There is a longstanding idea in the modern world that the pinnacle of success is deeply intertwined with a college degree. This precious piece of parchment carries promises of knowledge, employment, honor and a multitude of opportunities otherwise foregone. Among those of us who believe in this notion, we are subject to yet another qualifier for achievement: the name on that degree. Not our birth names, but the name that is higher in position and in perceived importance: the institution. We compare the rankings of colleges and universities more than we would like to consciously admit, myself included. Is there anything wrong with feeling some semblance of pride from seeing our college at the top? There really is.
An Ivy League education stands as the standard mold for all of us who want to be someone important. Not intentionally excluding Stanford, MIT and other big names, but I hope you get the picture being painted. A Williams tag on our bumper stickers looks nice, but it pales in comparison to the pictures on social media tagged with “at [Insert Ivy Here].” Also, I do not have to discuss the prestige that those eight schools carry throughout the academic universe. I also refrain from expounding upon the ways that the College makes up for its lack of recognition in our own elite academic curriculum, opportunities and resources. What I will talk about, however, is this nature of this whole struggle between Williams and Ivy League Schools. Whether you spent time scouring the Internet, looking for Forbes or U.S. News proof to validate your college experience, or just happen to see a shared Facebook post about this topic, we all are aware of the struggle of Williams vs. Ivy League universities.
So, who wins? You may have answered that by now, chosen already whether the College is better than any of the other schools on your college list. Everyone has the right to their own opinion, and I have one.
No one wins. Or, everyone loses. The reasoning is that the battle for validation between your school and my school invalidates all schools who participate.
I understand this may not be a satisfactory result for those who chose to read this piece. But read on, and consider a few things. One, are we all absolutely convinced that getting great grades at a great school is an earned ticket to our dreams? If you do believe so, there is no real problem of an ambitious, one-way mindset, except for the tunnel vision involved. Losing sight of our goals while we aim to demonstrate to our parents, friends and enemies that we deserve a slice of the American dream is where we see trouble. By the time we do graduate and earn that degree, and we end the four-, five- or six-year war of attrition, the will to fight for something dissipates as well.
By expending all your energy trying to prove yourself, you lose yourself.
Instead of comparing the College to an Ivy League university, another prestigious school, or any school at all, we can learn to appreciate the wonderful institution that we are at. This does not mean that we become smug and complacent and slyly look down at other schools, because there are several ways where we are outmatched (Location? Weather? School mascot?), trust me. On the other hand, choosing to concede inferiority to a school with a more prestigious name brand is not ideal either. The heart of my argument is that the worth of one school or one person is not relative; our worth is absolute. And, this absolute way of thinking is not objective or impartial. It is subjective to an audience of one: ourselves. Or, yourself. No one can tell you how valuable the College is to you, even if it’s through waves of fanfare and forums and opinionated writings (like this one), or pages of facts and statistics or graphs. Facts are often more subjective than opinions, depending on who is listening. If four-year graduation rates and student-to-faculty ratio don’t matter to you, why should a #1 ranking matter either? Enjoy your decision, your school and yourself.
Or just drop out and create your own Facebook. Either choice works fine.
Oluwatobi Popoola ’19 is from New York, New York. He lives in Sage.