Our good friend Clare recently wrote a post over at Million Dollar Journey that took at look at Canada’s Ivy League Schools. Imagine my surprise at finding out that Canada had “Ivy League Schools”. Here I’m supposed to be at least faking authority on the Canadian post-secondary scene and I didn’t realize there was a whole upper-tier of universities in Canada that have a title and everything. Just so we’re on the same page, Canada’s equivalent to Harvard and Yale are McGill, U of T, UBC, Queens, U of Western Ontario, McMaster, U of A, and Waterloo.
Canadians Have Ivy League Schools?
First of all, as Clare pointed out near the end of the article (in a much nicer and diplomatic way) the idea of a Canadian Ivey League is ridiculous. I’m 99% certain this term came from university presidents who were looking for justifications to up their paycheques, and a new plaque for their wall. The Ivey League schools in the USA cost incredible amounts of money to get into and are very selective. Canada’s supposed equivalents are great places to be, but I wouldn’t call them extremely difficult to get into. Also, in terms of broad reputation, only the people in these academic ivory towers could truly believe that people view their graduates in the same light as someone from Yale. I think the whole idea of a school reputation is ridiculous to begin with, but it is completely delusional to believe that someone gets hired “just because they have a degree from the University of Alberta” in the same way a law degree from Harvard would be viewed for example. Heck, I hear way more about the “Calgary School” that is running Canadian politics these days then I do about the U of A (they can’t even decide on a single logo/team name).
To get back to the idea of school reputation as an asset for a second – is there a dumber, more elitist-driven policy around? I mean, unless your school is producing janitors that are math whizzes (Good Will Hunting – watch it if you didn’t get the reference young’ns) I don’t want to hear how your “storied halls” are somehow magically endowed with brilliance-inspiring brick and mortar. It sounds ridiculous when the dudes from Oxford say it, never mind when a school like UBC claims the title of “Ivey League” when they haven’t even been in operation for 100 years yet! I mean do employers actually still hire people based on this outdated notion? Not in my experience. There might be specific programs that will get you get a second look. I hear the (ironically named given the conversation) Richard Ivey business school might give you a slim advantage, or that McGill medical is a quarter-step up, but by the same token I’m fairly certain if you’re an M.D. from a Saskatchewan school you’re not exactly “second-tier”. (at this point I used to make a Saskatchewan joke, but they have long ago surpassed Manitoba in many ways so now it’s just kind of depressing). The gist of it though is that individuals make the educational experience, not a facility. This is especially true for the majority of students that “only” attain a bachelor degree, and don’t go on to graduate school. Most “prestige” bestowed on a school is tied to research dollars and have nothing to do with the average student experience.
The Bottom Of Maclean’s Rankings – At Least We’re Consistent
My experience is a perfect example of reputation and reality taking very divergent paths. I went to the University of Manitoba, which has quietly occupied the basement in its category for MacLean’s rankings for the last 73 years in a row now. Now that I think about it, I believe there are actually a few spots on campus that ivy growing on them, so maybe that is the criteria to be a “Canadian Ivey League” school. I should alert administration – I’d be up for a distinguished alumni award for sure. Anyway, during my lowly undergraduate time at the “layman’s schools of choice” I was taught US History by someone who got their Master’s degree at Brown (and played on the same intramural team as Barack O’Bama – who was the best player on the team apparently), Political Science by someone who routinely works with the UN and NATO, and English by a guy who had gotten his Ph. D. from Oxford (but also loved Lego knights versions of Shakespeare), amongst others. These three happened to be absolutely superb teachers in addition to obviously having first class educations and credentials.
Regardless of the propaganda your course calendars have on them, and how old your admin building in, your education ultimately comes down to yourself and the effort you put in. Ask your buddies or check out Rate My Prof to find out who other students are actually learning from. Last time I checked the plants that cover your walls, or the year the first shovel was put on the ground on your campus doesn’t make you any smarter. At least that’s what they told me when in my welcome to campus package when I became a Bison ;)