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Is Harvard right for me?
Not necessarily.

By Katherine Lam, 17, Ramona Convent (Alhambra)

As a senior, college has been on my mind almost 24/7—yes, even in my dreams. I used to think that Harvard, Yale and UCLA were the best the world had to offer and that if I went to one of those colleges, I would be the happiest student ever. I would laugh it off when I read articles saying that students should look beyond the Ivies and other "famous" universities. I thought that Harvard could be right for me because it was at the top and obviously I’d want to attend the best university there was.

My college research started with checking out large universities’ websites. All of them said they offered "a great education," "opportunities" and "world-class faculty." How could I find the "right" college? I tried Princeton Review‘s Counselor-o-matic machine to help me search for schools, but each time I tried it I would get different results. I talked to my friends, my counselor and my cousin. Who knew that there were so many details to consider, like whether to apply "early decision" (which means you have to go if you get in). Would applying early help my chances?

I was still stuck on applying to Yale and all the other big-name schools until five months ago when I met Kevin, a Yale alumnus and private college counselor at a college workshop. He tried to push me beyond the well-known universities, shifting my attention to lesser-known colleges that focus on undergraduate education. His advice really helped. I thought about what I liked about high school—small classes, caring faculty, love for learning and numerous discussions. I realized that I wanted the same things during my college experience. As soon as I eliminated colleges that were on my list solely for fantastic academics and a great reputation, I felt much more comfortable. And anyway, I didn’t want to be completing 15-20 applications, especially for schools that I did not really want to attend.

I had been reading articles that talked about Harvard’s lack of focus on undergraduate education. I believe that Harvard would offer a great education because of its resources, yet was it right for me? In the end, I figure that college is what I make of it anyway. Going to a nationally recognized university is not going to make anyone into a successful and caring individual; people are going to thrive in places that are right for them.

Stressing over college applications is normal and I have narrowed down my schools to places where I could see myself being a happy student. It’s also hard in a way because I am very adaptive and I would probably be happy at most places, but I’m including a wide variety of school, including an Ivy League school like Brown and liberal arts colleges like Claremont McKenna and Swarthmore. My next-door neighbor has probably heard only of Harvard and Yale and not the ones I’m applying to, but who cares? It’s my education and if I fely on U.S. News & World Report to tell me where I will get the best education or others’ opinions about what are good colleges, then I will never be satisfied with my own education.

Editor’s note: Kat is a sophomore at Swarthmore and loves it.

Is Harvard right for me?
This editorial is reprinted with permission from Aspects, the school newspaper of Whitney High School in Cerritos, and reflects the view of its teen staff.

The following is an actual dialogue between a newspaper staff member and her mother after the mother read Time magazine’s August cover story titled “Who Needs Harvard?”:

“You do. You need Harvard.”

End of discussion.

While it’s common for Whitney High parents to push their kids towards Ivy League schools, kids too realize the push is for a good reason.   

Both Time and Newsweek printed issues this summer underscoring the importance of overlooking the Ivies and finding the best match school for students. Both magazines included sections on the “new Ivies,” schools that were of Ivy status but without the name.

At Whitney, we ask our alumni, “What school did you go to?” An answer of a UC or less-known school somewhat gains our interest. We usually just nod and move on to the next alumnus. An answer of “Harvard/Yale/Princeton” instantly perks our ears up and gains our uttermost attention. And it’s just not Whitney students who give interest to Ivy graduates. The rest of society does it as well.

When it comes to finding jobs, critics say that the name of an Ivy school doesn’t make it any easier getting hired. Rather, they say that one’s own work habits and skills get him or her in. While all that is correct, the truth is, the name gets one’s foot into the door. It doesn’t seem like a whole lot, but it really is. Because all one has to do afterwards is just do mediocre-ly to get entirely through the door. On the other hand, without the name, one has to work really really hard just to get a peek at the door.

The article strongly argues that non-Ivy schools can offer just as much as Ivy Leagues: a good education, small class sizes, research opportunities and more personalized education. But there’s a thing they can’t offer: the name. And the name matters a whole lot. After all, Time used “Harvard” on its front cover, in big bold yellow letters, to sell its magazines. Obviously, the name has some significance.

What else? There’s plenty. Ivy league schools have huge endowments. Harvard currently has close to a $26 billion endowment. $26,000,000,000. That’s a lot of zeros. UCLA had a mere $1.2 billion in 2002. More endowments mean that schools can afford to renovate classrooms, dorms, labs, and provide money for research projects. In fact, Harvard has enough money to provide full tuition to all incoming freshmen and still have money left over.

Ivy League graduates also find themselves part of a global network of the best and the brightest. Their success comes from having gone to an Ivy and gained invaluable connections. Harvard alumni include Bill Gates [though he dropped out], actor Matt Damon, cellist Yo-Yo Ma and the princess of Jordan.

Time also included a very short bottom-of-the-page-hope-no-one-will-really-notice article titled “The Ivy League’s X Factor.” This article briefly mentioned two of the most advantageous traits of going to an Ivy: instantaneous social status and confidence.

We admit, non-Ivy schools have much to offer and can be the best match college for many students at Whitney. Students should research about various colleges and try to figure out what they want in their ideal school. What we don’t like is how some faculty members quickly assume that Ivies can’t be the best match for students just because they’re Ivies. Honestly, why can’t those eminent universities be the best match for some of the brightest kids in California?

We are those kids. So now, when people ask us “Who needs Harvard?” it’s fair for us to say, “We do.”

Other stories by Katherine Lam:

Girl Scout’s honor. Kat says Girl Scouts is about friendship and helping others. (March – April 2005)

I gave my room a ‘quake-over.’ Kat interviewed a safety consultant learn a better way to prevent injuries during an earthquake. (Oct. 2004)