Sunday, April 19, 2009

Fennel Destination: College Matriculation Questions

Questions questions!

I'm always thrilled and tickled to receive questions on the blog, so please don't interpret my delay as a lack of appreciation for you, only an abundance of appreciation for pirated web television. Also, I'm in Miami at the moment. As much as I cherish you, dear reader, you're no mango margarita mingling with a balmy Atlantic Ocean breeze in the creamy center of a sunny April afternoon. Step up your game. 

My Yale posts (here and here and here) have once again garnered a disproportionate amount of attention as compared to, say, the post where I talk about seaweed. It's like I was challenging an almost universally lauded farce upon which our entire educational system is based or something... And as usual, I am happy to answer these question, but first off, I would like to set down some ground rules so that the jerkoff who thinks it's important to comment about how "biased" I am will have to root through the dictionary for another 100 point word they don't know how to use in context. 

Yes folks, the following opinions regarding higher education will be biased. Because they are opinions. This being the case, and because, sadly, I have not yet perfected the neuro-manipulation device brewing in my basement which will bend all humankind to my will, I expect that my opinion will not reflect that of everyone else in the world. Don't freak out if you don't like what you hear. Or do freak out, but save yourself  time and don't rant about how my experience was NOT the same as yours. Because I won't be surprised. Because you are probably seeing the world through douchebag-colored glasses. Hey-  is it like those red/blue, 3D lenses that cancel out the very color they are tinted? When you look in the mirror do you disappear? 

Moving on. Nestor writes: "I really appreciate all of this insight on Yale... however I still find Yale to be good for me, and I say "think" because I live in Cali and I can't afford going there to visit it. You say Yale is ugly, but I want to know if it is architectural-wise or is it because there's a trash problem or traffic? Or is it just because of the sucky weather?"

Well Nestor, I have three things to tell you. Firstly, if you think Yale is good for you that's fantastic, and far be it from me to tell you otherwise. I can only speak to my own personal experience, and there are plenty of blue-bleeding Yalies who would disagree with everything I'm about to say. 

1. Listen to me when I tell you that New Haven is a pit. Sure, it's safer than it used to be. Sure, there are some fantastic restaurants and art museums. But even the heroin-grade gentrification injections of sushi joints and quirky coffee shops pooling about the perimeter of campus quickly drizzle down into urban decay after literally two blocks.  Three blocks north of my favorite bookstore there was a shooting last year, and three blocks south there was another shooting this year. Now, if you're not wandering the streets alone and intoxicated whilst attempting to juggle your iphone, wallet, and Rolex at 3 AM on a holiday weekend, you're probably going to be okay, but that doesn't detract from the fact that New Haven is not a city I was sad to bid farewell to. It is dark and depressing in the wintertime, but if you're a Californian you're going to be bummed out by all the Ivy climates, so that's not exactly news. 

The Yale campus itself is bustling and there are all sorts of activities to attend every night of the week, as compared to things I've heard from friends at Columbia, for example. It seems when you live in a city which doesn't drain your will to live you're more inclined to branch out and explore, so to Yale's credit, the awfulness of New Haven does inspire a certain insular vibrancy within Yale walls. 

 2. All this said, if every professor and every class I encountered at Yale just absolutely blew my fucking mind, I wouldn't have cared if Yale were located in the Orc-forging pits of Mordor. But they didn't. So if you're coming to Yale for the architecture then perhaps you'll be contented three times over the course of your education.


-The moment you step on campus and behold the grandeur of Yale buildings before realizing you'll be expected to inhabit a room approximately the size of a microwave oven. And oh yes, you'll be sharing that room with a manic-depressive, hyperactive, obsessive-compulsive. And oh yes, she needs to practice her tap-dancing routine every night before bed. And oh yes, she has gas problems. 

-When your grandparents come to visit.

-When you see your college 'neath the first blanket of virgin snow before you realize you'll have to trudge through the damn stuff for the next four months anytime you want to see sunlight.

3. Sure, it's nice to walk outside and see pretty gothic architecture. But do you really want to lay down a quarter mil. just to see bootleg versions of things you could see for free at a tour of Oxford? I'm sure this is not the only criterion upon which you're basing your Yale decision, but it concerns me that it's the only one you mentioned. Too often when I worked in the admissions office I saw people totally bowled over by impressive facts that had no bearing on education at all... the prettiness of some buildings, the number of kids rejected each year, the fact that we had a Gutenberg bible. 

Think of college tours like Coca Cola commercials. They  conveniently leave out the tooth-dissolving, rainforest-raping, cancer-causing details in the lyrics of their snap-happy theme songs. So feel free to sing along, but don't forget to do your own research before deciding to... oh I don't know... bathe in the stuff for four years straight. 

Another question:

"Yale has been my #1 choice for a long time, and I was admitted EA, so you can understand that I am dismayed at, if enlightened by, this blog. Plus, it's way too late to change where I applied, though I haven't comitted to Yale yet. So, out of curiosity, where would you go if you had to pick from the following institutions: Yale, Michigan (probable full-ride), Iowa (probable full-ride), Amherst, Harvard, and Stanford..."

Well… I have no idea. Seriously. The only school I ever went to was Yale, so that's the only school I can tell you about with any real credibility. I can’t stand the ranking systems which claim to accurately rank some schools above others based on categories as despicably irrelevant as "peer review," (i.e. popularity contest stats.) If you take anything away from this post, please remember that the same school which was a perfect fit for one person will be a terrible fit for another. So start doing your research. Some people want a strong focus on classical core curriculum, some people want to have access to particle colliders, some people want to be able to major in digeridoo. The first thing you need to do is figure out what you really want. 

We're not used to doing this. We know what teachers want. What our parents want. We know what the traffic cops want and what the IRS wants. But rarely are we ever encouraged to really truly look inward and give ourselves permission to name what we want. And this is the essential first step to answering your question. Tell me what you want your education to look like and we can start planning from there. 

Let's be frank: I wanted prestige and I got it. I didn't reflect deeply enough to recognize that what I also wanted was artistic freedom and creative interdisciplinary curriculum, so I didn't really get it. Be honest with yourself. 

You mentioned the possibility of a free ride to several of your other college options. This is kind of a biggie, especially if you, like me, are going to be up to your ears in student loans until you're 30 if you decide to go with Yale. 

Was  it worth it?

Well here’s the thing. There is no significant distinction between the salaries of people who went to Ivy League schools and people who got into Ivy League schools but didn’t end up going. The Ivy Leagues take credit for the successes of a lot of kids who would arguably have been just as successful anywhere else.

But there’s more. Fascinatingly, there is also no distinction between the career success of people who attended Ivy League schools versus people who simply applied, even if they were rejected. If you have the balls to think that you belong at Yale, then odds are you’ve got the gusto required to kick ass in the real world no matter where you get your B.A. from, and if you’ve already been accepted then that’s just even more confirmation of your capability. So listen to me when I  tell you this:

You do not need Yale.

I guarantee that anything you will learn there you can learn on your own with equal parts curiosity and dedication. If you’re making an investment in brand name because you want to be affiliated with an institution that spits out more politicians than all the bustiest White House interns combined, that’s great, but don’t get caught up in the idea that turning down an Ivy will screw you out of the best life has to offer. Statistically, just the fact that you applied makes you a winner.

So here’s what you should do: remove the idea that attending an Ivy League school will make you a successful person from your decision making process entirely. There’s nothing you can learn there that you can’t learn with a library card and some intellectual curiosity.

If you plan to become a beat poet it’s probably not a good idea to go into debt just to get a silly Ivy degree, but if you’re eyeing law school I cannot deny the persuasive powers of those three little letters... I V Y

So now sit down with your folks and figure out what really makes sense for you. Do you want a stellar film studies department? Do you need to have a car? Are you planning on going to medical school? Do you want to be able to ice skate?  I know you’re going to hate that answer but it’s really the best one there is. Anybody who purports to know which school is better for you than another is not thinking about you. They’re thinking about brand names, spouting out propaganda, and exhibiting exactly the type of nitwittery that big businesses hope they can induce in the general population by showing us big tits and shiny objects and cool guys smoking cigarettes.


Final Question:

Hello :) what do you know about other Ivy League schools?... Are they all as bad as Yale?

I don’t know that much about other Ivy League schools other than the disparaging facts we were required to spout off to tour groups at the admissions office whenever anybody asked for an Ivy comparison. There isn’t a “campus life” at Columbia like at Yale. Penn  lacks our resources, Princeton our open-mindedness, and Harvard is socially stunted.  If that sounds like a crock to you then you’re absolutely right because none of these schools, including Yale are “bad.” They’re different. And each one is going to tell you that their differences make them better than all the other ones. But the truth is that no matter how perfectly some fancy Five Star Restaurant prepares the most succulent Roast duck leg with fennel and rosemary that has ever been served in the entire history of the culinary world, I am going to hate it.

Because I fucking hate fennel.

Hate it. Even writing the word fennel makes me wince. Fennel. Ugh. Fucking eiw. It’s like someone taking a dump in your throat.

And I will leave you with that lovely parting image. Not to gross you out, but rather to make you truly consider the subjectivity of preference, and to encourage you to discover and honor your educational goals and the things that make you want to hurl. Because guess what? No matter how important your parents and teachers and friends are telling you this decision is, once you graduate with or without a Yale degree in four years you’ll still have only just begun your educational journey. So figure out what you want to be doing now and start doing it a little at a time. That’s the best advice I can give you and it doesn’t require an Ivy League school, just the audacity to listen to yourself and to follow through.

If you really want to be happy with your decisions, listen, learn, and stay the hell away from your very own personal fennels, no matter how well respected they may be. 

Stay sane folks. Keep me posted and keep the questions coming.




  1. Unigo is a site for potential students who want to learn the reality of a school of their choice. It interviews many present day students from the different depts. and programs and even goes into ethinicity and other relationships on campus. It was started and run by just graduated students and is nationwide for the major schools.

  2. Indeed it is, and a heck of a resource as far as I can tell.

  3. Yale sounds so much like Duke. Gag me. Wish I would've taken my free ride to UW ... gothic architecture is nice, i suppose, but when half the classes are taught by half-witted TAs and half the students are collar-popping trust-fund babies who think they're entitled to the world handed to them on a silver platter... aaah.. MUST. NOT. get. started.

  4. Did I really mistakenly overlook you comparing fennel to scat snacking? Maybe we'll be lucky and someone will post a new meme involving two girls and different garden herbs. Oh right, that's probably been done before.

  5. I was just checking out fennel and ended up laughing my ass off not sure I want to use in my french potato salad now

  6. H you are one hell of a writer but you might not sell as you are too honest

  7. I want to wash my pussy with French triple-milled soap from Crabtree & Evelyn but I don't want to get BV. Supposedly you get BV with any type of soap that is perfumey. Would a French scented triple-milled soap be more likely to cause BV, then say, something like Dial?

    It doesn't seem right that we should have to use a special soap or wash that won't alter the delicate Ph balance. I mean, I want to enjoy my wonderful soaps.

    What's the deal? Has anyone contracted BV using scented soap?