By J. DeVoy
Discussing educational pedigree is something rarely done publicly – like asking a stranger his or her weight and income – but, similar to those taboos, in immutable trait that permeates social interactions and hierarchy. By sheer numbers alone, most people went to mediocre or bad schools, as there are so few good ones. Yet most people, self included, are content with their lives despite such inauspicious roots. Simultaneously, I refuse to believe I’m the only person who lies awake at night thinking that things would have been qualitatively different – better, even – for attending, say, Brown or Dartmouth (to say nothing of Harvard, Yale or Princeton, which can launch one’s career into a different stratosphere of existence).
Ignoring the “where would I be now” mental exercise, the value in a degree from an Ivy League school is that the anxiety of not attending one is forever relieved. As anyone who has met a significant cross-section of these students and graduates knows, they are not monolithically the smartest people one will ever meet. Yet, the strong (though rebuttable) presumption of total competence and high intelligence associated with an Ivy League degree is so valuable that competing against someone who possesses such credentials – in any context – is very difficult, even if just psychologically.
I primarily blame myself for not acquiring this credential, and recognizing its value only after the window for attaining it closed. At 14, I could not appreciate how important saying I went to Cornell or Penn was, and I drifted through my first year of high school as an under-motivated, under-achieving mediocrity with a low-90’s average, not realizing what opportunity I had wasted. Things improved markedly thereafter, but my fate was sealed. As the internet was in its consumer infancy in the early 2000’s, my access to and use of it was limited, though I’m sure I could have harnessed it to improve my academic prospects. I’m content with how things worked out in the long run, as are other Ivy could-have-beens, but that niggling doubt remains.
Far from alone in this, I lay some of the blame at the feet of my parents and high school. For their many platitudes about caring for my education, neither entity knew how to play the high-stakes admissions game, and apparently possessed no interest in finding out the rules. Meanwhile, peers visited and aggressively marketed themselves to schools like Northwestern and NYU, only to be brutally raped by cruel reality after scoring only 1100 on the SAT, despite extensive and costly preparation. Them’s the breaks, I suppose. But this disparity heightens my suspicions that the people who were supposed to be looking out for my success were instead complicit in my youthful underachievement.
Maybe life would have been better if I got in to one of these dream schools. Most days, it doesn’t even come to mind. But, sometimes, the affirmation derived from having a degree from an Ivy League school feels like it would be worth the cost of attendance many times over. I can put on red chinos and topsiders to face the world, but life doesn’t feel like it should. Instead of pride in achievements and accomplishments, there is only a void – one that can only be filled by credentials that it is far too late to obtain.
I know I am not alone.