Sam, your post on Gen Y's educational entitlement sounded eerily like a schpeel that plays through my mind every morning. As you know, I am a grad student getting a master's degree in your field. Government and private loans, check; no more earning potential with my degree than without it, check; denial-not really. I went back to school last fall for a specific purpose: to make up for what I, one of those Gen Y strivers, didn't get out of my supposedly idyllic undergraduate education.
Like Walter Kirn, whose Sunday New York Times Magazine piece sparked this discussion , I went to Princeton. Overall, it's a wonderful place. The problem is that I didn't approach it with appropriate wonder. Why? The truth is that after years as one of those aptocrat kids Kirn wrote about, I was totally burned out. Some people seem to emerge from the quest for that single, all-validating prize, the Ivy League (or equivalent) admission, hungry for the intellectual challenges of undergraduate life. I, for one, was exhausted. Between the AP courses, volunteer work, essay contests, and academic competitions, I averaged five hours of sleep a night in high school. When I was a senior, I looked so run-down that a rumor went around my small Catholic school that I was On Drugs. I was a machine.
When Princeton accepted my carefully crafted early decision application, I was over the moon-for a few days. But a week later, I found myself lying in my dry bathtub in my school uniform with the sense that I had never once considered what I really wanted or enjoyed, never even allowed myself to ask that question. I'd spent years proving myself-but proving what exactly?
I got to college the following fall not motivated to achieve much of anything. I didn't see the point. When a book or idea excited me, instead of pursuing it with the enthusiasm the admission committee signed me on for, I resisted. I'd learned what hard work, even on things you cared about, earned you: an overwhelming sense of emptiness.
As a result of my freshman year malaise, both the academic abilities that had once been second nature to me and my sense of myself as a go-getter, so long my primary source of self-worth, atrophied. A bout with anorexia, a subsequent year off, and the time I spent at my alma mater's infamous eating clubs didn't help.
So for me graduate school is the best investment I could have made this year, despite the recession. I entered what is probably the most wonderfully nerdy journalism program on the planet to make up for lost time-intellectual and personal. It's self-indulgent and financially terrifying, but I chose it knowing what I was getting into. And the price is nothing compared to what my years in the aptocracy cost me.
Photograph by Getty Images.