I'm going to be honest: all throughout high school, I was dead-set against going to IU.
Having gone to school in the Indianapolis area, half the people I knew came to IU. I didn't want to do what everyone else did. I wanted to go out of state, to a school with a fancy name and a fat price tag, where I would get a prestigious education and meet prestigious people and become cultured and sophisticated. I had written IU off because it was a public school with 40,000 people. It just didn't sound very impressive to me, especially since I wasn't interested in pursuing music or business.
I didn't think I was the typical IU student. I got good grades in my AP classes. I was involved in orchestra, the soccer team, various clubs, and organizations. I was earning an International Baccalaureate Diploma. I was in the top 1% of my class.
I kept this attitude up until April of my senior year. Around this time, I was facing the choice between one of those fancy schools and IU. The fancy school was going to cost my family $50,000 a year because I didn't qualify for any scholarship. IU was practically free.
Still unconvinced, I made the decision to come to IU begrudgingly. It made sense, logically, to go here, but I couldn't get over my own ego. I had the perception of this University as a place where anyone could go, where people wouldn't care about school. I didn't think I would be challenged, and I was afraid that I was sacrificing my future just to save money.
Despite my impressive grades, I was pretty stupid.
Not only were my fears of an absence of any academic life on campus unfounded, coming to IU allowed me to have experiences I never would have had at one of those big-name schools I'd applied to. I think it was the best thing for me socially, forcing me out of my shell and my comfort zone. While some smaller private schools tend to cater to one type of student, IU casts a wide net which means that students are exposed to all sorts of cultures and subcultures and countercultures. I would say that it's easier to make progress on that quintessential "finding yourself" journey college so often entails when there are so many different people to interact with.
There are a lot of academic benefits of choosing IU over your Harvards and Yales, at least for undergrad. Those schools often have stricter rules on transfer credit acceptance for AP and IB test scores. Because I chose IU, I came in with enough credits to be a junior. This means that I have a lot more time to study what I want to study, and I don't have to choose between all of my interests. It means that I get to register for classes before my peers, making it easier to get the classes I want. It means that I have enough time to study abroad twice. People in similar situations also choose to graduate early, saving themselves even more money and opening up time to do other things.
And because IU is such a large school, I have access to so many resources that improve my learning experience. From guest speakers like Madeleine Albright, to the vast collection of amazing artifacts at the Lilly Library, to access to research materials, there are so many opportunities for academic enrichment on campus.
Attention competitive honors students with big dreams: I wouldn't put IU off the table just yet. Any education is what you make of it, and IU gives you every tool you need to make something wonderful for yourself.