Why I’m Glad I Didn’t Go To A “Top College”

Yinon Raviv
5 min readMay 4, 2021

Someone on Quora asked, “do you regret your college decision?”, and this is what I answered:

When I was a senior graduating high school, I felt like I would eventually regret going to UC Davis.

I was a high-achiever in high school — or desperately tried to be one, at least. I did well in my tests, tried to stay disciplined on keeping my grades up, and was flourishing in my extracurriculars. The Silicon Valley suburbs don’t fuck around when it comes to success, achieving, accomplishing. “If you’re not first, you’re last” but repackaged with Teslas instead of race cars. Ricky Bobby, the quintessential Bay Area immigrant parent.

So when I only got into UC Davis — instead of the other six prestigious, top-tier, “launchpad” type schools — I was devastated. After thinking I got through teenage-hood relatively unscathed — blessed with friends, relationships, and fun — here came the most confusing part, right as I was pulling up into the entrance to adulthood.

I knew I’d do just fine. Davis was respectable, a good, solid school where many people ended up quite well after graduation. My parents told me that if I really wanted to go to UCLA or UC Berkeley, I could stay another year at community college and transfer. But after spending my senior year in a dual-enrollment program, I knew I had to leave home, ASAP. The only thing stronger than that desire for ultimate success was my need for freedom — I had to get the hell out of the house and go live as my own person. I didn’t feel like I had much of a decision but just take the bird in my hand.

From that April where I figured out where my life was going, it took until I visited in late July for it to even hit me that this is where I was going to spend the next several years at… I didn’t come with any expectations, which I now realize what may have come from a bad source ended up putting me in a good place.

UC Davis is the opposite of the environment I grew up in. It’s not a place that cares much for anything external. People do what they genuinely liked to do in their daily and weekly normal lives — be outside in nature, spend time with friends, eat fresh food, learn what piques their interest. I couldn’t grasp, going into it, that what seemed boring was actually really pleasant. If somebody falls in the bike circle, people will go over to help them up. If somebody cries at the library, someone would walk over to ask what’s wrong. If something negative happened to any smaller community within Davis, the rest of the greater community would look out for them.

At first I was overwhelmed by the lack of pressure. Seriously. I was used to spending time exclusively with people that, no matter how sociable or funny they were when you saw them at parties or events, were trying their asses off at something for some form of external validation. At Davis, some people might not be trying at anything at all. Most people tried to do well enough in their academic/professional lives to move along to the next stage — to get a good degree with reasonable grades, or to get a solid job that they could earn a decent living on… never losing sight of their own social lives and inner worlds. And some people were indeed trying their asses off, pushing themselves as hard in the same vein as everyone did when they went to a suburban South Bay/Peninsula high school. (And I know this type of culture exists in every wealthy “high achieving” suburb).

But those people, for the most part, found a different reason to try so hard. In my experiences, they were following a passion that they found within themselves, a cause they found worthy, a calling they felt obligated and emboldened to heed. It was a type of pressure that was entirely internally. On the surface there might not seem to be much of a difference from the Silicon Valley type I described, but once knowing these people as well as I knew my friends in high school, I realized they had totally opposite inner worlds.

If I went to a school like UCLA, or Berkeley, or Stanford, or Columbia… who knows, but I don’t think I would have broken out of that externally seeking mindset. I might have shifted that away from something like academics and toward something like some bullshit social standing or some niche extracurricular or smoking more makes than anyone else possibly could or something else really awful. Davis was exactly what I needed, despite not knowing at the time… I lived through and learned to love life with all three levels of pressure, working and/or playing hard. I had fun for the sake of having fun like some idiot degenerate (times I’d never regret… if I didn’t forget), I had the comfortable yet moderately trying pace, and I had crazy quarters where I was working my tail off, holding multiple internships and 18 units and leadership positions.

By the time I got to that third level, I was much more conscious and aware of my own curiosity in what I was doing, the pure enjoyment I was getting out of writing, the way everything flowed together when I was generating that pressure myself. After feeling all types of indulgent pleasures, I saw that nothing made me feel more alive or more like myself than writing at a total flow state. The way Davis made me seek internal rather than external validation allowed me to perceive that clearly — it wouldn’t have crystallized so concretely with any external pressure fogging my lenses.

Image from Davis Enterprise https://www.davisenterprise.com/news/local/ucd-arboretum/

If I went to any other school and didn’t make that realization about myself… I might end up just fine. I might get a great job and do well and live in a good city. But it wouldn’t be worth it, because sooner or later, that dependence and entitlement toward external validation would catch up with me.

A little part of me made all of me stick to Davis instead of staying at community college for a chance at that fancier degree. Today I realize that Davis was just the place for me to realize how much more that desire for freedom and expression matters to me than anything I can get elsewhere.