I was obsessed with college admissions in high school: better job opportunities, amazing connections, an alumni network, and a sense of confidence.
And to be honest — this was largely true. I had many friends who attended Harvard and Yale who had six figure job offers after graduating. They were able to peak behind the curtain and examine the lives of the global elite: tech entrepreneurs, bankers, lawyers, and consultants at the top of their professions. Regardless of work experience, college will still be a major talking point in most interviews.
However, all of this obscured the opportunity cost of attending an Ivy League school. There are hidden costs associated with a top school. Setting aside the risk of accumulating hundreds of thousands of dollars in student debt, graduating from a top school can be detrimental in the following ways:
1. Limited Career Options
An Ivy League education opens doors to many jobs in investment banking, consulting, law, and tech. This is true, but it glosses over the fact that these jobs become unappealing to most people who actually get them. It also neglects to mention that these jobs will become the “only”options if you want to maintain your upward trajectory.
Here are the options when you graduate from an Ivy League school:
(1) Investment banking: Barclays, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley
(2) Management consultant: McKinsey, Bain, BCG
(3) Tech: Facebook, Amazon, or Google
If you are unsure of what to do, you might look at academia. You can become a doctor, lawyer, or perhaps work for a fledgling startup.
I cannot count how many colleagues became doctors because they were good at science, but did not want to work in engineering.
Law school has also become the go to place for aimless grads from the Ivy League. It is 3 years of studying, but a break from having a real job. These are the same people who are bored when I talk with them about anything in the legal field. Clearly, they do not have a passion for law.
But if you are an English or History major without a job at graduation, this becomes an attractive option. Many of Ivy League grads have family that will gladly pay for any graduate degree. Even the ones in debt from undergrad might choose this path.
2. Killing of Entrepreneurship
I value entrepreneurship; however, I have seen cases where the Ivy League credential has killed entrepreneurship.
Why? Many who were once risk takers now become risk adverse.
They would rather work a job they hate, in a city they can barely afford, and hang out with people they cannot stand — just so that they do not have the humiliation of removing Goldman Sachs from their LinkedIn page.
3. Sensitivity to What Others Think
This one is the most insidious starts before university. Having a bunch of type-A personalities in one place is a recipe for disaster. As long as you can pull everything together by your 8 A.M. class, it does not matter that you have not slept in three days. I have even heard instances where students have found ways to sabotage another group’s project, to give them an edge on a graded curve.
These people need a wake-up call. They need to look at the bigger picture and focus on living a less Machiavellian life-style. In all these cases, a false sense of inadequacy seemed to be at the root of the problem.
4. Less Freedom, Not More
One of the reasons for attending an Ivy League school?is freedom. This is financial freedom for those who want a better life, intellectual freedom, or personal freedom for those who want the alumni network and connections.
However, unless you can move past your alma mater, you will make choices based on what others expect of you and not what you want.
It makes it difficult to reject the perceptions of your family, friends, and coworkers. If you choose to take the small business route (think owning a trucking company), you risk ostracizing your acquaintances.
As a result, your Ivy League degree may hinder you from finding happiness. The ultimate goal of attending a school like Harvard or Yale is to give you options, but may do the exact opposite.