The most important lesson the Ivy League teaches

Let’s face it — if you were sufficiently academically successful in high school to be admitted to an Ivy League university, you were probably a big fish in a small pond. You were one of the most diligent students in your high school. Maybe you were valedictorian of your graduating class, so you got to give a speech at graduation. Either way, everyone knew who you were, and you were able to succeed pretty easily.

You probably got a bit cocky. It’s alright to admit it. I, too, was very cocky in high school.

However, freshman year at an Ivy League school will crush your spirits. It’s not that school is guaranteed to be sufficiently challenging (although it certainly can be, as my grade in ACCT 102 will confirm). It’s that you’re suddenly a small fish in a big pond. Everyone is as bright and hard-working as you are. One-third of your class was a valedictorian. There are more, better students. It can be easy to feel insignificant, easy to feel average.

The Ivy League pushes you to work harder than you ever have, trying to balance a rigorous courseload with extracurriculars that you are legitimately passionate about. Fortunately, it lasts. When you take that work ethic and drive back into the real world for your first summer internship, you feel like a high school valedictorian again. That’s because the perseverance and dedication that the Ivy League instilled in you moves you to do your work exceptionally. A commonly-heard opinion at Penn is that employment is much easier than school.

That’s not the most important lesson the Ivy League teaches, however. The most important lesson is to be modest. You were once cocky, and you were shown the error of your ways via the artificial bubble of overachieving that is the Ivy League. But when you leave that bubble, you finally realize what others knew about you all along: you are exceptional. You had to be exceptional to get to where you are today. And because you already fell from grace, because you now know what it’s like to not be the best — you become humbled. You don’t let your success get to your head. And for this, you’re a much better person.