The Future of Elite Schools, Continued

James Fallows:

That being said, my best friend at Harvard is my therapist. Or maybe my psychiatrist, whom I see monthly at student health, and who recently comforted me with an age-old adage: “it’s better to be from Harvard than at Harvard.”

They were surprised I had not heard that saying before. Apparently, I’m not alone in my disdain for the realities of student life in the Ivy League.

I could fill a book with the conversations I’ve had with my mental healthcare providers. A chapter on the social isolation I’ve felt here; on what I should do with my life; on the merits and drawbacks of exclusively affinity group events at an already departmentalized school; on the unhealthy stress of crippling student loans, and my brewing envy (and resentment) of those without them.

* * *

I applied to Harvard seeking academic opportunity, personal validation, and of course, a prestigious pedigree. I was nearing completion of a two-year research fellowship, and, having been painfully pre-med in college, I was finally ready to admit that medicine was not for me (I don’t like hospitals).

I still craved a mission-driven career, and decided the passion for public health I had cultivated as an undergrad warranted further exploration. After informational interviews with numerous public health professionals, who told me the field was dominated by alumni of the highest ranked schools, I made the choice to only apply to top programs for my master’s—a degree required for consideration in most public health doctoral programs.