William Pang, a high-school senior at the Berkshire School, writes about the agonizing college-admissions process — and what he’s going to do next:
Five minutes till admission decision. I logged into College Confidential one last time, scrolling through forum posts of accepted students from previous years.
Having played the different outcomes over and over in my head, I was prepared for the best and the worst: if accepted to Brown, I would scream in happiness and immediately call my parents.
If rejected, I would crawl into my bed and quietly listen to Macklemore’s ‘Can’t Hold Us.’
… it is with great regret that we must inform you that your application could not be included among our acceptances…
That night, I was rejected by Brown and several other schools. Nestled in an environment where I was getting A’s in all my classes, I couldn’t help but feel depressed and worthless.
The college decision felt like a verdict on the past 18 years of my life, and a reminder that the accomplishments and awards I achieved were insignificant compared to other 18-year-olds.
In recent years, Brown University has seen an increase in applications and a drastic decrease in admission rates from 14 percent to less than 9 percent.
This year Brown offered admission to 2,580 of its 30,397 applicants.
In fact, all of the top 25 schools ranked in the U.S News and World Report have seen a growth in application since 2003, with University of Chicago topping the list as applications more than tripled since 2006. University deans have attributed such growth to the convenience of the Common Application, increase in financial aid budgets, and successful outreach programs.
As we shift into a knowledge-based economy where more and more students are seeking college education, the increase in top–tier school applications comes as no surprise.
An education at an Ivy League or other top 20 schools appears to be an important ingredient for future success—just Google Supreme Court justices, recent presidents, Matt Damon, or CEOs of big-name companies and see where they graduated from.
Yet, there are plenty of other students who went through the same process of rejection, felt pessimistic about their future prospects, but were able to learn from failure and become successful.
Entrepreneurs such as Elon Musk and Bill Gates did not succeed simply because they went to an Ivy League– if that was the case, most of the Fortune 500 CEOs should be graduates of Harvard or Wharton business schools (they’re not).
They succeeded because they were intelligent, followed their passions with a clear vision, and were not afraid to fail.
I recently spoke with a friend at the University of Pennsylvania. When discussing the correlation between an Ivy League degree and future success, he said, “Going to an Ivy League institution is like playing ‘Who Wants to Be A Millionaire’… except that you get an extra lifeline, an extra phone-a-friend. Of course, that comes at a certain premium.”
There is an undeniable attraction with the Ivy Leagues and other top-ranked colleges: being with brilliant classmates, a great alumni network, and a guarantee of well-funded departments.
If an Ivy League education is your goal, by all means, try for it! But as a teacher pointed out to me, there are plenty of other institutions that offer a high quality education, some at a fraction of the cost of an Ivy League.
Ultimately, an education is what you want it to be. So I proudly put on my bright red McGill sweatshirt, as though the rejection letters were a thing of the distant past. I have learned to love the school in Montreal where I’ll be studying engineering next year.
I am still dazzled by the Ivy League brand. I’ll aim for graduate studies at these elite universities.
Meanwhile, I’ve got time to work for the six-pack abs I always wanted.