The sad truth of admissions to Ivy League and other highly selective institutions and why this situation is not likely to change at any time soon

With respect to a question that is on the minds of many high-achieving and/or status-oriented students growing up who seek to earn the “brass ring” that is admission into an Ivy League or other highly selective institution, especially during the season in which admissions or rejection letters (or emails more likely these days) have recently gone out and are continuing to go out to students all across America, there is one brief, and definitely disheartening to many, fact regarding such admissions, which is:

Unless you’re demonstrably unique as well as high-achieving, you’ll probably not get in there, and even if you are, you still may not.

To be simply excellent is not enough, but also distinctive in some way, especially if you’re not one of the groups I specify below.

Most every Ivy has an undergraduate admissions rate of under 10% (Ivy League Statistics by College | Ivy Coach). And every single one has a downward trend on admit percentages, meaning it’s harder to get into every Ivy than it was 5, 10, 15, 20, or 25 years ago. This is because, even though Ivy League universities have not really expanded their sizes, yet they have increasingly more applicants each and every year. And there’s an incentive to increase the applicant numbers, which drive down admit percentages even further, which in turn help boost their US News rankings. There are other prestigious institutions, including the University of Chicago (UChicago) and the University of Southern California (USC), that in the last quarter century or so have seen their admissions rates plunge markedly from letting in upwards of half of their applicants to near Ivy League levels within a quarter-century time frame. In the case of UChicago as an example, in the 1990s, their admissions rate was upwards of 70 per cent of applicants, whereas in by 2019, it was at 5.9 per cent, lower than several Ivies. I should note that some of that is explained by UChicago’s reputation as a place “where fun goes to die” so in years past there was also a self-selection effect at play which depressed applications from otherwise interested students who were not interested in the UChicago way of things.

As one of the Ivy League admissions people surveyed for an article in The Daily Beast a few years ago put it (Dirty Secrets of College Admissions):

Some 70 percent of kids who apply are qualified to come to school here, and we have space for one in ten. We can be as choosy as we like. It almost always comes down to whether or not you’re a likeable person. Let’s face it, some people are just more affable or more likeable than others. An admissions officer is really asking himself, ‘Would I like to hang out with this guy or gal for the next four years?’ So if you come off as just another Asian math genius with no personality, then it’s going to be tough for you. An admissions officer is not going to push very hard for you.

If you’re the sort of applicant who took a lot of AP courses, were involved in STEM-oriented clubs, volunteering in some “clean” activity (such as in libraries and/or musea), the only sport you participated in was also “clean” (for instance a racket sport or maybe fencing, although the latter can be viewed positively, given the number of high prestige universities that have fencing teams), you’re seen as an academic over-achiever and you better make sure you’re perfect academically, because, those are the only people who pass through that pathway into an Ivy. That may come across as rank discrimination, but it’s a seller’s market as far as the Ivies as well as other highly selective institutions are concerned, given they reject 90 to 95 people out of every 100 applicants. So yes, being “interesting” matters.

All Ivy League institutions are private (Cornell has contract colleges as well that are supported by the state of New York, but that’s fundamentally irrelevant for this discussion). Because Ivies are not owned/operated by state governments or the federal government in the case of the service academies, they are unable to rely on tax revenue to fund their operations (Cornell again being the partial exception to this rule). So, there is a focus towards maintaining and expanding financial viability at private universities that doesn’t exist at State U.

This means that a portion of admits for Ivy League and other highly selective institutions (hereinafter normally referred to as Ivy Plus institutions) are what is known as development cases (those with really rich parents who can fund the building of buildings and the endowment of professorships — Jared Kushner is a really famous example of this when his father Charles (a graduate of NYU & Hofstra) who donated 2.5 million dollars in 1998 to Harvard prior to Jared’s admission there, and this situation was well before he married Donald Trump’s daughter Ivanka, see Daniel Golden’s reporting in the Wall Street Journal for a discussion on that). USC has traditionally also had been majorly influenced for admissions in development cases (cf ‘Father Is Surgeon,’ ‘1 Mil Pledge’: The Role of Money in USC Admissions). It goes without saying though that Harvard and USC are far from the only two higher educational institutions that have been influenced by such development case candidates or that money is the only form of influence. As a for instance, this also means that if your parent (or sometimes grandparent) is a state governor, US Senator, member of Congress, or other powerful elected official, admissions committees tend to let in their kids as well, because of course, it doesn’t hurt to have a hook with someone who helps control the US Government’s budget or other such political influence. It also doesn’t hurt to be someone who’s already famous for being a talented entertainer when it comes to admissions to an Ivy either (Emma Watson (Brown), Brooke Shields (Princeton), and Jodie Foster (Yale) are all proof of that, so is Yo-Yo Ma (Harvard)).

This focus on financial stability also means that Ivies have to maintain good relationships with their alumni (since alumni are the biggest source of donors), which means that legacy admissions is a thing (cf Should Colleges Consider Legacies in the Admissions Process?, Do Legacy Students Get a Leg Up in College Admissions?, or Should Colleges Consider Legacies in the Admissions Process?) and yes it is seen as unfair to many (cf Legacies Still Get A Staggeringly Unfair College Admissions Advantage). If you’re unaware of what that is, a legacy admit is someone who is directly related to an alumnus of the institution, parents always count, siblings or grandparents sometimes count, ditto aunts and uncles. Legacy admissions policies exist for Ivy League institutions, other private universities, as well as a few state flagships including Michigan and UVA. It must be noted in fairness that there has been a push to eliminate legacy admits in recent years (cf End College Legacy Preferences) however, the easiest way to turn off the donation tap of an alumnus is to deny their progeny an admit to the same university they attended unless there’s a very good reason. I do not deny that legacy admissions originally had been used as a means to discriminate against Jews (Jerome Karabel in The Chosen and others have written on this topic), and undeniably that is problematic to say the least. However, now, the use of legacy admissions is engaged in for less insidious reasons, and ones that are prima facie reasonable. Yes, schools like Caltech, UC Berkeley, & UCLA, get a great crop of students without legacy admits, and don’t suffer for donors, but not every school wants to be Caltech or one of the UC schools. Johns Hopkins just got rid of legacy admissions policy, so I will be interested to see how they fare in future years regarding donations from alumni and other things such as reputation in future years as a result of this change, however initial results indicate that it has broadened Hopkins from a socio-economic status perspective.

Another thing that alumni tend to love are winning athletic teams, so a portion of the class that every Ivy and other highly selective institution lets in every year are athletes. To which I point to an aphorism of Clark Kerr’s: “The three purposes of the University? To provide sex for the students, sports for the alumni, and parking for the faculty.” Clark Kerr was the first chancellor of UC Berkeley and then president of the whole University of California, so knew well of what he was speaking, and was well-known for making serious points with humour. It’s been reported that several Ivies as well as other highly selective institutions have upwards of 10 per cent of their undergraduate student bodies as student-athletes, no small part of this is a numbers issue, if you have 900 student-athletes attending a university, where a university is an undergraduate population of 9,000 students (based off of the numbers I had from 2018, the (arithmetic) mean for undergraduates at Ivies was 7985.125, the geometric mean was 7457.157, given Brown (7043), Columbia (9001), Cornell (15043), Dartmouth (4459), Harvard (6788), Penn (10019), Princeton (5428), & Yale (6092)), it’s a lot more noticeable than at a university of 45,000 or more (including universities such as Michigan (46k), Michigan State (50k), Arizona State (72k), Ohio State (61k), USC (48.5k), & Washington (46k) — these latter figures are all consolidated undergrad/grad numbers but given that undergrads make up 2/3ds or more at all of these universities, it still makes the point). Furthermore, a lot of sports at Ivy Plus institutions are the sports and activities that are common only amongst upper-class people (e.g. crew, fencing, polo, lacrosse, squash, sailing, water polo, etc). This factor is part of the reason that student-athletes at many selective institutions skew heavily rich and white, which in turn skews the university’s race/ethnicity percentages as a whole. Part of the reason for the Operation Varsity Blues scandal was precisely because athletics coaches at many prestigious universities do have a lot of leeway in designating recruited athletes, which was why Rick Singer targeted coaches for bribes. USC is a bit of an extreme case in that it has had a rapid rise in its selectivity since the 1990s (the joke used to be that USC stood for “University of Spoiled Children” or “University of Second Chances”, now it has admissions rates of less than 1 in 6, or not that much better than the Ivy League institutions), but because of its long tradition of athletic success & the power that coaches have there to serve as the de facto admissions officers for recruited athletes, this left them especially open to the fraud that Rick Singer helped perpetrate at USC, but coaches at Yale and Stanford amongst other places were bribed as well by him and his associates. It bears reminding people that the Ivy League is in fact an athletic conference, and the universities that comprise it do in fact care how well they do athletically, since athletic accomplishment does also drive alumni donations. A recent Washington Post article (Bribery scandal points to the athletic factor: A major force in college admissions) noted Brown had as many student-athletes as Michigan did in 2017 (910), although Michigan’s student population is several multiples bigger in student population. This same article also notes that:

There were more varsity athletes at Cornell University (1,116) and Harvard (1,115) in 2017 than at much larger Ohio State University (1,065) and the University of Michigan (910), according to federal data. Outside the Ivy League, Stanford University had 840 — including 22 sailors — and Duke University had 659. Duke said about 5 percent of its admission offers go to athletic recruits.

Even at Harvard, where coaches don’t have de facto automatic admissions authority for recruited athletes as exists at other universities, including elite ones, those athletes the coaches did recruit had an admissions rate of better than 5 in 6, as it was roughly 87 per cent (cf College Sports Are Affirmative Action for Rich White Students, Who gets the largest college admissions advantage? Let’s look at the athletes, How admissions and athletics intertwine at Ivy League colleges, There’s a lot of talk about changing college admissions after ‘Varsity Blues’, don’t hold your breath, The Unseen Student Victims of the “Varsity Blues” College-Admissions Scandal, https://www.chronicle.com/article/The-U-of-Southern-California/245912?fbclid=IwAR2SSvqoImd2p5XMovAVHHC7SWSMR2-1S7P9NY-iSvmLPJK8xrfgMRupTrM, Bribes and Big-Time Sports: U.S.C. Finds Itself, Once Again, Facing Scandal).

For all sorts of reasons based in US history, traditionally underrepresented minorities (by which I mean African-Americans and Latinos primarily) often have a percentage of admits that universities tend to grant them. Call it “affirmative action” or “attempted recompense for centuries of adverse discrimination” or whatever you want, but that’s also a portion of each class at each Ivy, same with “hardship” cases (the kid who was homeless or had a drug-addicted parent who was able to climb above their station, or the disabled veteran who had a struggle adapting to civilian life, etc). At a minimum, if you’re cynical, this is because the Ivy Plus universities want the good press coverage that comes with these sorts of admissions, although there is recognition within such institutions that those who have overcome long odds also have what it takes to contribute to society at large in a major way, even if it’s not reflected in a near perfect standardised test score or a maxed out GPA. Ivies also have a geographic distribution target they’d like to meet as well (getting a percentage of kids from the Mountain West, West Coast, etc). As an example of this, Harvard’s admissions process, as well as how they categorise applicants into various segments, is described here: ‘Lopping,’ ‘Tips’ and the ‘Z-List’: Bias Lawsuit Explores Harvard’s Admissions Secrets.

Undeniably, Asians get the short end of the stick on a percentage basis (cf Rejected for Being Asian: Students Sue Harvard, UNC Over Race-Based Admissions, The model minority is losing patience, The Myth of American Meritocracy, Fewer Asians Need Apply, for examples), but of course, it’s not going to change, since any example that people in those lawsuits will bring up in any such claim, the selective institutions being sued would, or in fact had, probably combed through their admissions files to find 10-20 kids who were rejected that were of a similar profile to the one making such a claim that they admitted that was better on metrics than the one making such a claim. As Harvard Law School professor Jeannie Suk Gersen highlights in an essay she wrote in The New Yorker in 2017, “The Uncomfortable Truth About Affirmative Action and Asian-Americans”:

The Harvard lawsuit does raise uncomfortable questions, especially in a time when it is also becoming less comfortable to be an immigrant. Is an admissions process that disadvantages a minority group benign, or even desirable, if that minority group is demographically overrepresented in higher education? Should colleges pursue their interest in a diverse class by limiting admissions of a minority group whose numbers may otherwise overwhelm the class?

As she notes within that essay after the excerpt I cite, given that US legal doctrine prohibits explicit racial quotas, that this question can’t be discussed openly, and implies (I think correctly) that race-neutral methods of selection that still have that racially-disparate impact are used as a means of balancing (tests such as school districts with percentage of free/reduced lunches for students or median income levels at x percentage of the poverty level being two examples that would disproportionately positively impact traditionally underrepresented minority applicants without being explicitly racially-based). She later states in that essay:

In the pursuit of diversity, some amount of racial balancing seems unavoidable, however taboo. We should not want the composition of our elite universities to be wildly out of proportion to the racial composition of our country.

The recent lawsuits against Harvard have had heretofore failed (Harvard Does Not Discriminate Against Asian-Americans in Admissions, Judge Rules), something I think is utterly predictable as an outcome. Never mind the legal issues which Judge Allison D. Burroughs noted in her decision of October 2019, I think from a practical perspective that it is undeniably a difficult burden to prove that a class you belong to is being adversely impacted when that class is disproportionately positively represented in something like university admissions relative to population percentage in the United States. Judge Burroughs noted in her decision that Asian-Americans were accepted at rates equivalent to other applicants and made up more than 20 per cent of the admitted class at Harvard whilst making up roughly 6 per cent of the US population. A fair amount of research exists, including by John Carey et al., the authors of the recently published book Campus Diversity, that states regardless of what demographic groups that a university student may hail from, that on the whole, those students do support racial/ethnic diversity at their universities. It should be noted that affirmative action based admissions make up such a small percentage of elite universities’ intake it’s not what fundamentally skews the numbers away from Asians and towards whites, it’s because, as has been detailed in many places (and elsewhere in this essay) that because a non-trivial percentage of the white students at Ivy Plus institutions are development and other special cases, legacies, and recruited athletes, which are all prima facie legitimate reasons to admit someone, even if they skew heavily white and rich, and that admission on the basis on one or more of those factors are much more likely to survive legal challenge than affirmative action is, which fundamentally also so far has survived legal challenges, even if those legal challenges have restricted the scope of affirmative action programmes somewhat since the 1970s. As an example of this, over two in five of white undergraduate students at Harvard were those who were recruited athletes, legacies, or other special categories including development cases and children of Harvard staff and faculty, the last notably being the smallest of those groups (cf NY Times: How Elite Schools Stay So White, Slate: 43 Percent of White Students Harvard Admits Are Legacies, Jocks, or the Kids of Donors and Faculty). It should be noted that many universities cover the tuition payments of the dependants of their employees as part of the benefits package it provides to their employees as a means of recruitment and retention of its faculty and staff, which gives the universities in question a fiduciary incentive to let those children (and occasionally spouses) of their staff and faculty matriculate at their university, keeping the money for themselves (or at least minimising the loss of the imputed income that such a seat is worth), instead of sending that money elsewhere which is a direct loss financially to the institution. It often benefits the university employee family-member as well, as at many institutions, it’s full tuition remission at one’s own institution but a fractional remission if their dependant goes elsewhere (a cap of 50 to 75 per cent of total tuition & fees cost is common for such plans). Those sitting on admissions committees know this, and will certainly be inclined to help each other out in this way. Tuition-remission benefits are very longstanding at many higher-education institutions, and in some cases, such as Vanderbilt, they extend back to the foundation of the institution itself. (Many Employees on Campus Don’t Pay Their Kids’ Tuition). However, I think it’s certainly fair to note that if you grow up in an academic environment all of your life, you’re usually well-prepared to engage in advanced study, as well as have been culturally exposed to many things that would make you an attractive candidate to a university (as a for instance: professors or staff researchers who take their children on summer research trips to various places, those children will usually have something interesting to say in their personal essays when applying to university). Having a career academic as a parent also means, that even though they may not have the same income level as people with graduate and professional degrees in more financially remunerative fields (to use the term David Brooks coined in a column for The Weekly Standard in 1996: “status-income disequilibrium” (which later got a lengthy discussion in his book BOBOs in Paradise (2000)), university professors and others with status-income disequilibrium also know what universities tend to look for in students they admit (as they often serve on committees that influence student admissions and curricula in the case of university staff and faculty or have attended those same universities in the case of others of that ilk). That is to say, as an example, that the child of an Ivy League educated university professor, federal regulator, or journalist in a household making 100,000–150,000 a year will have more of the appropriate resources and be better moulded growing up to be able to climb the cursus honorum of the new elite in America than the child of two immigrants (or even two native-born Americans) who are successful business people making double or even treble that amount, even if these two example children grew up in similar neighbourhoods or attended similar educational institutions growing up. There is a lot of cultural capital & other insider knowledge that the former household tends to have (as well as other status-oriented rivalries) that the latter does not, which causes a steeper learning curve for those who are first-generation students at an elite institution.

As an article in Vox pointed out after the Varsity Blues operation became reported about is what universities can legally get away with in their admissions policies (The real college admissions scandal is what’s legal). The lawsuits filed by Students for Fair Admission against Harvard et al. are still ongoing, as an appeal to that ruling was filed recently in the First Circuit Court of Appeals in February 2020 regarding the Harvard case, and I expect will, as the Fisher v. University of Texas cases did, go all the way to the US Supreme Court for final adjudication there. It also needs to be noted that even with affirmative action policies in place, an analysis in the NY Times in 2017 found that African-American and Latino students make up a lower percentage of students at America’s top institutions (their pool of 100 institutions included the Ivies, several liberal-arts colleges and other selective private institutions, as well as state flagships) than they did 35 years prior, with the share of African-American first-year university students being fundamentally unchanged from 1980 to the end of the study period (2015), and Latino students having a positive growth rate in elite university attendance, but this increase hasn’t kept up with the growth rate of young Latinos in America, causing a widening gap. This means that even as the percentage of white students at the vast majority of these universities has decreased, the vast majority of the students replacing them are of Asian descent (Even With Affirmative Action, Blacks and Hispanics Are More Underrepresented at Top Colleges Than 35 Years Ago).

Because so many of America’s elite these days aren’t people who own their own businesses, but people who have passed through a series of meritocratic gates in many ways equivalent to the cursus honorum of the Roman Republic and Empire or the mandarin system of imperial China, they also shape in large part how their children are raised in such ways that maximise their chances to pass through those same gates of achievement, so the institutions on one’s CV matter a whole lot more than they used to. That is to say that the phenomenon known as “helicopter parenting” is, despite seeming to be insane to an external observer, the product of fundamentally rational choices in a highly competitive environment, as Pamela Druckerman pointed out in an op-ed in 2019, even if the costs to do so in both money and effort continue to climb. The achievements gained on this path don’t tend to make people happier of course, because there’s always more to achieve, as well as the fact that one’s educational pedigree isn’t technically inheritable, so it means the child has to recreate all of the things the parents have done (even if the odds of getting into the same university increase markedly for you on the basis of being a legacy applicant or even more generally that parents who have attended elite universities know what it takes to prepare someone to matriculate at one). This means that their lives are way more tightly controlled, in order to compete against everyone else attempting to achieve success in the modern era, which is why so many of the most “successful” people according to conventional measurements aren’t very adventurous anymore, there’s not a lot of room for experimentation or much else anymore, since the road to professional success is, for the most part, so very narrow, and doesn’t tend to reward the inquisitiveness and rebelliousness that many great people of the past had going for them. All of this in no small part plays to why so many people aren’t happy, or even outright anxious or angry at the current way of things. It also means that the reaction to the lack of economic mobility amongst so many is also so strong (cf How the Chris Hayes book Twilight of the Elites explains Trump’s appeal, America’s new aristocracy, America’s Professional Elite: Wealthy, Successful and Miserable, How Life Became an Endless, Terrible Competition, The world’s nicest, most law-abiding generation, America’s New Mandarins, After-School Activities Make Educational Inequality Even Worse).

In the early 2000s, Daniel Golden wrote a series of articles in the Wall Street Journal that won him a Pulitzer (which can be found here — Daniel Golden’s Pulitzer Prize-Winning Articles), that later became the basis of his book The Price of Admission, in which he went into many of the issues discussed here, so if you were aware of the situation surrounding admissions in higher education, none of the news that came out about Varsity Blues etc. was in any way surprising. Mr Golden also followed up that analysis with one in Town and Country in 2016 (How Wealthy Families Manipulate Admissions at Elite Universities). The bribery scandal that Rick Singer was at the centre of was more extreme in how far it went, but it wasn’t exactly novel as to its intent. It was driven by the increasing cost that it takes to secure a place in a highly selective institution seen as necessary to career success, either through direct means as development cases, or through merit-based pathways such as recruited athletes and other folks whose families often pay a great deal of money to develop that natural talent, as well as the cost of things like standardised test preparation, private tutoring, admissions counsellors, etc. which are all seen as necessary expenses given how prevalent they are amongst such families (or even that such services are necessary, which many families just aren’t aware of), even though that competition is generally harmful to those who participate in it, regardless of if they “win” or not (cf How the rich really play ‘Who Wants To Be an Ivy Leaguer’, Consumed by competition, parents fuel a college admissions game that few can play, Kids Are the Victims of the Elite-College Obsession).

I should note that I’m not saying that Ivies and other highly selective institutions as a norm can’t do with an overhaul of their admissions processes, there was a good article in The Atlantic about that (Why Elite-College Admissions Need an Overhaul), although it can simply be described as an arms race with students (or their parents) trying to one-up each other to make themselves more distinctive thus attractive to admissions committees, and another about how we got here (When Did Applying to College Start Making Students Crazy?). Few of the elite universities in America, including the Ivies, claim they only admit on academic merit, as far as I know most of them never have made such a claim, which is one of the flaws in those claiming discrimination against their admissions applications being rejected even though they had better standardised test scores and grades than others who were admitted. Ivy Plus institutions admit world-class athletes, actors, and musicians as well as those of other forms of talent/merit as well, as part of their cohorts each year, especially under the modern premise of how admissions are conducted at such institutions. This means for the most part that to be very smart and high achieving academically won’t be enough, as the recent lawsuits revealed, every Ivy could fill up its entire cohort every year of people with perfect standardised test scores and GPAs (or very close to them), and still reject the vast majority of applicants. To quote one of the subjects that Daniel Golden interviewed for the Price of Admission (Daniel Saracino, then Notre Dame’s assistant provost for enrolment): “The poor shmuck who has to get in on his own has to walk on water.” This also means, that for those that aren’t in one of the “special” admissions categories, and even more than a few that are, that the aleatoric, that is to say random chance, also plays a role in who gets admitted and who gets rejected.

I hope the system can be changed, it doesn’t do a lot of good for most people including those who make it into and through Ivy League institutions (cf Alexandra Robbins’ piece in The Atlantic from 2019 describing how the Ivy League obsession is hurting the young adults competing in that admissions race), however, given that most of the premises which undergird the current system are valid, at least with how Americans see themselves and see how things are granted to people — that is to say, since many of those who attend Ivy Plus institutions are generally smart, persistent, and hard-working, as well as have racked up achievements all of their lives before making it to university, so in many cases are quite individually deserving, even if in many ways, the odds are skewed in their favour because of their parents’ education and wealth and cultural awareness of what it takes to make it into the modern American meritocracy. It also means that those who have achieved their position in society because of passing through those seemingly meritocratic gates will have a lot harder time giving up what they believe they rightfully earned through their intelligence, persistence, and hard work, instead of the value of a fortunate birth to intelligent and high-achieving parents who had placed a glass floor underneath their children (cf The Hoarding of the American Dream). It should be noted that with respect to legacy admissions, that the children of those who get into a selective university that has legacy admissions preferences benefits from them…it however does take a lot of time to grow non-white alumni pools though, although over the last two generations they have in fact grown. This means that those non-white students who are matriculated at Ivy League institutions in turn become alumni and defenders of the very privilege of legacy preference they had to work against in order to get in, because to cite an essay on this topic by Scott Turow, no one wants to start a revolution with his or her own children, which means that even if you recognise that legacy admissions policies are collectively sub-optimal, you would be foolish to voluntarily give up such a benefit for your children if they can claim it because of you or your spouse (cf “No One Wants to Start the Revolution”: Colleges, Bribes, and the Lesson of Legacy Kids). This is a collective action issue comparable to (for one well-known example) the NHL in the 1970s in which many hockey players wanted to wear helmets, but didn’t want to do it unless forced, because of the fact that doing it of their own accord would put them at a competitive disadvantage even if it was better for their health and safety, but knowing if everyone did, they would be all better off. In August 1979, John Zeigler, then President of the NHL, imposed a mandate for all incoming players into the NHL starting that season, but allowed for those who were already in the NHL that helmet wear would be at their own preference, and 70 per cent of players who were exempt from the rule chose to do so within a season of Zeigler’s mandate coming into force, which imposed a solution to this collective action problem (cf Thomas Schelling’s paper in the Journal of Conflict Resolution from 1973 for additional details). As has been noted by Lauren Rivera in her book Pedigree, the related article of hers in the Harvard Business Review in which she discusses how much talent and money is wasted in so doing, and other works by other authors, the obsession with Ivy Plus institutions is unfortunately justified as long as elite professional services firms restrict the vast majority of their hiring to Ivy Plus institutions.

All of this means, realistically, unless or until there is sufficient pressure on the institutions to change or changes in law force those changes in the behaviour of institutions (or even changes from the prestigious institutions themselves in how they and their ilk recruit their employees), they have no incentive to do so, and as a result won’t. Meaning that the obsession with Ivy Plus institutions will remain and in fact only get worse, making it even harder to get into one of those select institutions, collectively impacting us all for the worse. That’s the bitter truth as I see it, and I don’t see it changing in our lifetime.

Engineer, PMP, Left Coaster, UVA/Penn/Cornell alumnus w/ a habit of writing about personal interests. LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/apdgeverett/

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