Ivy League Education at Home Part 1: Orientation

Written by on May 6, 2009 in Ivy League Education at Home - 6 Comments

harvard-ivies-stockxchng“The value of an education in a liberal arts college is not the learning of many facts but the training of the mind to think something that cannot be learned from textbooks.” –Albert Einstein

Welcome to Harvard, homeschool edition. In the coming weeks, I’m going to show you how to get an Ivy League education without paying a dime or leaving your house. This series of 12 posts will help you develop the same knowledge and skills as students at top schools such as Harvard, Yale, and Cornell. If you’ve ever wanted to think like an Ivy League grad, these posts will help you get started.

Questions and Answers

Why an Ivy League education? When I say “Ivy League education,” I’m talking about the core of liberal learning courses that are required by all of these top schools. Almost all colleges have general education classes. But, Ivy League schools assume that their graduates will be the nation’s leaders. Instead of telling the students what to think, liberal arts courses are designed to show them how to think. Instead of learning through lectures, liberal arts students are shown how to learn on their own, independent of structure. Ivy League grads are expected to be able to intelligently analyze the world around them, interpret the present through their understanding of the past, and speak / write in a way that will be heard.

How will an Ivy League education benefit me? Proponents of liberal arts in public schools say, “What’s best for the best, is best for everyone.” You may desire a leadership position that requires high-level thinking skills. But, even if you’re a chef, a brick layer, or a stay-at-home parent, your life can be enriched by a liberal arts education. Anyone can benefit from knowing how to think and how to learn. A classical education helps us understand ourselves and become better people. Plus, the hard work is worth it. A deep mind is a pleasure unto itself. (Want more reasons? Check out these essays: On the Purpose of a Liberal Arts Education, A Liberal Arts Education).

Can I put it on a resume? No. Just to make sure we’re all on the same page: these posts are to help you embark on your own learning adventure. You can’t put this on a resume, brag about your “Ivy League education” on job interviews, or put any fancy initials after your name. It’s also important to point out that many self-educators miss out on essential parts of a classical education such as in-person discussion, public speaking, and feedback from a mentor. By working with people in your area, it’s possible to create these experiences on your own.

Who do you think you are? Let me be upfront: I’m not Ivy League educated, nor am I a professor. You are your own teacher in this series. Think of me as a learning facilitator. I’ve put in the time to research what the Ivy Leagues are teaching their students. I’ve also created lists of resources for you to use in your exploration of these topics. I’m not going to teach you everything an Ivy League student learns. Instead, I’m going to tell you about the topics he studies and show you how you can acquire the knowledge and skills on your own.

The Curriculum: What to Expect

After the orientation (this post), I’ll give you insight into a new subject each Wednesday. In total, eleven subjects will be explored: Foreign Cultures & Languages, Historical Study, Literature, Arts, Moral Reasoning, Quantitative Reasoning, Science, Social Analysis, Writing & Rhetoric, Physical Education, and Extracurricular Skills.

The subjects were selected based on their historical place in the core of liberal arts learning as well as their commonality among Ivy League universities. I’ve compared the liberal arts programs for all of the Ivies. If you want to explore the requirements yourself, take a look:

You will not be able to master any subject in just a week. However, each post will serve as a map. You can use it to plan for a longer course of study (weeks, months, or even years) and choose which subject(s) you want to research at any given time. I’ll explain what Ivy League students learn and point out useful (and free) resources that you can use to achieve the same results.

Getting Started (Homework)

If you want to join in, you’ll need just four things:

An open mind – Acquiring a liberal arts education is an ambitious project. But, it can be worth it. Be willing to examine new ideas and ignore the voice in your head that holds you back. Replace “I can’t do math,” or “I hate reading fiction,” with the possibility that you may discover something new about yourself.

An internet connection – Most of the resources I’ll share are online. A fast internet connection at home or a public place will help you make the most of multimedia such as streaming video.

A library card – Just about all the books you’ll need for a liberal education can be found online or through the library. Keep in mind that most libraries have some sort of reservation system that allows borrowers to request books in advance.

A journal – You’ll need a place to store your reading schedule, your questions, and your progress. You can use a traditional journal or keep your records on a computer. I prefer to use Microsoft’s OneNote, but there are many programs available.

You may also want to receive updates by email, that way you’ll never miss a lesson. If you have feedback or suggestions for the Ivy League Education at Home project, please feel free to drop me a line: selfmadescholar @ gmail.com

Next Week’s Lesson: Foreign Cultures & Languages

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6 Comments on "Ivy League Education at Home Part 1: Orientation"

  1. RJO May 6, 2009 at 1:57 pm · Reply

    This is a great idea, and I hope you have many readers who will take advantage of the materials you’re putting together.

    An earlier attempt to do something similar in tangible form was the Harvard Classics series, sometimes called “Dr. Eliot’s Five Foot Shelf”:


    It is a series of 50 volumes published first in 1909 and recommended by Charles W. Eliot as a core set that would provide a comprehensive liberal education. Of course tastes and interests change, and some of the titles selected a hundred years ago might not be selected today; but most are classics that are of enduring value. The Harvard Classics were very popular (at least to buy, if not to read), and sets can often be found cheaply at used bookstores and yard sales. The full set is online at bartleby.com also, if I’m not mistaken.

  2. Jamie May 6, 2009 at 2:51 pm · Reply

    RJO, I agree that Harvard Classics is a great collection. I’ll be referring to those books as well as volumes from the Great Books of the Western World set (a similar project) throughout this series of posts.

    Here’s that link to where the books can be read for free, if anyone is interested in a head start: http://www.bartleby.com/hc/.

  3. Anon June 1, 2009 at 3:35 pm · Reply

    While “Ivy League” has come to mean “Best”, it really doesn’t go far enough
    in terms of education in my opinion. For example, until the PhD, the mind is not
    trained to think something that can’t be learned from textbooks, and then it
    is arguably warped in some ways. Even mathematics is not immune. (See Ruben
    Hersh’s book “What is Mathematics Really?”)

    Also, Ivy Leaguers pick up some habits that make it difficult for them to make
    friends with ordinary people. See http://www.theamericanscholar.org/the-disadvantages-of-an-elite-education/ As a recovering elite, I agree he has a point.

    • Lucille January 12, 2011 at 9:19 pm · Reply

      Thank you very much for including the link to this article here. I’ve bookmarked this page of SMS and have come back to it many times, but today is the first time I’ve read your comment. I’ve always envied those who got accepted and had the money to go to an “elite” school, but I never really gave any thought to what graduates of Ivy League (and comparable) schools were missing out on.

      Even though I am going to community college right now for a liberal arts degree, I am doing so for the sake of my own education, and not primarily for a career, so it made me feel better to read this article which favors higher education (at a well-known school or otherwise) as “part of a larger intellectual journey,” rather than completing one homework assignment or project after another to receive the diploma that will give me instant prestige or dubious power to achieve personal success in my life. Again, thank you.

  4. Anon June 1, 2009 at 3:44 pm · Reply

    My recommendation for self-study is to:

    * really concentrate on things you would like to learn, and go into great depth
    on things that interest you most as new vistas open up. This isn’t always available
    to college students who must meet deadlines for various courses they must take for
    various reasons.
    * learn some things you might not have an interest in to help you understand
    other people who _are_ interested in them.
    * get together with other serious students through the internet on chats, message boards,
    blogs, groups etc. This will make it more fun and give you the same sort of experience you would get living on campus (minus the bacchanalia).

  5. Jamie June 17, 2009 at 11:40 am · Reply


    You make some good points here. My purpose in doing this series is not to idolize the Ivies. It’s simply to connect readers to resources that can help them develop a classic, liberal arts foundation.

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