We have collective admissions trauma here at Columbia. We all know how hard it was to get in, so we hold on to our "Ivy League" identities tightly, even tighter if you tasted the sweet fruits of rejection from other schools in the process. Mostly it's a good thing to appreciate our "spots" here at Columbia, but it bothers me when Columbia kids look down on other students, especially "state school" ones, for not getting into an Ivy League, like admissions somehow proves intelligence, and only we could be in our Columbia "spots."
If you've taken intro psych, you know about heuristics. They're mental shortcuts that allow us to solve problems quickly but are not guaranteed to yield correct answers. The representativeness heuristic, for example, is when something matches your mental image of a certain object. If you see a cute and cuddly kitten, it might fit your idea of "harmless," even though the kitten could actually be a vicious and extremely dangerous creature. In the same way, we often judge intelligence by school: if you go to Harvard, you must be smart, but if you go to community college, you must be dumb, right?
I think it's so unfair when we assume people who don't attend elite institutions are automatically "not as smart." First, let's return to our own admissions into Columbia. Most people, if they are lucky enough to have the financial means, attend the most prestigious school they can get into. Unless you had the luxury of choosing among several elite schools, usually you get into one elite school and go there.
We know how random the admissions process is; some people get into Columbia but not Penn, Brown but not Stanford, etc. Even if you're qualified to be at these other schools, you might not get in. So if you're a current Ivy League student, who was 1 for 8 with admissions, how can you assume you're better than people who didn't get in at all? There are many extremely qualified applicants for all eight schools who happened not to get into any of of them.
This isn't to say our student body isn't deserving, because I'm truly in awe (and kind of jealous) of how brilliant and how accomplished everybody is here. But just because you're here doesn't mean someone else couldn't be in your place—someone who might be at a state school.
A lot of times we don't realize how unfair admissions can be, because we "overcame" and now benefit from the system every day. Consider deferred and waitlisted students. Where do you draw the line? The waitlist is an extreme example because neither you nor the admissions office has any control at this point. Your "golden ticket" to admissions depends completely on whether other people accept their spots or not.
Say two students are on the waitlist: one gets in, one doesn't. The student who gets in will have a lifetime of "Ivy League" privilege and recognition; no one will ever know that they were admitted at the last second. The other student might attend a state university, and no one would ever know they almost went to Columbia.
In addition, we hate on "state school kids" because of their supposedly "inferior" culture, compared to our Homer-loving, well-read Columbia society. They drink beer and go to football games, while we study and discuss philosophy on the weekends. Our classes are supposed to be harder, our workload is supposed to be bigger, and that's why we're "better."
But smart people can be found everywhere, not just at Columbia. First, workload isn't a valid measure of intelligence. You didn't pick how much work we get here—if we had the choice, I'm sure most of us would reduce it. The point is that you adjust to your school. You're not required to discuss philosophy to get in. While I'm sure we had "smart people" habits before college, too, we developed a lot of them during college. Would you read Homer if he weren't on the syllabus?
The public, necessarily, is a range of people, and some of them are bound to be smart. So just because people are intelligent at the Ivy League doesn't mean you have to be at an Ivy League to be smart. School doesn't determine intelligence. It's a matter of environment and opportunity, not predestination.
I used to feel so lucky about being one of the accepted 6.89 percent. It was a bit disappointing, then, to realize I wasn't meant to be here, or at least that I wasn't the only one deserving of this "spot." Admissions was difficult, and I felt so validated to be accepted. But there's no use in endlessly questioning or doubting why I am here. If anything though, I feel less certain about it, and I feel even luckier for my Columbia "spot."