Prestigious beyond the Ivy League

So don’t worry if you didn’t get into the school of your dreams. Worry about the person earning the degree first.

Graphic by Fani Hsieh
Graphic by Fani Hsieh

Have you ever felt inadequate because the “prestige” of your school is not what you wanted it to be? Do you ask yourself if you should have worked harder in high school to get into a better school? Obviously, there are some perks to studying at a prestigious university such as better facilities, greater network, international recognition, amongst others. However, I am writing to tell you why you should think twice before putting the Ivy League on such a pedestal, especially for undergraduate studies.

Many prestigious universities and colleges have huge annual tuition. Yale University’s total annual tuition, which accounts for all estimated total expenses such as room and board, is roughly $68,605 per year. That amount is larger than the average median household salary of Connecticut, where Yale is. While financial aid is present, that number is still absurdly high, especially being a private university. Harvard University however, claims families with incomes between $65,000 and $150,000 will typically contribute from zero and 10 per cent of their income. This is true because of Harvard’s enormous endowment, that being roughly $37.6 billion, which is the largest university endowment in the world. The second largest endowment, Yale, has roughly $23.8 billion. That is a $13.8-billion difference.

So what is the Ivy bound middle class child to do? Take on debt. In case you didn’t know, debt is really bad. Not being able to pay off debt is crippling. One’s ability to pay back debt is a huge factor in a financial institution’s decision-making when issuing a loan. Because university is generally the first expense in a young person’s life that requires the need to take on a loan, a person’s performance in paying back this Ivy League loan can affect their ability to get a car loan or a mortgage. If affects daily spending habits, as some income must go off to paying down a debt. While there are many more problems with debt, this all goes away if the family of the Ivy bound person is rich.

Speaking of rich, let’s consider legacy admissions. Because all Ivy League schools are privately funded, as well as most other prestigious institutions, they are reliant on alumni donations. Because of this, it is within their best interests to keep these donations coming.

Consider this situation. A family in which both parents went to Harvard donates $1 million dollars per year to the university. Then, their child applies to the university. If Harvard denies the applicant, the action risks the parents not donating money to Harvard anymore. This is bad for Ivy League schools. As such, legacy students have a higher chance of getting in than a non-legacy. This can potentially lead to socioeconomic inequalities and injustices. The wealthy are given a huge advantage. This removes some meritocracy off admissions of institutions that take legacy students. However, many remarkable people are accepted into these schools who certainly deserve it. They are definitely worthy, right? They get to study with the best professors in the world, right?

Well, maybe. The Ivy League can certainly pay top academics to teach at the school and bring a large amount of them in to teach courses. They can pay for top quality equipment and facilities to teach students better. Because of their extremely selective admissions process, an Ivy League bound student would be surrounded with individuals who have gotten passed a sub 10 per cent acceptance rate. They “learn from the best.” This is all well and good. However, do you really need all that to teach some courses at university? PhD’s from accredited institutions are not chopped liver. All of them are high level experts in their field. Harvard has a course in their philosophy department titled “Epistemology” and that course is heavily similar to Wilfrid Laurier University’s “Knowledge and Reality” course. I highly doubt Harvard’s Selim Berker could teach that course much better than our Gary Foster to warrant such a high tuition.

I am an economics student who took EC120 with Logan McLeod last semester. At the same time, first-year Yale students took their EC120 equivalent, Econ 115 with Christopher Udry covering essentially the same thing. The only difference I could see is the Yale course might be more comprehensive due to the better qualified students, but it’s essentially the same thing. Don’t believe me? Check out and compare both syllabuses online. You cannot say that Udry is better than McLeod by where they teach. Professors are researchers as well as teachers, so that variable still should be taken into consideration if you want to judge who is better, and if the premium would be worth it to have Udry teach you.

Great people come out of all institutions and they do not have to be a famous doctor, lawyer or inventor to be better than anyone else. Being a charitable person, or a great parent, or a loyal friend far supersedes material things like a prestigious degree. There is no intrinsic value to a prestigious degree. It’s just paper. Being at a prestigious university does not make anyone better than anyone else. So don’t worry if you didn’t get into the school of your dreams. Worry about the person earning the degree first.

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