Grapengeter-Rudnick ’17: Ivy league schools are overrated: a response

Opinions Columnist

William Deresiewicz, author of “Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life,” spoke on campus Sept. 15 about why we shouldn’t be at Brown. In his eyes, the school that most of us worship as our home and that fosters us as intellectuals is actually turning us into zombies.

Deresiewicz argues that Ivy League schools have corrupted young adults, turning us into tunnel-visioned and insecure robots that are ill-equipped for reality. While I can only truly speak for Brown, I’d argue that this is not the doing of Ivy institutions. Rather, it is the result of ceaseless societal evolution. The qualities that Deresiewicz deems destructive are not intrinsic to the Ivies, but are spanning across all of American college standards.

The Ivies are not for everyone, no doubt, and one can receive an equally exceptional education at a school that is not an Ivy. But this does not mean that Ivies are sickening institutions that should be universally evaded. The traits Deresiewicz mentions can be found at many schools in our generation.

Deresiewicz claims that the prestigious schools are centered around “status, wealth — ‘success.’” Does that not sound like the primary focus of most Americans? The inherent goals of humans in this enterprise culture involve pursuing capital in order to live or enjoy benefits.

Especially given the current state of the economy, American society centers itself around being successful enough to live well. This concern trickles down to college students who, faced with the imminence of the real world, are desperate to set themselves up for post-college success and to escape the claws of unemployment.

Deresiewicz discusses the tendency for elite schools to tailor their education to job preparation and students’ fixation with getting a job after graduation. It isn’t the pressures of the Ivy League that are making everyone obsessed with jobs. It is the time and age that we’re in that is responsible for this preoccupation.

Universities are simply following along with the rest of the world. Somebody has to be at the top and somebody has to be at the bottom. It is unfair to single out the Ivies as institutions merely trying to keep up with a society whose values are constantly evolving. Thirty years ago, students’ purpose for going to college is naturally not the same as it is now.

I ran into a high school friend of mine this summer who just finished freshman year at a liberal arts school in Indiana—not an Ivy. The only words that escaped her mouth concerning college involved her explaining to me her job options after graduation and how she has lined up exactly what classes she is going to take for the next six semesters. While telling me this, her anxiety about her future was hitting the roof. Her angst is shared by countless other college students who do not necessarily attend Ivies.

Meanwhile, I am sitting here as a sophomore at an Ivy institution, and I have yet to truly consider what job I’d be interested in, and I am assured that I am not alone either. There are some students here who orient themselves around getting a job, and there are plenty like me, who are here to explore as much as possible and to mature. I am confident that the growing standards of education and shifting goals of college students are not phenomena that only occur at Ivy League schools, but can be seen at most colleges.

If the Ivy League is too elitist for your student and they would receive just as good an education at any other liberal arts school, then by all means send them there. The Ivy League is not the enemy that is reshaping the young adult portion of society—we’re just taking your blame for evolution.

In a rebuttal directed towards Deresiewicz, the author J.D. Chapman mentions his friends who attended schools that are not in the Ivy League. “They are proud of their educations, but do not conclude from that pride that an Ivy League education is ‘overrated’ in comparison,” he wrote. There is no reason to discourage students from looking at Ivies unless you plan on also steering them away from a myriad of other schools.

Megan Grapengeter-Rudnick ’17 attends an Ivy League school and is not a zombie. 

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  1. TheRationale says:

    Well said. Anyone trying to deride wealth and success is either envious or naive. Or wants to sell you something…

  2. “If the Ivy League is too elitist for your student and they would receive just as good an education at any other liberal arts school, then by all means send them there.” <— the fact that you don't realize how this statement alone makes Deresiewicz's point…

    But I suppose it's not surprising that Brown students would sooner defend themselves or point fingers elsewhere than wonder at the merits of Deresiewicz's argument. Thinking everyone in America is aiming for the same arbitrary lines of "success" that the Ivies hold paramount is naive. No wonder Ray Kelly wasn't even allowed to speak here – Brown can't handle criticism.

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