Why some students chose, or chose not to, attend Ivy League schools as the acceptance rates continually drop and the tuition costs continually rise

March 9, 2017

Becoming the picture of a refined, successful Ivy League graduate is the goal of many high-reaching students. However, it’s not easy to achieve, and may not be as pristine as it seems.

Students apply for and attend Ivy League schools for varying reasons. But no matter how you get there, once in, you join an elite circle of presidents, CEOs, Surgeon-Generals and other successful alumnus. For Class of 2016 alumna Anu Subramaniam, attending a renowned Ivy League school has been her dream since she was young.

Subramaniam was able to make that dream a reality, and just completed her first semester at Cornell University in New York.

“My parents are both immigrants,” Subramaniam said. “I think it was always their dream to have their kid surpass them and succeed and go to an Ivy League. It’s the American Dream. … (I had) a lot of parent encouragement, it started out when I was really young, and then it kind of just became a big dream of mine.”

There are only eight schools in the United States that qualify as Ivy League. It is technically determined by the athletic conference, but the Ivies are all private, selective, and well-established universities in the Northeast region. They are very exclusive in acceptances, making them some of the most academically rigorous schools. Ivy League acceptance rates fluctuate from school to school, but all fall under 15 percent.

When Subramaniam submitted her application to Cornell, she landed in the top 6,234 seniors. The total number of applicants: 41,907.

For Class of 2016 alumna Francesca Giacona, getting in was not the issue. She was accepted into Yale University. However, the financial burden posed by many Ivy Leagues was a concern, as well as the nature of the community.

“I was worried I’d go there and I’d get lost. I’d feel inadequate,” Giacona said. “That was definitely a concern of mine because there are kids there who’ve been speaking six languages since they were 4 years old and crazy stuff. You meet people there and they have won national science awards and you’re like ‘oh my god how do I fit in here?’”

Unfortunately, the selectivity of the Ivy schools and their prices have not improved over the years. For the Cornell class that graduated in 2016, they had to make a 16.2 percent acceptance rate. For the Subramaniam’s class, they had to be within the top 14.1 percent. The other seven schools followed the same trend. Cost of tuition has been steadily rising as the acceptance rates drop.

As Ivies continually get more challenging to attend, the level of academics does not necessarily go up. The Ivies are within the top 20 colleges in the United States, but there are some schools in the top 20 that actually rank above some of the Ivies.

That, combined with the cost difference leaves many people wondering how valid the superior Ivy reputation really is.

Although she is attending an Ivy League, Subramaniam doubts their academic distinction. However, she feels that the Ivy brand and opportunities it provides outweigh its downfalls.

“I wouldn’t say they’re necessarily better schools but they give you something that other schools can’t necessarily. They have a name recognition. Like University of Michigan is just as good a school as Harvard, but the second you say ‘Harvard’ there’s something that clicks in your mind like ‘Oh my God,’” Subramaniam said. “Once you hit the top 20, you don’t see a lot of difference in education, but basically the opportunities that your schools can offer you and that’s a big part of alumni and research and donations.”

Class of 2016 alumnus Will McNelis agrees with Subramaniam that Ivies provide students with a higher level of opportunities and connections that will help them find jobs in the work force.

Fifteen U.S. presidents are Ivy grads, including the most recent five. Harvard has more billionaire alumni than any other university, according to Daily Mail. For all eight schools, the average graduate’s annual mid-career income is over $100,000.

McNelis chose to attend Brown University because of these positives attributes but he can also see the negative aspects of Ivies.

People are very collaborative, and always willing to help.”

— Ann Marie Nicholson

“There is a group of people that go there and view themselves as elitist and better than everyone else because they’re at that kind of school and some of the schools in that league are known to be competitive and cut-throat, which can detract from your ability to learn and be a productive student. They all cost an outrageous amount of money, which is terrible,” McNelis said.

However, Class of 2015 alumna Ann Marie Nicholson disagrees with McNelis. She sees that atmosphere at Brown as one that fosters collaboration rather than promoting competitive individualism.

“The Ivy League stigma that everyone is super competitive and cutthroat is completely untrue. People are very collaborative, and always willing to help with problem sets or proofreading a paper,” Nicholson said via email. “All the engineering students on my floor would get together every night to figure out how to do their homework. Students are mostly down to earth and pleasant to be around. There isn’t a whole lot of arrogance among the people I know, and they are always willing to take criticism and change the way they think. But I can only speak for Brown, every school in the Ivy League is a little different, and lumping them all together as a single entity doesn’t really do them justice.”

The Ivy League ambiance was not a factor in Nicholson’s college applications. She was accepted to the Universities of Michigan and Chicago.

Brown stood out to Nicholson because of its open curriculum and welcoming environment.

“I chose Brown over the other schools because when I visited, it felt more welcoming and supportive. I loved the campus culture and the open curriculum. I’m not required to take math classes or an English classes, instead I can pretty much pick whatever classes I want to take as long as I complete a major,” Nicholson said. “I didn’t choose Brown because it is an Ivy League school, I chose it because it was the best fit for me.”

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