David Brooks writes a humorous op-ed
for high school seniors in today's NY Times, adding perspective to the process of college acceptance. It includes this gem:
You are being judged according to criteria that you would never use to judge another person and which will never again be applied to you once you leave higher ed.
For example, colleges are taking a hard look at your SAT scores. But if at any moment in your later life you so much as mention your SAT scores in conversation, you will be considered a total jerk. If at age 40 you are still proud of your scores, you may want to contemplate a major life makeover.
The rest of the column puts forth several truisms immediately apparent to any adult: Life can be anticlimactic, you can get just as good an education at most schools, and things of this nature.
I'd just add one point Brooks omitted: At virtually all colleges, your classmates will be the sons and daughters of middle and working class families. These may be your network for the rest of your life. At the Ivies and other elite colleges, that roommate who's puking in your wastebasket may be the son of the CEO of a Wall Street investment bank. Or a partner in a Manhattan law firm. Or a record company executive. The vomiter is going to have connections that your local dentist's daughter will never have.
There is such a thing as class in this country. If you go to the best 20 or so colleges, you'll potentially get a network that will only become more and more valuable with time. The puking kid goes to law school — he has an in, so he becomes a partner by his mid-30s. Your other friend works in venture capital. Another is a successful entrepreneur. In the course of a four-year education, you may get to know folks who will move into key positions in finance, manufacturing, technology, law, engineering, medicine, academia, government, entertainment, and the like. And they may be there fairly quickly. When you want to get something done, you'll know who to call.
The downside: This may expected of you, too. If you have a normal middle class life and are at all the kind of person who compares yourself to others, you may feel like a total loser if you're not careful.
On the other hand, an acquaintance of mine went to Swarthmore and later became a loser. (I mean it, unemployed, unemployable, friendless, unbearable.) He got arrested for being an asshole (a little more to it than that, but that's what it boiled down to). He had no money for a lawyer, so he called the Swarthmore alumni office. They put him in contact with a fellow alumnus who was a powerful attorney, and the attorney handled the case pro bono
The loser, who was innocent of the actual crime for which he was charged, was able to get excellent, free legal representation. The case was dismissed. Happy ending all around, and all because he had that Swarthmore degree. So class matters. Elite schools give you a ticket to that ruling class, or at least access to that ruling class.
The repeated use of the word loser in the above entry may give the impression of an undercurrent of snobbery. I don't meant to give that impression at all ... I meant "loser" according to the point of view of snobs, not my own snobbery. The only people I think are losers are folks who mooch off of others consistently rather than actually deal with their issues. And they lose (!) that moniker as soon as they develop a willingness to change.