The Private School – Ivy League Myth

How many of you think that your child will have a higher chance of being someone who changes the world for the better if they attend a highly regarded private school followed by an Ivy League school? The majority of people I have come across think that this is the case, and chances are you do too.

The fact is, there are few iconoclasts, entrepreneurs, artists and just about everything but investment bankers and management consultants coming out of these schools today.

“At the lowest level of the investment banking hierarchy are the analysts. To find this young talent, the I-banks send their manicured young bankers out to the Whartons, Harvards and Princetons of the world to roll out the red carpet for the top undergraduates and begin the process of destroying whatever noble ideals the youngsters have left.”
― John Rolfe, Monkey Business: Swinging Through the Wall Street Jungle.

Graduates of our nation’s top ranked universities have excellent credentials and test taking skills, but lack the skills necessary to excel in society. They are caught up in a meritocratic machine where they are not given genuine opportunities to overcome adversity and develop character. Nobel Laureate James Heckman and economist Tim Kautz summarize the evidence of what is necessary, pointing out that soft skills [e.g, non-cognitive skills] predict success in life and that programs which enhance soft skills have an important place in one’s education.

Today in a majority of the highly academic environments in the USA, no one fails at anything. Most of them work really hard, but are never faced with a difficult decision or have to tackle any real challenges that would have helped them build their character. Thus, they enter the real world lost and afraid to take chances. As Harvard grad and Law professor, James Kwak, wrote, the typical Harvard graduate “is more driven by fear of not being a success than by a concrete desire to do anything particular.”

What Kwak stated above is pretty close to the definition of a mental trait I look for when advising teams on which players NOT to select. I classify them as ‘Look-Goods.’ Look-Goods are always concerned with keeping the appearance of success and unwilling to put themselves into situations where they could fail. Over the years I have found that people with a Look-Good mindset, rarely improve and usually fall back over time. In addition a Look-Good mindset puts you at risk for depressive issues later in life as they begin to wonder what they could have accomplished if they were not so paralyzed by the fear of failure in their 20’s.

Have you ever wondered why no one who has received a perfect score on the SAT has achieved the status of an Icon? They usually go on to attend our most prestigious universities and all along the way receive feedback about how great they are. This sets them up for failure as they never learn how to push through difficulties and persevere long enough to overcome them. Often their first failure is fatal to their career as it shatters the glass elevator they were riding up to that point.

Long-term success is built on taking chances and learning from your mistakes. It’s the characteristics and skills you gain through overcoming adversity that set you up to thrive later. Have you ever heard that the hardest part is getting into a prestigious school? This is true as most private schools refuse to let you fail. It seems like the Ivy League schools are all run by Look-Goods as once you have been accepted and enroll in their school, they make it virtually impossible for you to flunk out. You see, if a bunch of students were to flunk out each year, then they would not ‘Look-Good’ for having let in unqualified students.

Most parents, who can afford it, send their kid to private high schools like Harvard-Westlake, Riverdale, etc., to give them a leg up and a better chance to get into a prestigious college. But what they really offer is not so much a leg up, but rather a high probability of non-failure, just like the Ivy League schools they hope to attend in the future.


You can follow Sam on Twitter @SuperTaoInc




Comments are closed.