by Conor Friedersdorf

A reader writes:

I teach at an Ivy, so I could go on at length about the privileges my undergraduates receive. Even in this most recent class, I still had a fair number of students who started at 100k+, flights to the Hamptons, etc... However, what I really wanted to discuss is the effect of elite high schools, which I think is far greater than that of the Ivies. My wife attended Andover, did well, etc... but chose to attend a large public university in the South (read academic burnout here).

After college, from which she barely graduated, she delivered flowers for a living.  In short, nothing doing financially or in life. However, a move to NYC (as I was on an academic odyssey) led to an immediate job in finance at a major company. Mind you, this is a person with a degree in communications, who had not taken math since high school. As part of this job, she had a full six months paid to acquire a variety of licences and skills. The interviews for this position extended over a week and nearly every interviewer inquired not about college but Andover.

This pattern has repeated itself as she has changed jobs. Andover is always discussed. If an interviewer went to Exeter or St. Pauls, that must be mentioned. Her college has never been discussed. Even positions which require minimum GPA's, which she could never meet, are waived. She actually leaves this block blank often on applications, and it is never asked about. Currently, she is a manager at top hedge fund without ever having a degree in finance or an MBA.

I think what is missing in this debate is perspective on numbers. The best high schools are very small affairs. The Ivies actually graduate a far greater number of kids. Boarding schools build life long bonds as well that are much stronger due to their size. They take care of their own in ways that Harvard cannot imagine.

This world is completely foreign to me. Until I moved to the East Coast I thought Exeter was a college and I hadn't heard of St. Pauls until I read this e-mail. I also grew up on Andover Place in Costa Mesa, Calfornia's college park, and thought it was a college.

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