Did Dad Change His Mind About Cornell?


I want to thank everybody who weighed in on my last post:

Dad:  Should I Force My Son to Attend Cornell?

I think everyone was in agreement (yeah!) that the young man, who enjoyed a great freshman year at Washington University in St. Louis, should NOT be forced to transfer to Cornell University. My visitors shared all sorts of excellent reasons for why the young man should sit tight. If you haven’t already, I’d urge you to read the comments.

cornell b

Cornell U.

When the dad emailed me earlier this week about his desire to make his son to attend the school through Cornell’s appalling deferred admission option, I knew this would provide provocative blog fodder. (Here is a New York Times’ article from 2011 about Cornell’s practice.)

I told the dad that he would get a lot of thoughtful feedback from parents who visit my blog. And that’s exactly what happened.

One reason why I was eager to share this dad’s email is because I think it illustrates quite effectively how the Ivy League mystique has turned the brain of some highly educated, wealthy parents into mush. Lacking any kind of self-awareness, they train their focus on getting their children into one of the eight Ivy League schools.

I feel for bright kids whose parents, in seeking bragging rights, have been riding them for years as they demand perfection inside and outside the classroom. Growing up with overbearing parents can be hell.

The Ivy League Mystique

The dad seems to think that Cornell is a better school simply because the institution is in the Ivy League.  Actually, the Ivy League athletic conference. You and I know this is crazy, but there are parents who consider this gospel.

As a group, students with Ivy League degrees do enjoy greater income, but that’s not because of the Ivies, but the pedigree of the graduates. Ivy League grads are primarily the children of wealthy, educated parents and that provides the advantage. Studies have shown that the only students  who do greatly benefit from an Ivy League degree are low-income and first-generation students.

A pair of authoritative studies should have put to rest the myth that grads with Ivy League degrees fare better than other equally bright Americans. Here are two previous posts that I’ve written about this topic for my own blog and The New York Times:

The Myth of the Ivy League

The Reality of College Choice

A recent Gallup/Purdue survey concluded that where you attend college isn’t nearly as important at your happiness and well-being as the experiences that you have at whatever institution that you end up at. Here is the post that I wrote last month about the survey:

How My Daughter Made the Most Out of College

Has the Dad’s Opinion Changed?

I thought you’d be interested to hear whether the dad has made a decision after reading all the comments.  I heard from him yesterday after he had perused them. Here is what I asked him:

I’m curious if your son will be able to stay at Wash U? I do hope so!

Here’s the dad’s response:

I expect so.  Like I said, my heart says let him stay.  Your readers are leading my head in that direction, too.

I was stunned that the dad still wasn’t totally committed to letting his son stay at Wash U. Where you surprised?

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  1. I hate to sound rude, but this father seems like a bit of a jerk and a bit self-centered as well.
    Just because he went to Cornell doesn’t mean his son should. I sincerely hope he doesn’t act like a snob to his son, if his son decides to stay at Wash U. This dad needs a reality check and maybe he needs to realize that an Ivy League degree is not everything. Also, the boy and sister were initially rejected from Cornell, so maybe the dad needs to realize that the kids are not quite Cornell material….which is ok.

  2. Is this angst that of the father…..or of the son? All indications point to the former.
    Perhaps a few sessions with a family counselor would be beneficial.

  3. Not surprised. I’m not sure I believe that his heart is in the right place where his son is concerned. Maybe he should start saving big bucks to buy a building or something for the school to ensure his grandkids can get the hallowed four year degree from Cornell so they can be in his Ivy League fraternity. (Sorry if that sounds harsh, but seriously he needs to get out of the way so his kid(s) can be themselves!) I agree with Phoebe’s take.

  4. Actually, the Ivy League did not exist as an all-sports conference until 1954. These schools had agreed nine years earlier not to grant football scholarships, but they were not organized as a football league.

  5. I didn’t see the earlier post so I was able to read the first post, the comments and then this post back to back. But it’s a time that I don’t think I saw my opinion expressed in the comments.

    I’m not a bit surprised the father changed his mind – because he chose to hear arguments from a community that he had every expectation would hold the opposite opinion that he does! I think that’s great. He really wanted to challenge his own opinion, to really change the validity of it. I think maybe what he was looking for was confirmation that his son will be okay if he lets him stay at the school he’s currently attending and give up Cornell.

    And I agree that family dynamic should play a part in a college decision – not everything, but a part. I attended the same university as all my siblings and was able to attend the same years as two of them. I think it was a really great experience.

    But was it perfect? No. While I had a choice on where to attend college (I was one of the older siblings), in hindsight I don’t feel like I had much choice in what I majored in. And I was expected to get a PhD – which I did. I still question both of those choices. So yes, I think listening carefully to the child is a good idea. And I also think that the dad giving his son advice on what he might give up is also important. That’s what parents are for – to give guidance and direction. But at some point parents have to start *dictating* what their child does. If his son has heard all the arguments and still wants to sit tight, it sounds like a well informed decision.

    All the best to the dad, the son, and the sister!

  6. “I was bothered by the idea in my head that he’d be leaving an Ivy League education on the table which has objective and subjective value in many (though clearly not all) circles. And, it may be that those circles are not all that progressive or meritorious. Yet, those circles exists and your brother probably knows well what I’m talking about.”

    The dad is hyper-focused on the shallow “Cornell-only/Ivy League-only” circle of gatekeeper alums. The dad’s naive or arrogant view that only a fellow alum could know or understand this circle demonstrates why Cornell’s odious acceptance practice persists.

    As a perhaps painful reminder to the dad, the Cornell “gatekeeper” rejected your twins as worthy of the four year, “full Cornell experience”. Cornell is the one sending the message that your twins are good but not quite good enough. I could see how the dad’s ego would be bruised by Cornell’s rejection and how the dad would wish to prove that his children are worthy of the past Cornell experience that he values so highly.

    “It’s also funny how so few of the commenters give much attention to the dynamic of twins or siblings or family. They view it in a very linear black-and-white manner. Yours is the only comment that seems to understand what’s going on at the family level. I do take exception, however, to your last exhortation. In a family, decisions are not made “on their own.” Ultimately, they are made by each person, but rarely with teenagers would I expect a decision as big as this to be made without parental consultation.”


    1. The paragraph you quoted above gave me some pause as well. It is interesting to me that the dad appears to be viewing this through the lens of his son (a twin) being left out of the family’s Cornell fraternity and how he might feel about that in the future. But he also, if I remember correctly, characterized his son as having had a less than positive high school experience, while his daughter (the other twin), apparently more social/outgoing than her brother? had a good high school experience. It seems to me one could turn this lens completely around and see the situation, not as the son being “left out,” but exactly the opposite: for the first time, his son finding a place where he “fits in.” I know I am really projecting here, but maybe the son has benefited from stepping out of his sister’s shadow? Maybe he really wants his own place in the sun.

      I can’t understand why this father isn’t thrilled that his son is thriving. And it makes me sad for this boy that thriving!! somehow doesn’t seem enough for his father.

  7. I commend the dad for (1) allowing you to put his first email on your blog and being honest about his feelings and the situation (which garnered a great deal of negative feedback – no surprise there but some of the feedback had to sting) and (2) for answering your follow up honestly as well. Few people are willing to be so open about something they know will be criticized – and we all learn from those that are willing to share these situations. It sounds very much like he’ll make the right choice.

  8. Do not be stunned. He obviously needs time to process all the information and opinions of your readers and it’s perfectly natural that he doesn’t switch gears so quickly after only one day. After all, he’s been hardwired for many years to value an Ivy League education (Cornell, in particular) over some school in Missouri that he probably never even heard of back in his college days. On the bright side, he did say that his heart is in the right place and his head is getting there. I commend him for listening to others who can see the bigger picture, and hopefully he’ll do the right thing.