Sybil Low by Sybil Low

Most of the students in the world know such university names as Yale, Harvard, and Oxford. And many dream about getting into one of these institutions. The only question is…why? What is so special about these unis? Do they study something not available in the rest of the academies?

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Key Takeaways

  • Elite universities offer students the chance to build valuable connections in their field. The students in these institutions are typically among the brightest, leading to a faster-paced and more rigorous learning environment.
  • These colleges employ some of the most renowned professors across various fields. Coupled with impressive funding, students have access to high-quality resources and get hands-on experience in their subjects
  •  While these universities are prestigious, the decision to attend should not be based solely on their status. 

When looking at colleges, many students turn to rankings to find the best options. And what they naturally see at first is a batch of world-known institutions such as Princeton or Brown for example. Being from the US and UK you have those names constantly on everyone’s lips. Getting into one of them would be a dream. However, for international students, this obsession is a mystery. 

To clarify this matter for themselves, one Polish law student turned to Reddit asking a natural question of what makes all those top-rated colleges so elite:

“Hello, I am a Polish law student. I am highly curious about this topic. My university is not exactly topping the world rankings, but I would say that (although I am doing just fine), college is still quite time-consuming and demanding of me. Like, It’s not extremely difficult, but I do have to devote a significant amount of time to my learning. As such, I have to wonder, what exactly do they study at Harvard etc. that makes them so elite? Like, is studying at those colleges that much more difficult? Do you think they learn some insane stuff that most people would never comprehend? Would that mean most Harvard students would A+ their way through a normal uni without issue? I am very curious about this.”

His main concern, as we can see, is what and how they study at those institutions and is different from learning at a regular academy. Let’s see what Reddit has to say about it. 

Reasons Behind Popularity: Connections & Refined Audience

For many, the most obvious reason behind the popularity of these colleges was the opportunity to make valuable and beneficial connections and establish your name in a specific field:

“Although the education overall is probably good. It’s mainly about the connections you can get easier.”

“Plus the recognition that comes with going to them. I’ve heard that getting a CS degree from CMU will basically guarantee an interview.”

“In general it’s connections as the people getting into those schools and going to them are generally individuals who will be successful so it’s nice to have friends in high places”

However, most students agreed that that is not the sole reason. What they said the main deal was, was the pace at which they study in those universities. Since they carefully pick out the candidates to accept in those institutions, most people there are the brightest learners. This makes the classes more fulfilling and knowledge-oriented:

“A much brighter and more committed peer group and higher expectations. It’s the difference between reading part of a novel and being asked to answer a multiple choice test to make sure you’ve read the text vs. being expected to write a paper analyzing the author’s intent. Some of the courses are significantly more complex. My daughter’s friend at Princeton spent the first two weeks doing everything my daughter did in a semester in her computer programming class at her competitive university.”

“I go to a good college; my boyfriend goes to one of the Ivy Leagues and we have been dating for almost 3 years. I think a big part of is just that the students at those schools were accepted and so they care more about their academics, they try more, etc. This makes classes better as students participate and try. The workload is more. Classes automatically have a higher level of rigour.”

“A sibling went go to an elite school not named here but instantly recognized for science and tech. Anyways, one thing he mentioned is that if you took that incoming class and moved them to the local community college, they’d instantly be the best engineering school in the country. What he meant by that is the fact that a class had so many elite students radically changed a class. What happens in a calculus class when everyone is as good as the smartest kid in your high school? It means professors can move much faster and go way farther in the same amount of time regardless of the fact facilities and fancy faculty.”

Learning From Experts

Another thing that many mentioned, is the fact that those colleges gather the most knowledgeable professors across all fields. Not to mention they are also supported by great funding, giving them access to a large number of quality resources. This is why studying there becomes a lucrative dream for many young students:

“You learn from the people at the very top of the field. You have the absolute best research, internship and summer employment opportunities. And you get to make connections with tons of people with the brains, the wealth or the social cache to also be there.”

“Also more varied enrichment/experience- better research opportunities, long undergrad thesis, seminar-style classes where you have to explain thinking on the spot, etc. though a lot of this depends on exactly which elite school you’re talking about”

“The way my psych 101 prof put it was that while we learn about behaviourists like B.F Skinner just like all students, in Harvard, they are given a rat to do the experiments that bf Skinner did, not just read about them in the textbook. In short, they have infrastructure and money.”

“Also, the quality of professors. Generally, better professors will be at better universities meaning you will get a higher quality of education. Finally, the prestige does help. Not that Ivy League is some different caste from other top schools, but getting a degree from a top school shows a certain degree of work ethic and stress that you can do and undertake as they know generally what it takes to graduate from those schools and what the people who do are like”

Is it Worth It?

It seems that, aside from prestige (which of course was also mentioned as the reason for those universities to look so elite), there are equitable grounds for those academies to be perceived as top-rated ones. However, their status shouldn’t be the deciding factor when choosing a college. Only if the institution itself is just a perfect fit. It has long been proven that college rankings are subjective. And of course, it doesn’t matter what your parents are – what matters is what you want. 

So, here are a few factors that are really important when looking for a college:

  • The cost of attendance and financial aid offerings are paramount, as graduating with minimal debt can greatly impact one’s future financial stability.
  • The college’s location, campus culture, student-to-faculty ratio, and available resources can play a significant role in your overall experience and satisfaction.
  • Specific program strengths, internship opportunities, and post-graduation job placement rates can be more indicative of future success than a school’s name alone.

Ultimately, you need to prioritize their individual needs and long-term goals over a college’s prestige.


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