How important is the prestige associated with specific colleges?

Becky Han, Staff Assistant

The issue of college prestige poses a serious dilemma for high schoolers who are thinking about potential target schools with their parents.  For many, this decision is largely determined by the college’s level of prestige, as there is a widespread perception that attending a more prestigious university has a direct positive correlation with the individual’s salary after graduation.

Thus, a great deal of students and parents tend to place heavy emphasis on getting into the “best” possible college, even if that means the former will be studying a major they do not necessarily fit well into, with the belief that they will be compensated later by earning high wages in the future.

However, the simple line of reason that a school’s prestige determines one’s future success is not always true.  Some argue that a student’s major is what mainly accounts for their salary, and also that their major should be based heavily on the student’s academic passions over a ticket into a prestigious college for their own well-being.

Interestingly, recent statistics prove that prioritizing school prestige over major is not, in many instances, beneficial in the long run.  The Wall Street Journal analyzed a survey taken by college graduates that observed the progress they were making in the decade after school.  The results revealed that diplomas from prestigious schools elevate earnings for certain fields, while they simply do not make any difference in others.

For liberal arts majors such as business, the prestige of the school was revealed to have a significant influence on expectations for future earnings.  On the other hand, how prestigious or expensive a school is was observed as having little to no impact on STEM-oriented fields, as expected earnings turn out the same.

“I think that the majors a school offers should take priority over the school’s prestige.  If someone has a particular field they’d like to major in but it’s not offered at a big name school, they should go to the smaller college.  Big name schools may help when applying for a job, but just because you don’t go to one doesn’t mean you can’t be successful,” said sophomore Emily Doherty.

While working towards a certain school with the idea that the major or program one is applying for greatly appeals to their academic aspirations, there are numerous cases where students simply strive towards a specific college for its high reputation and elitism.  In these occurrences, they tend to disregard their own interests and go for majors where they have the greatest chance to get into.

Students, however, need to take into serious consideration the process of prioritizing the varying aspects of the college experience.  By properly comparing and contrasting their preferences with what the college actually offers, and also by conducting further research and going on campus visits, students will be able to truly pay heed to how closely colleges match their specific interests.

Furthermore, if a student feels overly melancholy or stressed while at a school since it is not a proper fit for him or her, the experience can by no means become improved just because the university has a widely recognized name or famous school prestige.  Therefore, there is a high risk of ignoring how well a college will come to serve the student if individuals look solely at the college’s name or ranking rather than the programs it offers.

“I think that parents want their children to go to prestigious schools just so they can brag about it,” said junior Iris Cai.

Indeed, attending schools with big names do provide specific advantages that less-selective schools may not have abundant access to.  Most notably, studying at colleges like Harvard, Yale, Stanford, and Princeton has been revealed to aid in job market success, as they are among the list of schools with the highest paid graduates.  In addition, there is a building of strong commutal bonds that offer students and alumni alike a surplus of promising networking opportunities.

Despite this, the most important part of the college process is making sure that students are able to grow both personally and academically by choosing a college that is the best fit for them.  College applicants will be able to select colleges that will help them thrive by paying close attention to what they wish to gain from a college education, and whether or not they align with what the college offers.

Even though college prestige does seem to matter in certain circumstances, determining what college one wishes to attend should be largely based on the individual’s own wants and needs.  What matters in the end of the day is whether or not a specific school is a good match for the student, regardless of whether it’s prestigious or not.