Going to College

Does Where You Go To College Matter?

I am often asked this question by parents and students. Does it matter where you go to college? What they are asking me is if students who attend and graduate from famous, fancy, prestigious colleges have an advantage over students who attend smaller, less well known, less well financed and endowed colleges. Ivy League colleges, like Harvard and Princeton, as well as “Ivy-level” colleges, like MIT, Stanford, and Duke, build their entire marketing program and social media presence around the idea that student gains an ineffable advantage by attending their premium brand schools. But is it really true?

There is plenty of evidence that attending and graduating from college has a demonstrable impact on a student’s employment opportunities, lifetime earnings, and quality of life. Students who graduate from college are better able to weather economic downturns and are better able to save for their first house, medical bills, and family planning. But does it matter to which college a student attends or graduates?

Does Going to A Prestigious College Matter?

Economists Stacy Dale and Alan Krueger published an important study in 2002 that showed that the students who regularly attend prestigious universities like Harvard, Stanford, Princeton, or MIT, often benefit from social and economic circumstances that aid them in earning admission to those colleges. These individuals would gain the same benefits from their upbringing regardless of the university they chose to attend and their peers who attend other colleges tend to fall into the same earnings brackets. In other words, students from wealthy families will often land high paying jobs no matter what university they attend, and students from less well-off backgrounds end up in the same earning bracket regardless of attending Harvard or Boise State University.

So it would seem that where you go to university doesn’t matter. That would only be true if estimated earnings potential were all that mattered in life. Life is more than earning a paycheck, however. Life is the sum of our experiences and relationships, and where we find those experiences and build those relationships absolutely matters.

How Well Does the University Fit YOU?

Far more important that the name or fame of a college or university is the concept of fit. When a high schools student is applying to college, I will always advise them to begin the process of building their college list with themselves. I will ask them, “What are you hoping to get out of your college experience? What matters to you? What are your passions?” Different colleges and universities offer different experiences. Students should be looking for the college that fits them best, not the school with the most famous name.

What most students and parents forget is that when students go off to university, they live there for the next four years. Students live in the dorms, eat in the cafeterias, walk the campus, and build relationships with their fellow students. In many ways, college is home for those four years. No matter how famous and important the name of the college is, if life on campus is painful or uncomfortable, students will have a bad experience. 

College should be a wonderful period of growth and learning. It absolutely matters where you go to college. Pick a college that will inspire you, embrace you, and fulfill your academic, social, cultural, and career needs. Learn more tips and tricks about college admissions here.

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