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Excellent Sheep

The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life

By William Deresiewicz
15-minute read
Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life by William Deresiewicz

Excellent Sheep casts a critical view on the most prestigious American colleges and calls into question the academic quality of elite institutions such as Harvard and Yale. Ultimately, Excellent Sheep reveals not just how elite American colleges stifle independent thought, but also how they directly contribute to reproducing class inequality.

  • Anyone considering applying to an elite college
  • Anyone whose parents are hounding them to become a hedge fund manager instead of a musician
  • Students who can’t figure out what career path they should take

William Deresiewicz is formerly a professor at Yale as well as a graduate instructor at Columbia university, where he received his PhD in English. He is frequent speaker at colleges across America and is a leading social commentator, contributing to publications such as The Nation, The New Republic and The New York Times.

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Excellent Sheep

The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life

By William Deresiewicz
  • Read in 15 minutes
  • Contains 9 key ideas
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Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life by William Deresiewicz
Synopsis

Excellent Sheep casts a critical view on the most prestigious American colleges and calls into question the academic quality of elite institutions such as Harvard and Yale. Ultimately, Excellent Sheep reveals not just how elite American colleges stifle independent thought, but also how they directly contribute to reproducing class inequality.

Key idea 1 of 9

Students in elite colleges are beset with psychological problems and graduate feeling aimless.

Hollywood presents us with a very one-sided view of college life – one filled with parties, shenanigans, self-discovery and the best times of our lives.

However, while college life might seem attractive from the outside, studies have found that there is in fact a mental health crisis on campuses. In a study conducted by the American Psychological Association, nearly 50 percent of all college students reported experiencing a feeling of hopelessness, while 33 percent reported feeling so depressed that they struggled to function throughout the year.

This was corroborated by a recent long-term study, which found college mental health to be at its lowest level in the study’s 25-year history.

The discrepancy between appearance and reality is especially true for elite college students, who outwardly appear to be super people, managing huge workloads while maintaining an aura of happiness.

And yet, students at Stanford talk of Stanford Duck Syndrome: they see themselves as ducks, whose serene appearance atop the water disguises the frantic paddling underneath. One student at Yale made clear just how normal depression was at his school, stating: “I may be miserable, but if I wasn’t, I wouldn’t be at Yale.”  

The stress of their studies might not be so bad if students were pursuing their dreams. But many aren’t. In fact, students at elite universities feel forced into pursuing careers in areas like consulting or finance as a way to gain recognition from their peers.

Just consider that, in 2010, half of Harvard graduates were going into either finance or consulting. This is surprising, seeing as how surveys of freshmen at elite colleges rarely indicate any interest in either of these career paths. It’s thus only natural that many question the value in their decisions later in life.

So where does this immense pressure to prove oneself – even after making it into an elite university – originate? The answer may be found in the home.

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