Thursday, June 26, 2014

Why Choose an Ivy League School?

Cohort at Harvard with Tour Guides
As the chaperone for the WCCUSD’s Ivy League Connection, I have spent a week touring many of our nation’s most prestigious colleges—MIT, Harvard, Dartmouth, Yale, University of Pennsylvania, Princeton and Columbia. I have sat in the information sessions, gone on the tours and had dinner with admissions people, current students and alumni. Through this experience, I have come to understand that many of the top-performing students where I teach, at Hercules High School, are doing themselves a disservice by not applying for Ivy League schools. The Ivy League Connection was founded to help students take advantage of the opportunities Ivy League schools offer, and here is why:

Most surprising is that the Ivy League schools offer some of the most affordable means of getting a first class education. When one hears that tuition runs upwards of $60,000 a year, the natural reaction for a middle class family is to assume that, even with some scholarships, that kind of price tag is out of reach. Yet, many of these top institutions have such huge endowments, from their very rich alums, that their financial aid packages are shockingly generous. At Harvard, for instance, a student whose family makes under $63,000 will not have to pay anything. At Dartmouth a free education is offered for those families making up to $100,000 a year. For those making up to $240,000, there is a sliding scale that allows each family to comfortably afford these world-class colleges. In addition, these packages include room and board along with many unexpected perks. Harvard, for instance, pays for each student to fly home twice a year and gives them tickets to the symphony and theater. I had dinner with a former El Cerrito High student, Austin Long, who attends Yale and he told me that his brother attending UC Berkeley pays more for his schooling than he does. Ivy League schools never include student loans as a means of getting a higher education, so their students graduate debit free.

Students have high quality professionals helping them in nearly every aspect of student life. There are general academic advisors, deans, residential assistants, house parents and major advisors whose job it is to help students navigate all the different aspects of college life. At Dartmouth, for instance, I had lunch with one of the deans who claimed to be able to recognize whenever one of her students was having trouble and prided herself on getting those problems solved immediately. The student tour guides often told stories of how residential advisors would become like second parents—hosting barbeques, baking cookies and letting the students have time with their pets and children. The students are also organized to help each other. At Harvard, for instance, there is a day when the freshmen are sorted into their upper class residents: On that day, the upper classmen from each house dress in crazy costumes representing their houses and go to each of their new freshmen’s dorm room to welcome them with joyous exuberance. It is no wonder that when seniors are polled about which house is the best on campus 98% answer their own house.  All this support means that in most Ivy League schools, 97% of incoming freshman graduate in 4 years.

Ivy League schools create a flexible environment that encourages intellectual curiosity and student achievement. Many students in some of California’s top schools complain about how hard it is to get the classes they need to graduate on time. This is not the case in an Ivy League school.  In fact, in several schools—Yale, Dartmouth—the first two weeks of classes are called shopping days. This means students are encouraged to try different classes before making up their minds as to which ones to sign-up for. In addition, several schools do not allow freshmen to even declare a major. Their philosophy is that students need to experience many different classes before deciding on their course of study for the next 3 years. MIT is one of these schools; compare that to the Cal Poly schools where freshmen are not allowed to switch majors. At Ivy League schools policies are developed with the student experience first and foremost.

Now that you’ve read a little about why you should consider an Ivy League education, look for my next blog on how I believe you can become the kind of student who will get into one of these great schools.


  1. You really encompassed what the Ivies have to offer, Ms. Thrift! The college tour experience definitely opened my eyes to these fantastic schools. What I like about most of them, like with Harvard, Yale, and UPenn, is the approach they take on education as liberal arts schools. No student is tied down to one major from their freshman year which is perfect for someone as indecisive as me. The fact that everyone in these environments is so encouraging and the financial aid is amazing is something I still have a hard time believing is true!!

  2. Really good first blog. I choose an Ivy League because of the financial aid they offer, and because they are known for their really good networking and support system. Harvard offers tutoring in math and English each week to aid the students. They really do live up to the name, I hope people can work hard and try to case my dream Ivy League school too.

  3. Like you stated in your blog, I'm amazed at the support systems that these Ivy Leagues provide. Harvard has five different advisers for each of its students and the graduation rates for these schools is incredibly high. I'm sure college is tough, but their retention rates demonstrate how successful the help is. Most schools don't have 97% graduation rates.

  4. The academic environment of the Ivys is one that simply cannot be created in the public schools I've been considering. They stress the importance of personal education; they very much discourage competitive behavior amongst students because it is simply not necessary! Everyone that I've talked to takes their studies much more seriously because they have a big say in the classes they are allowed to take. Being surrounded by such a nurturing environment is really a hard thing to find these days.