Book Recommendation: Lost in the Meritocracy by Walter Kirn
I love Walter Kirn's memoir "Lost in the Meritocracy" discussing his time at Princeton. Growing up in rural Minnesota, he fixated on attending an elite university. He checked off all of the appropriate boxes, followed the rules, and never took a step back to consider why he was mindlessly moving from one milestone to the next.
Years later, he reflects that instead of finding his classmates the best and brightest that the world had to offer, Kirn observes a superficial, shallow environment occupied by society's upper crust.
With so much focus on getting in, students often don't have a clue why they are choosing which universities to apply and where to enroll.
Especially with the Ivy League, students and families place an extreme premium on prestige for its own sake. Instead of asking, is this the best environment for me to learn and grow as a person? Families pressure students into considering, will this university provide me with the best opportunity to secure the highest paying job after graduation?
Kirn tells entertaining and tragic stories of being excluded from social societies based on his working class background. He found a campus that values not creativity and unorthodox thinking, but was "orderly, orderly in the extreme." It is no accident that more than half of Princeton graduates pursue careers in investment banking and management consulting, jobs that reward rule following and submitting to authority.
Majoring in English, Kirn found it to be vapid and abstract. His department emphasized not reading novels themselves, but discussing them abstractly. His classmates and professors gave the impression of knowledge rather than seeking authentic understanding and learning. Just as he excelled of "playing the game" in high school, he told professors what they wanted to hear.
"I suspect that certain professors were onto us, and I wondered if they, too, were fakes. In classroom discussions, and even when grading essays, they seemed to favor us over the hard workers."
With more than 4,000 colleges and universities across the United States, it is important to take a step back and consider what it is you want from a college education. One thing I appreciate about UT is its diverse student body, the myriad perspectives that professors bring, and the ability to explore many different courses.