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Princeton was hard

August 7, 2015
AUTHOR: Emilie
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Reading Time: 4 minutes

I graduated college two months ago to the day. I’m really blessed to have gone to Princeton. I recognize that the University was a series of blessings not only of the financial sort but also of the networking and opportunity sort.

About two weeks ago I was asked about my Princeton experience and what it was for me- how I did there. I was little taken aback by the question because it was the first time I’ve been really asked it since graduating (in more than just a “Wow. So Princeton, huh?” sort of way).

As I started talking through my feelings, I realized that while I loved some part of Princeton, there were others that were and remain to be extremely problematic.

A read a blog post by Vasu Kulkarni, which you can read in full here, that poignantly captures many of the problems:

“Kids who end up at Ivy Leagues have been told their entire life that their grades are the most important thing in the world. It’s how they are going to get into college, it’s how they are going to land that internship at Goldman Sachs, and it’s how they are going to end up with a full time job offer at Black Rock. They are constantly told that they are smarter than everyone else, and if they would just put in that extra 10%, they will be at the top of their class. Valedictorian. Magna Cum Laude.

High school is easy though. High school is a mix of all sorts of kids. The jocks that are going to Kentucky on a full ride. The pot heads that will either still be in the same town 30 years from now dealing, or the ones that end up as NASA rocket scientists. The kids with learning disabilities that can’t string together a sentence. The ones from underprivileged homes who don’t have anyone to check if they’ve bothered doing their homework. In that little pond of 200, the “smart” and motivated kids are the big fish. Being #1 is a cake walk.

I was one of those kids.

Then you get to college and shit gets real. Every single one of the 2000 kids in each class at Penn was at the top of his or her grade in high school. They were all told that they were the smartest kids in class. They were all valedictorians. Heck, some were even prom king and queen. Now you’re just a little fish in a big pond, and if you continue to believe that your performance in school is going to dictate the rest of your life, that first C that you get in Calc 101 is going to be a devastating blow.”

As I read this, I couldn’t help but spend the entirety of it nodding. This was exactly my case. I came from a 96-year-old high school that had never sent a kid to Princeton and hadn’t sent a kid to an Ivy League in over 30 years. I had been Captain of three Varsity sports and the debate team, yearbook Editor-in-Chief, a shift leader at a local Dunkin Donuts, an intern at my Congressman’s office, involved in Campus Ministry, and the list goes on and on. I thought I was special when I went off to college.

Kulkarni continues:

“It took me 2 months at Penn to realize that I wasn’t cut from the same cloth as the rest of my classmates. I had faked it till I made it, and here I was on an Ivy League campus, not even close to being ready to deal with the sudden change in the level of the average IQ around me. Classes were hard, and my peers studied harder. Asking a question in class made you look stupid. Intro to Computer Science was meant for people who had been coding since they were 5 years old it seemed. I thought I was going to play on the basketball team because I was captain of my high school in India. Turns out we had a couple of guys on the team that had a chance of playing in the NBA. Every single thing I excelled at in high school – turned out I sucked at it compared to everyone else on campus. It’s an overwhelming feeling of defeat that leaves you with not many choices.”

A week in college and I suddenly no longer felt special. It didn’t take seven days for Princeton to give me the reminder that I did not below. When people discussed SAT scores, I could not help but wonder if my admission was a mistake.  After the first week of classes, all “introductory” level, I did not know if I would ever make it out of there alive.

Now, here I am, a college graduate. I have a degree written entirely in Latin with only my name on it. Yea, there are 1200 other people who got one of those fancy pieces of paper this year. But mine is special. My degree represents more that just some classes I took. When I look at it, it also represents overcoming struggle. It reminds me that I overcame a struggle that lots of kids don’t. When the deck was stacked against me, I figured it out. And, the best part, I won.

For every college kid who is struggling, let me say that there is help. I was lucky enough to have mentors who clearly cared for me and took an interest in my well-being as a student and as a person. These individuals were crucial to my success. So seek them. And seek help. And seek guidance. And seek support. There are people here who want to help you and who want to see you succeed. I promise, I am one of them.

While that’s pretty serious, here’s something to make you smile:


I’m linking this post up with Aubrey over at High-Heeled Love for the Friday Confessional Series. Sometimes purging is good for the soul and this is one of those times. 

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