It’s the middle of March, and I’m writing in my diary: “Why do I want to go to Yale?” I draw an illustration of myself next to the tower pictured in all of Yale’s brochures — I did not know, and still do not know the name of it — for visual reference. Then, I start my diary entry with an anecdote: “Today a woman in the grocery store told me that she has a law degree from Yale that she’s never used, and I think that was supposed to dissuade me, but if I got a law degree, I would use it. No offense.”
Moral of the story: A lot of people have opinions on where you should go to college. But beyond that, a deep psychological question was tucked, half-obscured beneath my anecdote: Is Yale worth it? I had been avoiding asking myself this directly.
Some backstory might be useful since I’m guessing most people would respond yes to my question. My parents had both attended public state colleges — the cheapest and only options — and had very little money because they came from big, rural families. As for my story, I had the opportunity to go to another university for free because of a parental employment program, yet on May 1, I enrolled in Yale University and strapped myself into a very large bill.
Yale is a crisp, succinct word; it looks good on T-shirts and water bottles. It seems like a surefire ticket to my future internships, study abroad programs and job opportunities. To me, and to most Americans, the reputation of Yale translates into excellence. But couldn’t any other college do that for me? Yes, it is true that Yale will slingshot me into a high position after graduation; its name does bear legitimate weight in our society, but how can I quantify that? Could I reach the same place if I worked hard at another school? So many of our most successful entrepreneurs, writers and leaders didn’t attend an Ivy League college, or one at all. A Yale degree does not guarantee affluence, notability, happiness or whatever one defines as success. I could end up as a sad wood-shaver trying to publish poetry in Portland, anonymous, staring at my diploma hanging crooked on the wall.
But when trying to understand your own decision, it is important to remember the moral of the story. People always have opinions on where you should go to college. Beginning in January, I was inducted into the insular world of college small talk.
When I sheepishly told friends and adults about my college situation, most would roll their eyes. Many would say I was an idiot for not going to college for free. And then I would have to immediately acknowledge my privilege. I belong to a minority of people that have access to apply to college, have limited societal barriers to attending college, get into college and are able to attend a college financially. My parents have already given me so much and so has the randomized chaotic luck of the universe. My intelligence got me the rest of the way. I understand that very few people have to and are able to make a choice like mine, but that didn’t make it any less difficult for me.
However, some people got stony-faced and said, “You have to follow your dreams.” One man at the bookstore with a Harvard sweatshirt said, “When you take out the legacies and the sports, it’s like 20 kids. And you’re even considering saying no? Wow.” And so, I was brought back to the crossroads I always found myself at. I felt very proud of myself for getting in to this school, but my practical side kept nagging me.
My main problem was the guilt. My mother had worked so hard and would have to work even harder if I chose Yale. During the entire decision-making process, I kept thinking of her and how much she meant to me, even if I couldn’t express it. I was a financial burden on my family, simply put. Yale’s financial services did not respond positively to our requests for aid, and that soured the already darkening home financial atmosphere.
In the end, the two things that led me to click “Yes” instead of “No” on that rudimentary admissions portal were that my mother encouraged me and that Yale gave us a grant to ease a fraction of the financial pain. My mother was so happy for me when we saw those dancing bulldogs on the online admissions letter. Her reasoning, after hours of her own research, was that Yale’s resources topped anyone else’s. I would genuinely have a head start on anything I wanted to do.
And because I was and am so in love with Yale, I agreed with her. As to whether Yale was worth it or not — I’ll get back to you in four years.
Anna Wilkinson is a first year in Pauli Murray College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .