1) you can challenge yourself at a top-tier university, surrounding yourself with other bright students, and where you might not be at the "top of the top" anymore, or
2) you can go to a "lesser" university and still be the cream that rises to the top.
We're not all the top of the top, the best of the best. How we handle that fact speaks to grit and character.
Worrying about the angst of high-achieving students has become a minor industry. “America’s culture of hyperachievement among the affluent” has led to suicides, depression, and anxiety among college students, suggested a July New York Times feature. “These cultural dynamics of perfectionism and overindulgence have now combined to create adolescents who are ultra-focused on success but don’t know how to fail,” wrote Julie Scelfo. The rhetoric of concern barely conceals contemptuous disapproval.You can see that I snipped a lot of the article, specifically the parts wherein individual students were quoted. It was an interesting read.
In this popular narrative, America’s best college students are making themselves miserable trying to please pushy parents and grab lucrative jobs. They’re soulless grinds -- the products of insensitive parenting and a sick culture. This fable leaves no room for intellectual enthusiasm or the pride of seeing oneself as smart and accomplished. It assumes every activity these students pursue is instrumental, undertaken merely to look good on an application for the next stage in their upward climb. Their drive for success, it suggests, cloaks an ignoble lust for fame or money. The moralism of this tale may flatter the tellers, but the story itself largely misses a deeper underlying struggle on elite campuses.
Intrigued by reports that my alma mater had initiated something called the Princeton Perspective Project, which aims to reduce student stress by puncturing a reportedly pervasive ideal of “effortless perfection,” I went to campus last April to investigate. Had Princeton students stopped griping about how much work they had and how little sleep they were getting...
This sample wasn’t random or necessarily representative of the range of student experience. It was heavy on STEM majors and middle-class strivers, light on athletes and wealthy prep school graduates. In these ways, it resembled my own undergraduate circles, although with more children of immigrants and more women, both groups whose numbers have grown significantly in the three decades since I graduated. But after repeatedly hearing the same themes, I came away with a better sense of why students feel stressed at Princeton and most likely at similar elite institutions.
Every January a great team loses the Super Bowl. Every April three of the Final Four go down. And every September, extraordinary students arrive at highly selective universities only to discover that one out of every two really will wind up in the bottom half of the freshman class --and one out of every five in the bottom quintile...
Surrounded by distinguished peers, freshmen in particular may experience a disorienting loss of identity. “It’s not just that you’re not the biggest fish in the pond anymore. It’s that there are so many other big fish,” said the chemical and biological engineering major, a top science student in high school who found herself near the bottom of the class at Princeton. Once known as “the smart kid” or “the great musician,” students no longer find themselves so distinctive. “When everyone’s a nerd, you’re like, What am I?” she said...
The pain and struggles that generate so much public fretting are real. But unless elite schools start reserving a quarter of their slots for the unmotivated or unqualified, they’re also unavoidable. Wanting to excel is not a character flaw, and shouldn’t be treated as one in the guise of concern for students’ mental health. Ambitious students deserve the same respect we accord ambitious athletes.