In 2010, Drew Ott made a life-changing decision. Although he was a top student at a nationally-ranked high school, he decided to defy his family’s expectations and skip college altogether, preferring instead to educate himself by reading books and listening to recorded lectures. What started off as a good plan took a bad turn when his friends went to their colleges around the country, and Drew was left alone in his hometown. Quickly he began to suffer the consequences of his decision. He was shunned by the adults in his life, girls his age suddenly lost interest in dating him, and he had few friends remaining. Sometime during this period, he began to wonder if he had made a mistake.
But Drew was stubborn, and he was committed to his decision. He often found himself in arguments about the value of college. One argument he kept hearing was that the most important part of college was not the degree, the education, or the networking opportunities. The most important part of college was the “college experience”—the mystical totality of four years spent living as a student among students. He heard this argument so frequently that he began to wonder what exactly it meant, and if he was missing out on something important.
One lonely night in his apartment, he had a big idea. He thought he could discover the “college experience” by taking a road trip to live with students at diverse colleges around the United States. If he said he was writing a book about his trip, he thought he could find students who would host him and let him into their lives.
The Students, Yes is the story of that journey through student social life in the American higher education system. The journey would turn out to be the most difficult psychological experience of his life. As Drew simultaneously pursued friendship, drunken camaraderie, romance, sex, and a deeper understanding of college culture, his identity crisis deepened. After many months of trying to fit in with diverse types of students—sensitive art school students at Rhode Island School of Design, racist fraternity members at The University of Tennessee, elite students destined for Wall Street at Harvard, radical anarchists at UC Berkeley, Mormons at Brigham-Young University, sorority girls at The University of Oklahoma, football players at Stanford, and many more—he grew increasingly world-weary as he began to lose sight of his own values and understanding of the world.
Told with humor and empathy, a keen observational eye, and riveting storytelling, The Students, Yes is a dark, troubling, and beautiful memoir about the difficulties of growing up and the real meaning of higher education. While it reveals that the college experience varies widely around the country, the book also shows that these formative years are messy for everyone. In a sense, young adulthood itself is an extended identity crisis. Ultimately, the struggles faced by the author and his subjects offer insightful glimpses into the minds of young people and the future of life and culture in America.
The schools included in the book are: University of Texas, Baylor University, University of Oklahoma, Auburn University, University of South Carolina, "Charlton University", University of Tennessee, Furman University, Bob Jones University, Spring Break Week, Long Island University Post, New York University, Rhode Island School of Design, Tufts University, Harvard University, Middlebury College, Dartmouth College, University of Chicago, Texas A&M University, Brigham-Young University, University of California Berkeley, University of Southern California, and Stanford University.