Sometime ago, a 17-year old Nigerian kid living in the the United States, Harold Ekeh, made headlines for getting accepted into all eight Ivy League schools including Yale, Harvard and Princeton. Before the news broke, I had read that one’s chance of getting into an Ivy was harder than ever and that except one was a Sasha or Malia Obama, they had to face stiff competition to get an admission into any one of the Ivies.
In 2013, Harvard University accepted only 5.8% of its 33,531 applicants. It was followed by Yale University, which admitted 6.72% of its record-high 29,610 applicants, and Columbia University’s acceptance rate was 6.89%. While Standardized test scores and good grades will get a student in the door to have their application read by the Ivies, an applicant’s extracurricular activities, leadership experience, exceptional talents, recommendation letters and personal essays are what set them apart from the rest of the equally brilliant and talented hopefuls.
To show you the quality of applications the Ivies get, here is an excerpt of Harold’s college essay–he migrated to the United States with his parents when he was eight–that guaranteed him a place in the Ivies:’Through my experiences, I discovered my inner resilience. I had been brought up to never give up when faced with adversity but to face any challenge head-on and put forth my best effort. Like a tree, uprooted and replanted, I could have withered in a new country surrounded by people and languages I did not understand. Yet, I witnessed my parents persevere despite the potential to succumb. I faced my challenges with newfound zeal; I risked humiliation, spending my recesses talking to unfamiliar faces, ignoring their sarcastic remarks. I wanted to absorb my new environment, embrace the mysterious white flurries that fell on a cold winter’s day, embrace the golden hues of autumn, and melt into the cultural cauldron of New York. Soon, my efforts were being rewarded as I began to thrive among a new set of friends in a new school’. If his brilliantly articulated essay was not enough to convince any of the Ivies that Harold was an Ivy type, his 100.5% GPA and Intel Science Award recognition based on research for combating Alzheimer’s did.
Kwasi Enin, who got a nod from all eight Ivies last year also had an equally compelling resume. Kwasi played three instruments for the chamber orchestra, sang in an acappella group, threw shot put and discus for his high school’s track and field team, participated in student government and had a lead role in school plays since the ninth grade.
Considering how expensive and competitive Ivies are, why are they highly sought after? Here are some of the reasons:
Caliber of Students:
Because Ivy Leagues are highly selective, they admit the nation’s brightest who eventually go on to run the world. It is only in an Ivy, in this case Harvard, that you will have a Ted Cruz (future US senator) and a Sheryl Sandberg (who would later become Facebook COO and worth about one billion dollars) live across the hall from you. If you want to be in the same Alumni Association as the president of United States (Harvard) or the First Lady (Princeton and Harvard) then, Ivy is the way to go. Attending an Ivy league presents one a rare opportunity to make life-long connections with people who have the potential to occupy important government positions or make groundbreaking inventions. And knowing that one belongs in the same club as these important people motivates one to believe in oneself and propel oneself to success.
Moreover, because Ivies strive to make their student body as diverse as possible, when you get accepted into an Ivy, you get opportunity to interact with people from a variety of socio-economic and cultural backgrounds. This changes how you view the world.
Further, because of the quality of the student pool–the most brilliant and studious from the United States and abroad–Ivies challenge their students with more work and material unlike Public universities who have to ‘dumb it down’ to accommodate every student and not have the class get lost. Someone, who had a stint at an Ivy before enrolling in a Public school had this to say: ‘My biology courses at Ivy league School were much more rigorous than the same courses I now take at a Large State University. The books/material are similar, but more is expected of students at the Ivies. For example, a problem set will be collected and graded at an Ivy, but at State School, you’ll waste an hour “going over it” in class, because many of the students didn’t understand it. So at the Ivy, you have time to talk about actual research applications of things in class or extra material, while at the state school, most of your time is spent just trying to get through the textbook material’.
This poses the chicken and egg problem: Are Ivies popular because they admit the best and most hardworking students who naturally go on to be successful in their careers or are Ivy alums successful in their careers because of the reputation and quality of education they receive at the Ivies? I read that there is actually a joke at Harvard that Harvard need not lift a finger to educate its students as the student-to-student interaction and competitiveness will suffice.
Access to Limitless Resource Materials:
Because of the reputation Ivies have for engaging in groundbreaking researches, Ivies attract huge amounts in endowments, grants and concessions. They don’t pinch pennies. If an Ivy does not have a book any of its student needs, Ivies place an order for them. Contrast this with what is obtainable in some public schools where students buy most of their books and those who cannot afford them have to compete for the copies available in the school library. Also, Ivies have access to primary resources and not just textbooks. One cannot underestimate the difference between say, reading the original works of Darwin on his theory of evolution and his thought processes and reading a textbook by a twenty-first century author on the subject.
Networking and Job Opportunities:
Recently, I met a woman whose daughter, a Harvard alum, works as an adviser in New York to one of the Big banks. The woman commented on how going to a top school opens door for graduates. She was right. Ivy grads are so hot that many of them have a job lined up before graduation. Being a product of an Ivy League comes with many assumptions including academic excellence. A resume that contains a Yale, Princeton or Harvard instantly stands out from the rest.
Moreover, because of the many connections Ivy universities have, they are able to connect their grads with potential employers. Whereas students from lesser-known schools have to get in to prestigious firms through hard work and extra effort an Ivy degree automatically opens the door to the most sough-after corporations.
In addition, because the very rich and the super smart–the only group that get accepted–get to meet at Ivies, there is ample opportunity to meet valuable people that will connect one to resources that will help them succeed in life.
Quality of the faculty:
Ivies routinely have Nobel Prize and Pulitzer winners in their faculty. To be a teacher in an Ivy,one has to have qualification, publication and reputation. And there is definitely a benefit to having someone who have experience teach one. Having been there,done that,they know what works and what doesn’t.
Also because most of the people in Ivy faculty are always involved in one research or the other,Ivy students get opportunity to be part of innovative researches that have the potential to change the world. Seeing what they accomplished as undergrads with the help of their faculty,Ivy alums go into the world knowing they have the power to change the world.
When you have the best and must studious student pool, the most accomplished faculty members, and unlimited resource materials, there in no limit to the academic excellence that can be achieved.
Where the lesser-known schools only aim to teach their students ideas that have been developed by others, Ivies task their students and faculty to engage in researches and find solutions to problems.
This excerpt I got from Harvard Univertity’s website said it all:
‘The range of research activities at Harvard is broad and deep. Harvard scholars conduct research in almost every field, and seek to expand human knowledge through analysis, innovation, and insight. Research is supported by more than $800 million of sponsored research funds each year, and it is carried out both in the departments of the thirteen Schools and the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, and at more than 100 research centers, on campus and around the world. Researchers include faculty members, visiting scholars, post-doctoral fellows, and graduate and undergraduate students, and they collaborate with colleagues across the University, at affiliated institutions, and at other research institutions.’
In other words, Ivies produce what public schools, for want of a better word, consume.
So there you have it. Five reasons you should send your kids to an Ivy. This post only covered ‘Ivy League’ schools in the true sense. But what I wrote about Ivies goes for other top schools. In Nigeria for example, I find that students from premiere schools like Obafemi Awolowo University and University of Ibadan are better taught than those in the state universities. Even at the secondary school level,I find that top schools like Loyola Jesuit who are quite selective of the applicant pool are Ivy-feeders. Moreover, I understand top private universities in Nigeria have relationships with some US schools who award scholarships to the best candidates in the WAEC exam.
Having established that there is prestige in attending an Ivy League school and that with the sheer amount of resources that all of them have, one will most likely get a top-notch education there, I also think it’s very possible to get a good undergraduate education at a much lower-ranked state school if one is willing to work hard. So,not being privileged to go to an elite school is not an excuse for mediocrity. You could be a diamond in the rough and can shine through with a little effort. There are resources that can help one be as refined as their Ivy League counterparts. If for example you want to write like an Ivy product, you can try reading Robert Bernstein’s The Careful Writer and The Chicago Manual of Style.. They are on my wish list.
Finally, because I always want to leave you with something to help you grow, go to this link if you want to have a Harvard certificate. It is free. All you need is an internet connection and couple of hours each week for about eight weeks. Harvard offers courses including in computer and health areas. You study at your own schedule and get a certificate upon completion of the course. I have a friend who already got one and can’t wait to flaunt it in her resume.
Good luck out there! So do you think it matters which school you send your kids? Let me know in the comments section.