It is a truth universally acknowledged that a “good“ university is a good place to be. Demanding courses, interesting extracurricular activities, an honours programme and strict, yet enthusiastic professors who know what they are talking about. You´d be forgiven for thinking that “this is enough“; this alone does not make a university “good“ and does not guarantee that you will truly learn something.
Why? Consider one extra element, in 100% of cases neglected in the Top university rankings: Peer pressure. – Who are the people around you? How motivated are they to study? What do they do in their free time? Why have they chosen this course?
If you say that such concerns are immaterial, you are wrong. Let´s face it: Students are social animals (even mathematicians feel the human need to communicate with others, right?), so they care very much indeed about their peers and do their best to “belong“. Suddenly not partying can become a less free choice than it at first seemed.
Since we all are pretty familiar with the drawbacks of peer pressure (do not pretend that you haven´t heard countless warnings from your parents concerning youth gangs, free sex, drugs, alcohol and rock´n´roll), let´s look at the benefits of peer pressure: How can it help you challenge yourself?
First and foremost, your classmates are your drive to be active at the university. If they ask thought-provoking questions, always do their homework and even have an interesting job, it is natural for you to (sometimes unconsciously) to do the same. You study together, work on extra projects on conduct your own research in small groups and hence “go deeper“. Better grades (and thus better career prospects) almost surely follow.
Second, motivated people keep you going. If you are struggling, feel desperate before your midterms or simply are deterred by an assignment, ambitious peers can do miracles. Not only that they can help you with the given problem, but also their positive energy nudges you not to give up. Besides, just knowing that “it can be done“ helps a lot.
Third, high-flying classmates will give you invaluable tips: How to solve exercise 12.31, why is it a bad idea to work for the XYZ company and what did the professor say regarding the final exam at the tutorial you were unable to (did not bother to) attend.
Believe it or not, all these “little“ things make a huge difference. If the “norm“ is to bury yourself in the books and work like a dog for three (four, two – depends on the degree) years straight, you are likely to do so. However, if it is “normal“ to get terribly wasted every Thursday evening, always come late for lectures and not to make any notes, then even the best professor in the world cannot do much to make you successful.
At the end of the day, if you want to get the most of your education, make sure that you are always under the “good“ peer pressure; otherwise you would be rather “peer depressured“ to work – which could make you very (peer) depressed at the end.