1. You work harder, and smarter.
I used to joke as an undergraduate at Princeton in the 1980s that every class I skipped (a few) cost me 50 bucks or so. Nowadays, that would be about $200 per class (assuming eight courses a year meeting 24 times a semester each). But seriously, whether I was attending class, studying in the library, or just hanging out with friends over a meal, it was readily apparent that the vast majority of my peers were ambitious, hard-working, and interesting people. As I tell my own students at the beginning of every course, “I thrive when I’m feeling chronically inadequate,” which I’ve modified in the past few years to include “and am nurtured at the same time.” At both Princeton (an Ivy) and Michigan, where I did my Ph.D. (not an Ivy), I had peers, professors, and staff that set very high expectations, and then provided the resources to achieve them, whether it was developing study guides for massive exams (peers), providing a lot of one-on-one mentoring (professors), or rescuing me from a major I didn’t want to pursue (staff). One doesn’t have to attend an Ivy League institution to experience the academic cultures I did, but it certainly makes it easier.
2. You’ll join a network that is second to none.
I can’t speak for all of the Ivies, but the Princeton network is not only incredible, it can be literally life-saving. When I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in 2002, I called my best friend, John Gordon, who was a physician, who I had befriended when he was a freshman and I was a sophomore. John then told me he had an uncle who is one of the world’s experts on the thyroid. He gave me “Uncle Lew’s” home phone number, and Dr. Braverman reviewed my history, diagnosis, and concurred with the treatment plan my physicians and surgeon had recommended. I’ve called Princeton alumni at the Mayo Clinic, picked the brains of some world-renowned economists via an email or phone call which is promptly responded to, or been treated to some wonderful meals by Tigers in Istanbul, Turkey who I’d never met before, but simply emailed that I was going to be in “the neighborhood.”
3. You’ll develop lifelong learning habits, which will make you more marketable, healthier, and happier.
A few years after graduation, I couldn’t recall much of the specific content I learned in college. I certainly can’t now, 29 years after I earned my bachelor’s degree. What I did refine for four years, and continue to improve upon to this day, is how to read, analyze (both quantitatively and qualitatively), and write critically. My public high school in Michigan gave me a strong foundation in these three areas. Four years at Princeton honed these three sets of skills, and the University of Michigan helped me develop them even further. I’ve been making my living ever since I graduated from college from acquiring information, evaluating it rigorously, and then persuading others based on it, whether it was convincing the folks at GM’s headquarters to invest millions in a manufacturing facility, getting students to develop their leadership capabilities, or engage a client in a year-long change management program.
I always try to help a fellow Princetonian, or if I can’t, connect them to other alumni who can. It’s my way of paying it back and paying it forward.