It’s that time of year where juniors in high schools across the United States start taking the SAT, the ACT, thinking about where to apply for college, and thinking about their future that lies ahead. Many of us have the notion that a bright future only comes with a degree received from somewhere like UC Berkeley, Yale, Princeton, MIT, and so on… These are many teens’ ideas of how to get a great start into a world of competition and combat a dim outlook on the job market in the US. To most teens, these Ivy League and top tier schools look like they have everything you could ever need: A beautiful campus, a sterling reputation, not to mention the conspicuous alumni database of people like Barack Obama, Mark Zuckerberg, and wealthy investors right off the famous strip called Wall St. However, being the planner I am and my need to feel like I need to make sure every detail of my life is in order, I started researching these types of glorified institutions, and what I discovered was shocking.
When I decided I wanted to major in something like Computer Science, the first thing I did was probably what most aspiring teens would do. I logged on to my computer, and googled “Best computer science colleges,” then followed the links to the oh-so-famous, usnews.com, with the ever so engaging page title, “Find the best college for you.” Then I proceeded to make a list that accompanied my thoughts as I ran through these names of colleges that someday I would attend.
- Carnegie Mellon University – Sounds fancy. Number one in the country? That’ll land me a job at Apple. Check.
- MIT – One of my friends wants to go there. That’d be cool. Has the word technology in it. Why not?
- Stanford – Ooh that’s in Palo Alto. 15 minute drive to Google/Apple, right? That’s my calling. *writes that down*
- UC Berkeley – That looks nice! Bay Area weather, close to the most amazing city in the world, good degree. I’ll take that one.
The list went on like that for quite some time, with me going through and thinking about how it would look on my resume, sitting in the interviewer’s office at Apple, grinning ear to ear like a child coming down the stairs for Christmas, restraining myself from asking the interviewer, “Well, what do you think!?”
I visited Stanford and I visited Berkeley, the two colleges I thought would give me the greatest shot at landing a job at one of those tech giants. I didn’t feel like I fit in at Stanford, but I fell in love with Berkeley. Beautiful campus. Amazing architecture. My favorite city was just a train ride away. And the job fairs looked very promising, with recruiters from Apple, Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Twitter, Oracle, etc… I decided that Berkeley was my dream school, and I would do anything to try to get in. A little bit of time passed on and I started doing some actual research into the quality of education at different schools I was considering. I discovered that at Berkeley, the professors seemed to care more about their research than their students. Their classes were in large auditoriums of up to 500 people, and not just core classes either – classes I would be taking like engineering, business, or computer science. The tuition was so expensive. So I started to ask myself, “Why do I want to go here?” and my response led me to my view on education today. I liked the campus, and man would those words on my resume look good: “B.S in Computer Science received from the University of California – Berkeley.” Would I enjoy my time there? Maybe. Would I enjoy my classes? If I liked never talking to my professor. Would I learn something there? Only if I didn’t have to ask questions. So was I going to go to a “stellar” university for the sole reason of being able to say I got a degree from UC Berkeley? I want my college experience to be enlightening, full of new ideas and approaches to thinking. I want my college experience to be something I enjoy, where I can ask questions, and explore new fields I may not have previously considered. I want my college experience to be worth the money my family is going to spend. So I remade my list.
Now, my dream school is the University of Texas at Austin (considered a “public ivy school” but no where near the type of reviews I was reading). After talking with some people at Mozilla that I work with, my parents, and doing some research, I started to realize that it doesn’t matter where you go to school. It matters that you learn something, are able to talk to your professors, and understand the importance and potential that your degree holds.
Even though I understand the cons of attending an ivy league school, sometimes I will still have the thought of, “Maybe I would have an easier time getting a job if I went there,” or “Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad,” because to most teens and part of me today, there’s nothing scarier than looking at reports and seeing that students are graduating with more debt, having a harder time getting jobs, and that the education system is failing as we speak.
So my point is this: the fact that teens view ivy league schools as the only way to be successful is upsetting. It’s frustrating that state funded education appears sub par, and is in fact sub par in many places. The only way to raise a society who genuinely believes in what they are doing and has a passion for education, and whatever they major in, is to ensure that all education is meaningful, and that if I’m going to spend thousands of dollars on four years of school, it better be good.