The reason people are so fascinated with the Ivy League is similar to the reason why people are so enamored by celebrities today. The sense of mystery that surrounds the elite and wealthy tends to draw much intrigue from people who live ordinarily and aspire to live vicariously through them. For self-proclaimed college nerd Sean-Michael Green, the captivation of the eight most prestigious East Coast universities is not fixated on what one might think. While he acknowledges that the academic excellence and long-standing history of the campus is very appealing, his main interest is on student life. Ridiculous rumors about these colleges circulate all around the globe, things like — you must be either related to the President or have had a family member donate a new building or have immeasurable wealth to be deemed worthy. In The Things I Learned in College Green investigates to what extent that these speculations are actually true. He joined the freshman at Cornell in August and ends with graduation at Princeton in May.
The book chronicles Green’s intriguing journey of visiting each institution for 30 days. He stayed in dorms with students, attended classes, got access to frat parties and immersed himself in the whirlwind of being a student in some of the country’s most selective schools. While there are many stereotypes about Ivy Leagues, the author quickly discovers that while some assumptions about are true, the students are more than the shallow and privileged “party-obsessed monsters armed with fake IDs and moms’ credit cards” that everyone loves to hate.
Green’s observations are insightful and witty as he navigates the campuses, leaving pieces of his heart in each one. Although he dines with faculty members, commenting on their sharp minds and friendly demeanor, it is apparent that he values the social scene more than academics. He manages to make astute remarks on the events that unfold, pointing out the lack of diversity in greek life and many instances of discrimination that not only face Ivy League colleges, but all colleges on a daily basis. For instance, he mentions a conversation he has with a sorority girl that did not accept an African- American girl into their sorority, saying “The black girls who rushed us just weren’t very attractive. And we had an Asian member, I think.”
While Green had no intention of focusing on social issues, stating that this was all a “silly project,” he recognizes that many of the problems arise on their own. He noticed that a Korean-American named Kevin was the only Asian male at the fraternity party and felt that he had to “prove” himself by drinking more than the other members. One of the other members said that he wanted to create a stereotype of Asians as quick drinkers.
Another reason besides the infamous social scene of choosing an Ivy League school is for the recognition and respect that comes with it. He states that once a school’s name like Harvard or Yale is mentioned, many will automatically assume that the person is extremely wealthy, hardworking or intelligent.
As someone who had almost flunked out of high school, Sean-Michael Green inspiringly pursued his love for education and is now a senior administrator of University of New Haven and is a graduate of Cornell Law School. His passion for schools extends beyond just high-status universities and says that he is “passionate about learning among the brightest and most ambitious in their fields” but this type of person “is also present at other highly selective institutions.”
Sean-Michael Green recalls many shocking and intriguing events in a thoughtful and light-hearted way, treating Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, University of Pennsylvania, Princeton and Yale like old friends. For anyone who has always been curious about life at these eight prominent universities or are just interested in reading a one-of-a-kind story, The Things I Learned in College is definitely one to try.
The Things I Learned in College will come out on April 12. USC Students who are interested in pre-ordering the novel should email firstname.lastname@example.org with their USC email for a special deal.
Daily Trojan: It says in the last chapter of the novel that it was a ten-year journey. But, you said that it took you one year to explore all the colleges.
SMG: I actually did everything 10 years ago, but I never ended up writing the book until last year. The reason for my 10-year hiatus was that it was a project that was so emotionally difficult. I would go to every college for only 30 days, and I would make friends and establish connections and then it would be time to move on, and I was just so tired. When I came back I fell right into work, and I got back to life, and there was just not enough time to go back to it. And recently; I was convinced to write the book again.
DT: Do you feel that since the project was so long ago, it would interfere with how you remembered situations and events? Or do you think that the extra time allowed you to marinate your feelings and thoughts?
SMG: I don’t feel like the time made any difference. I kept a lot of notes. I had a separate notebook for every school. I also kept in touch with a lot of people from all the colleges. I had people from each school read the book and edit it for me and tell me their thoughts. Each chapter is about 25 to 30 pages long. Every hour that I was at school, I was doing stuff. I had to edit out a bunch of information. In some places, more things happened. There wasn’t a lot of stuff happening but I could write just about three books about just Dartmouth, Cornell, and Columbia alone. In Cornell, since it was my alma mater, I was excited and energetic. I felt like a college student going through his freshman to senior year. By the time I got to the last Ivy, I felt like I was a senior, and I was ready for graduation.
DT: I’ve noticed in your writing that you have very specific descriptions on parties, frats and students but your descriptions on things like eating with faculty or academics were not as detailed in comparison. Why do you think that is?
SMG: That’s really interesting that you ask that because I hadn’t noticed that I did that. But now that I think of it, the book reflects the truth that my main interest is in the students. I’m not that interested in professors or the buildings. The students are what the universities are about. The students are what the Ivy Leagues are about. I think that what you’re seeing is how the Ivy League is through my subjective lens.
DT: Since you’ve been to so many universities and have seen firsthand the unique characteristics of each and obviously value more selective universities, what would you say to people who tell others that they are “not defined by your college?” To what extent do you think this is true?
SMG: Well, I’ve had experiences in many different types of colleges and I have to tell you that they are all completely different. I’ve been to community college, University of Pittsburgh, and Cornell University. The location and resources that each university has is definitely not the same. When I was in community college, the environment that you’re in and the people you’re surrounded by are completely different. For instance, Harvard’s endowment right now is over $30 billion. If you need access for a lab or if you want to go to a trip around the world, then it would definitely be easier to make it happen. Money is one measure, but a lot of other factors impact what life is like at a school.