This story was first published in our Paying for College 101 Facebook community. It’s been edited for clarity and flow. The name of the member has been omitted to protect their privacy.
I attended Yale back when it was comparatively less costly and simpler to gain admission. Although I’m appreciative of my time there, it’s important to note there is a potential downside to such “elite” schools worth considering.
Understanding the Elite School Environment
Indeed, being surrounded by so many gifted and intriguing classmates is genuinely rewarding. However, if you’re eager to experiment with new electives and are not incredibly self-assured, Yale and similar institutions might pose a challenge. These schools are filled with students who already excel at virtually all extracurricular activities.
For instance, you wouldn’t ordinarily write for the Yale Daily News without previous school newspaper experience, unless, of course, you’re daring and overflowing with confidence. The same applies to acting in plays, some of which were populated by future Broadway or Hollywood stars, making it daunting for a first-time actor.
Personal Experiences and Opportunities at Yale
I attempted intramural crew, but my inexperience among seasoned rowers led to a discouraging first race. I also couldn’t participate in the symphony due to my non-music major, nor did I try to join any of the a cappella singing groups, which were filled with talented and experienced singers, and joining resembled a fraternity rush process.
That said, I found a few activities to partake in — a couple of chamber orchestras, and playing the tambourine in the zany marching band. However, my heavy academic workload often made me feel as though I was missing out on other opportunities, despite my admiration for everyone else’s talents.
Reflection Period and Transition to Medical School
Following graduation, I took a year off before medical school, partly because my non-science major required that I take physics in my final year, and partly to reflect on my college experience and overcome some academic burnout.
Positive Experiences and Exploration in Medical School
With a class of just 120 students in medical school, I found myself eager to try all sorts of activities without the intimidation factor. I established and distributed a newspaper, designed our med school sweatshirt, co-founded an a cappella singing group with another Yale alum (we weren’t the best, but had a lot of fun), participated in intramural flag football, created a short film for our annual “class show”, and collaborated on a yearbook for our class.
The Impact of the College Experience
I believe my wish to do similar things in college was the catalyst for my involvement in medical school. However, I also believe that had my Yale classmates not been so exceptionally skilled, I might have felt more at liberty to participate in more activities during my undergraduate years. I wasn’t at the same level of proficiency, quite simply.
Advice for Parents and Students
This scenario probably isn’t unique to Yale or other schools with large student bodies. With so many talented individuals, daring to take part in something new can be intimidating. As parents, helping our children think about the type of experiences they want to have is important.
If they are interested in exploring new activities outside of the classroom and aren’t exceptionally confident or gifted, they might be better suited to a smaller school not filled with superstar students. However, if they are already skilled in a particular area and wish to pursue it further, that’s a different consideration.
When making a decision about higher education, these aspects should form part of a thorough cost/benefit analysis.
Use College Insights to help find merit aid and schools that fit the criteria most important to your student. You’ll not only save precious time, but your student will avoid the heartache of applying to schools they aren’t likely to get into or can’t afford to attend.
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