that it is inherent that a different path may be a better choice for one person and a worse choice for another.

Either way, just don’t worry about college as a freshman and don’t let it consume your life. It’ll work out, just make sure to have fun in whatever you’re doing. And remember, college is such a small part of your life and the impact that it has on you depends on you and your actions, not the school you are going to.