Icosian Reflections

…a tendency to systematize and a keen sense

that we live in a broken world.

Dear Brother (Index)

This was a 4-part series addressed to the author's brother, discussing the author's perspective on "elite education".

Dear Brother: Go Wherever You Want for College

Exposition, and discussion of the claim that an elite education leaves students financially bankrupt:

I fear you are already familiar with the charges that William Deresiewicz, writing for the New Republic, recently leveled (seemingly indiscriminately) against the whole of the elite-education-industrial-complex:

  • that the preparations required for an "elite college" are, on the whole, soul-destroying;
  • that the admissions process is completely, hopelessly rigged;
  • that the student body is firstly, invariably "entitled little shits", and secondly, enslaved to some abstract myth of excellence;
  • that the same students are four years hence thrust into the world tragically unprepared to meet the challenges of harsh, complicated reality.

In short, I believe that each of these claims is partly true and largely false, and that none is a good reason to avoid getting an education at Harvard. Though I do believe that there are several good reasons one might avoid an Ivy schooling, I've found my first two years of college to be an intensely gratifying intellectual and social experience, wherein I have learned to put aside expectations to pursue the things I love, surrounded by largely level-headed classmates following their own passions. I expect to graduate socially, morally, and -- yes -- fiscally prepared to change, and what's more, live in, the real world. If you choose to join me here, I expect you'll find the same. (...)

Dear Brother: Here's How to Get Admitted to Harvard (if you want)

A rebuttal to the claim that Harvard is full of students who embarked on countless "voluntourism" trips to Guatemala and the like; responses from actual Ivy League admissions officers, including the Harvard Director of Admissions.

Deresiewicz's swipe at the financial cost of an Ivy education is delivered offhand, but his critiques of Ivy League admissions policy are full-throated. We, he alleges, were admitted not because we demonstrated true passions and talents or showed any real promise as peers and fellow-students-to-be, but merely because we were "manufactured" to be "fit to compete in the college admissions game."

Well, to borrow a phrase, "it almost feels ridiculous to have to insist that colleges like Harvard" attract truly talented students. What, an admissions committee with basically free choice of the nation's graduating seniors, some of the business's most talented officers, more than a few decades experience, and a year-round mission to see through the ploys of Ivy-at-all-costs parents to the true character of applicants...is just going to fail at their single job? Paint me skeptical.

Interlude: More Links on the Ivies

Excerpts from writers across the web on Deresiewicz's claims, excellent sheep, and elite education.

Dear Brother: These are the Friends I Met

A series of anecdotes about the sort of students you find at Harvard.

None of my friends are just one thing, and they certainly aren't all the same networking-obsessed, consulting-bound, compulsively-high-achieving stereotype. There's at least two mechanical engineer / dancers on the ballroom dance team with me -- one's dating my roommate. There's my friend who did lab work for that Cosmic Microwave Background experiment, and is now working as an economist in Paris for the summer. There's the math concentrator who founded the Transportation and Urban Planning Society. There's the ballerina-cum-choreographer who does service work mentoring at a nearby prison, and is now fundraising for the Harvard Square Homeless Shelter.