Mark Montgomery, educational consultant and seasoned college admissions expert, visits the campus of the University of Pennsylvania to tell us that the Ivy League is not simply a prestigious group of super-geniuses: each school has diverse traits that may or may not appeal to certain people, and regardless of a student’s intelligence or potential, it’s very possible that no school in the Ivy League will be his or her ideal college.
I’m here today on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania, and I’ve stopped at one of the least attractive parts of the campus to make a couple of points. The first is that the Ivy League really has nothing to do with anything academic, nothing to do with the curriculum, nothing to do with the kind of student that attends these institutions. It all has to do with athletics. The Ivy League was set up as a football club so that the smart students at all the different universities could play against one another and not against the students in the Big Ten Conference or in some of the other major athletic leagues. They were just getting beat up, so they decided to create their own athletic league, Ivy League, so that they could play against each other and not get beat up. So the Ivy League really doesn’t have anything to do with academics or curriculum or the students or anything else other than the sports that they play against one another.
The second point to make is that these schools are all very different in terms of the academic structure, which we could talk about, but as I walk around the campus, it’s really clear that the University of Pennsylvania is an urban campus. And in that regard it has a lot more in common, to my mind, with Boston University, Northeastern University, New York University, George Washington University, the University of Southern California, these are all very urban campuses. And to give you an idea, you can’t get in the library, you can’t even walk into the library, without an ID. I tried to get in, I was not permitted to go in. I am an interloper. The dormitories are, as you can see behind me, they’re 20 or 30 stories tall. These are high-rise buildings, prefab concrete very ugly on the outside. But I’m sure they’re fine on the inside and you know, people are sleeping in them, and storing their clothes and their books and whatnot. So not a big deal but very different because you have to actually, you have to go through a turnstile, swipe your card and go past a security guard to get into the dormitories. That’s simply not what you’re going to experience at some of the other Ivy League institutions. So again, this is an urban campus.
There are some very nice parts of the campus, tree-lined walk and it’s gorgeous. But really, the Ivy League is made up of very, very different institutions, and frankly I just laugh when people come to me and say, well, I want to go to college, and I say well, where? And they say the Ivy League. And I think to myself, these schools are completely different from one another. Cornell and Dartmouth and the University of Pennsylvania have almost nothing in common. Yes, they all have smart students, yes, they’re all getting a “good” education, they’re getting very different kinds of education, and so it’s really important as you’re thinking about college, thinking about the turnstiles, do you want to go through the turnstiles and live in a 30-story high-rise apartment building, or do you want something a little more rural or manageable and five stories is the tallest, you have many choices. So get beyond the labels and start thinking about what it is you care about and what it is you want, not only in terms of your education, what happens in the classroom, but the kind of lifestyle you want to lead.