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The advantages of an elite education (1/2).

This is the first of a two part blog. After posting some Berkeley videos on YouTube, several prospective high school students started asking me questions regarding the school and of college in general. I gave out my e-mail in a video and have since gotten received many questions from them.

One question yielded an unexpectedly long response from me: “…I feel like I’m drifting away from my friends because I’m working so hard and isolating myself. I am barely hanging out with anyone, and rarely doing anything besides studying. Do you think it’ll be worth it?”

I steered my answer towards my viewpoint of higher education in general and how it has pertained to myself and some others. Here are my thoughts on the advantages of an elite education from the eyes of a Berkeley student.

– More resources to interact with the outer world: I studied abroad in Beijing this summer. Berkeley’s study abroad programs have agreements with other universities throughout the school, and they’re the best ones of the country. I studied at Peking University (PKU), China’s #1 school and Asia’s #4 school. Several friends of mine from Berkeley studied in Cambridge this summer, widely considered the best university in the world.

On the other hand, a friend of mine attending another university also studied abroad in Beijing. She told me that her school was ranked #30 in China.

When looking at study abroad options, Berkeley only has partnerships with the best universities in the world. Callisto helps a lot with finding work or internships, many of them exclusive to Berkeley students.

– Name recognition: The real world is superficial. An employer told me his thoughts of educational backgrounds when reading resumes. Disclaimer: not trying to rag on any school. He gave me an example of who he would be more inclined to hire. He said that a 4.0 from a school he’s never heard of and is unsure about the academic rigor doesn’t mean anything to him. In comparison, a 3.5 from Berkeley means something to him. Even a 3.0 from Berkeley means something important, he said. Graduating from a renowned school gives you more opportunities as I mentioned before, and that includes job hunting. Using your degree from a school isn’t just about how much you know of the material, it’s that you learned it from a brand name school itself. Superficial, but real.

My professors at PKU knew of a couple professors that I had studied with at Berkeley. Readings from PKU included Berkeley professors’ books and articles. Those in Taiwan and China who knew I’m a student at Berkeley immediately changed their behavior and tone towards me in a respectful, awestruck manner. Receiving an elite education automatically commands the respect of the masses.

– Opportunities with the future generation: When you look at current leaders today, you see that most of them are alma maters of renowned schools. We of today are the future of tomorrow. Attending a prestigious school connects us to those said people.

On a smaller, less-extreme note, college is where you’ll meet a ton of people who you’ll stay in contact with for the rest of your life. Many of those will be successful in their own realms and will be good at what they do. Because of my aforementioned reasons, they’ll probably be influential – those who attended the same school thus have that advantage as friends, acquaintances, or connections. Networking in a “better” school is thus more beneficial in comparison to a less recognized school.

– Incentive: For many years, I’ve said that classes are a waste of time. That everything we learn in the classroom could be learned by renting a library book. Yes, I’ve been affected and believe in the movie Good Will Hunting. Even today, that still holds true. However, the difference between learning it inside and outside the classroom is that you’re almost forced to by the former via: being assigned grades, threatened of being put on academic probation, not wanting to lose face for doing poorly in the class, and/or competing for a higher grade against other students.

I’ve learned many things outside the classroom that others have learned inside the classroom. For example, my knowledge of human nutrition and bodybuilding came from self-research through books, online articles, and trial-and-error with my own body. This experience got my bodybuilding sponsorships as well as online recognition three years ago. One of the easiest classes I’ve taken my entire life was Human Nutrition – not once did I study, as I knew virtually everything from prior knowledge.

Most of my friends, on the other hand, aren’t sure what foods are what, the importance of vitamins, nutrients, phytochemicals, antioxidants, etc. They don’t bother checking, as it takes consistency and research to find out reliable information from credible sources. Only from taking classes did they learn things. Without giving most people incentives, it’s difficult for them to venture off on their own accord.

– Easier reaching your full potential: During this summer in Beijing, I talked to another classmate from Yale and another one from University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. They surprised me by hating on Berkeley an incredible amount. When I asked why, one of the two reasons was because “it is too competitive.” I then told some of the Berkeley kids in the program what I was told, and they immediately agreed with the statement. I also agreed. Berkeley is extremely, ridiculously competitive.

The school has developed a reputation for being so “good,” producing so many Nobel Laureates than “better” schools, has rankings in either top 5 or top 10 of virtually all undergrad, graduate, and doctoral programs, and whatever other achievements there are. I first thought it was only me when I told a few close Berkeley friends, “I feel so ordinary/underachieving/stupid here.” Turns out, EVERYONE feels the same. Why?

Because we’ve been conditioned to believe that everyone around us is so great, and that we must work ten times harder to also be great. Suppose an average person at Berkeley has an ordinarily work-hard mentality of 10. His perception of everyone else in the school is at 50. Therefore, he increases his ambitions and efforts by five times the usual amount. The problem is, everyone else is thinking the same way; they have a level of 10, but because of the misperception of everyone being at 50, they too increase how hard they work. As a result of all that hard work, Berkeley accomplishes stuff. The same goes with other “good” schools with similar reputations, like Wellesley and MIT.

At a “less elite” school, everyone could accomplish the same things. The reason why they are less likely to is due to the perception (and sometimes [not always] the reality) that the average person doesn’t need to work as hard to achieve the desired grade, finish the project, or whatever. Even if their average work level is 10, like most people at Cal, they think that it’s all they need to do to succeed or survive. They could reach the work-hard level of 50 if they spend the time and effort, but why do so without incentive? Incentive is a very, very important social concept as I’ve learned through the years.

In Conclusion: In the end, your life doesn’t depend on your education. If you drop out of high school, you could be the next genius, billionaire, or Nobel Prize winner. But that probability would be one in one billion people. An elite education increases the probabilities of achieving those honorable feats to one in one million. You helped yourself a tremendous amount by obtaining that degree and using it as a tool. You’ve received more opportunities. You’ve worked harder and probably learned more stuff. And you’ve become an alumni of a brand name network.

Thus, the advantages of an elite education makes the rest of your life, on average, easier than others.

The next post is “The disadvantages of an elite education (2/2).” Content will be as advertised.

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1 Comment so far

  1. Pingback: How I got accepted into UC Berkeley, and why it doesn’t matter (that much). | Andy Cheng

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