My addendum to the “Ivy League Dilemma” post, as there are several lessons to learn from my stumbling successfully into college at the University of Pittsburgh:
1. Always do your homework regarding the kinds of schools you want to attend. Easier said than done when you’re sixteen, the Internet didn’t exist, and your family doesn’t have the money to take you to visit schools prior to applying. Even with the disadvantage of poverty and lack of knowledge, I certainly had enough money for the $1.25 fare to catch the 2 to 110th Street and transfer to the 1 to get off at 116th, then walk up the step to find myself on Columbia University’s campus in ’86 or early ’87. That I didn’t see Columbia’s campus until ’90 is inexcusable.
2. Never allow the slights and ridicule of others determine where you should and shouldn’t go to school. I assumed that because my affluent and White (and some Black) Humanities classmates were snobbish, cliquish and entitled that I would see the exact same patterns at places like Columbia and Yale, making me more likely to see the University of Pittsburgh as an oasis from that side of human nature. It turned out that I was right and wrong. Pitt was so big, with so many different kinds of students, that there wasn’t this exaggerated sense of academic entitlement that I’d been a part of in the six years prior to attending. Over the years, I’ve learned that even truly talented and affluent students could be and often are wonderful human beings.
3. Don’t become intimidated by competition just because of the pressures and failures of the past. I don’t think that I was intimidated per se, but I do think that I wanted to not make a fool of myself among other high academic achievers either. My mix of the schools in which I applied in the fall of ’86 reflects this middle-of-the-road and contradictory thinking:
University of Pittsburgh Columbia University
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Rochester Institute of Technology
Hobart & William Smith Colleges SUNY Buffalo
Yale University University of Rochester
I simply didn’t know enough — or knew anyone who knew enough — about me, my potential, and about the kinds of schools I’d been looking for to apply to the best mix of schools back then. Today, knowing what I was like then, but also knowing what I know now, I can reasonably assume that the list below would’ve been the best one for me to work from a quarter-century ago:
University of Pittsburgh University of Pennsylvania
Cornell University Brown University
University of Toronto University of North Carolina
Georgetown University New York University
Of course, hindsight in my case is 20/10. This list just means I have a ten-year head start in helping my son figure out his higher education plans.