When I was in school, I had a dream to study at Oxford or Harvard University. When I turned 21, I got my Bachelor’s degree in a French-Armenian university. I worked for a year in Armenia and my life brought me to France – to study Management and Communication in an ordinary public university by paying only 243 euros for an academic year. As I was finishing the first semester, I thought “Hey, while I am here in Europe, should I probably try to apply to universities with a better ranking just to make sure I’m getting the best opportunities?”. Now I know that I will stick to my alma mater, not because I lack ambition or courage to try, but because I finally understood the role of the university in my life and in the current socio-economic landscape.
If you haven’t heard, a big scandal broke last week in the US. More than 30 actresses, business people and other members of the wealthy American elite were accused of bribing colleges to sneak their kids into their programs. Bribes amounting up to 1.2 million US dollars were paid to different Ivy League colleges, including Yale, Georgetown and Stanford.
This would be funny if it weren’t so tragic; parents helped their children falsify their SAT scores, or pretend they were athletes by photoshopping their heads onto sportsmans’ bodies. Why go to so much effort for a piece of paper? Because it is the key to their desired elite college communities.
This case made me think about my situation, and how I feel about my own educational background. Obviously, I am enormously thankful to both of the universities who gave me an opportunity to study, and I would never depreciate their role in my life. But the biggest concern for me, especially after retaking my studies, is the understanding of the truth. Universities, sadly, have lost sight of their purpose.
Back in the days when student classrooms were not equipped with WiFi and hi-tech PCs, with only a pen and a paper to take notes, universities had a principal mission to academically enhance and enrich generations of students. Nowadays, many universities think only about the quantity instead of the quality, by lowering the admission standards and giving priority to the applicants whose parents are able to give generous donations.
In order to stay relevant with the digital revolution, universities and professors have changed their tactics and teaching methods. Classes are often just group work, superficial presentations and a small set of very practical knowledge in each domain. Honestly, 20 hours is such a limited time to study a subject. It barely allows you to scratch the surface, let alone master the subject. Consequently, students find themselves juggling mandatory, but often boring university courses and informal self-education.
It sounds cliché to say that the most successful people in the world didn’t even go to college. There were also people, who studied in their small hometown universities but succeeded greatly thanks to their efforts and hardworking nature.The current president of the European Council Donald Tusk, for instance, graduated from the University of Gdansk. Angela Merkel, on of the most influential world leaders studied in Karl Marx University. Quentin Tarantino never actually went to a fancy art college. In fact, the only person from the Forbes top 10 company CEOs whose alma mater is an Ivy League University is the Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos (Princeton University). Other CEOs have graduated from less-prestigious (for lack of a better term) universities like the University of Arkansas, the University of Nebraska, the University of Oklahoma, the Auburn University etc.
So, why do we dream about top colleges instead of working hard and building our future from the scratch? Why do we need big-name universities in our CVs so desperately even if we clearly understand, that what they give and the amount they require are not equivalent anymore? Linking your life, career, success and future to rankings and league tables is not only naive, but also pretty silly.
Do not give the university more merit for your future than it actually deserves. Do not choose a university because it has a popular name, choose the one that has a bigger library and an interesting program. If you want to hear prominent professors, read their books and watch their TED Talks. Believe me, if you had an opportunity to listen to them, you’d probably skip the class to travel with your friends. Because, the privilege is very often a sweet trap where you take everything for granted.
Expensive colleges do not pay off if you are an unambitious and a lazy person, but hard work and dedication always, always will, regardless of where you studied.
The question here is not whether Ivy League or private business school graduates eventually end up in a good place with a high-powered salary or not, because they often do. And don’t get me wrong, I don’t completely depreciate those colleges. Throughout many decades, they have given us very outstanding minds in all domains.
The question here is whether you can end up in a place you want without even being obliged to justify the credibility or the value of your ordinary diploma? The answer is absolutely yes. It may be a bit harder, but as Lucretius said long before I was born “Ex nihilo nihil fit”.
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