As a generation, we’re pretty obsessed with doing great things in college. I don’t mean beating our best flip cup scores or winning 25 games of beer pong in a row, though. I mean we’re obsessed with getting into the kind of school that could theoretically allow us to be published astrophysicists before the age of 30. Ivy League schools seem to be parents’ goals for their kids now, with private preschool programs, SAT prep boot camps, and enough AP and IB exams to graduate from school in two years. It’s madness. It’s also not doing us any favors, because Ivy League schools actually suck. “Why? How? What do I do with this 4.5 GPA then?” you might shout at your screen right about now since you only applied to schools with a 4.0 or greater GPA requirement. I’m glad you asked, because a state school is your answer.
Ivy League schools are, by definition, the most competitive schools outside of a few private institutions that are still damn hard to get into. Ultimately they are their own thing. Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and so on are all about as easy to get into as Alcatraz was to break out of. What they require of students now is borderline insane, because for these admissions boards, failure is not an option. Growing up and going to college, on the other hand, is all about making mistakes and failing. That’s the best way to learn. Success doesn’t teach nearly as many lessons as soul-crushing failure does, and it definitely doesn’t make you a better person if you never fail. You’ve seen those “rich kids of Instagrams” people. They’re basically walking supermassive black holes of douchiness, sucking out all class or intelligence around them. That’s what happens when you never have to experience any failure or hardship. No one wants to be the guy bragging about his three Ferraris on the Internet, because that guy gets his shit vandalized and doesn’t understand why no one likes him except when he’s throwing $100 bills.
To get into one of these top tier schools, you have to do literally everything: volunteer, work, study, play a sport, play an instrument, cure a major disease, do your own independent research because it’s simply not enough to be a smart American teenager. I think the Ivys have all the right to be that selective, but they breed neurotic achievement hounds and you basically sell them your soul to attend school there. State schools, on the other hand, are cheaper, can have similarly prestigious programs, and they allow you to actually have a social life. Several Ivy League schools have budgets for registered socials so they can get their students to socialize. That’s right. They have to fucking pay people to get out of the library and go have fun. I don’t even comprehend how that works. If our administration handed out cash to party, we would have turned College Park into an active war zone every weekend. State schools have no such problem and a number of them are in the top 30 schools in the country, which basically means you’ll get a great education and not have to resort to “Risky Business” tactics to pay your tuition. If you can find a good school, a great program, and a place that offers the ability to party, you’re crazy not to go there–unless you like being a library-dwelling, academic vampire.
People tend to say the reason to go to prestigious, private institutions is that it gives you a great alumni network, but so do many of the state schools. The bonus with state schools is that you don’t have to sell a couple organs and your firstborn child to pay for it, thanks to pretty liberal scholarship funds. Spending $200,000 on an undergraduate degree you might not even end up using is a bad financial decision, even if the degree says “Yale” on it when you walk across the stage. That piece of paper is not necessarily worth what you paid for it, and I would argue it definitely isn’t worth what you had to give up to get it, especially when that degree doesn’t guarantee you a job in a job market that sways back and forth from “fickle” to “actively seeking to make you wallow in despair”.
State schools are a completely different beast from the prestigious, private schools. They’re big, they have respectable sports programs, and most of them are extremely diverse. If you’re interested in something, there are probably people there with the same interests, unless it’s really weird. Even then, there used to be a group of kids who would meet and play magic card games in our student union. That’s a bold move for a group of people allergic to social interaction. You have to ask yourself if a school where studying all the time and stressing about every assignment to the point of legitimate, mental anguish is worth your time and energy. You could do that and become an incredibly well-educated but neurotic drone, or you could go to a school where the beer flows freely, the women look to dress up in nothing but caution tape, and the weekends are all about game day and not study day. Sure, you might meet the douche after college who throws his business degree from Williams in your face, but all you have to remember is all the times you had fun, got laid, and didn’t go to school in the frozen tundra of the Northeast, while this guy wishes he went to a school that had fraternities, sororities, and any kind of sport to watch while blacked out in the stands.
The choice is yours: condemn yourself to a school that will make you a paranoid, academically obsessed study drone where all the fun and creativity gets sucked out of you, or go to a place where school is entirely what you make of your four (to seven) years there. At the end of the day, where you got your degree doesn’t matter so much as actually having your degree. You just have to decide what kind of experience you want to go with that piece of paper. My money is on women, booze, and sports. Where’s yours?