Is a College’s Prestige Important?

Assess whether or not you should care about a college's prestige during your college search.

Harvard University Classroom
Students attend class in a fancy lecture hall at Harvard.

When deciding where to apply to college, many students are attracted to schools with big names like the Ivies (Harvard, Yale, Princeton, etc.) because they’re widely recognized as prestigious places that offer excellent academic programs. There is certainly validity to this viewpoint, but it doesn’t provide the whole picture. Examine why prestige is and isn’t important to help you determine whether a prestigious college is a good fit for you.

3 Reasons Why Prestige May Matter to You

1. High Graduation Rates

Prestigious schools like Columbia, Cornell and Brown are known for having amazingly high graduation rates – an astounding 97.4 percent of students graduate from Harvard in six years or less. This means you’ll be an environment where students are serious about studying hard and graduating on time, which is likely to motivate you to do the same. However, on average, only 8.75 percent of applicants get into these schools and nearly all have a 3.5 GPA or higher, with most having a 4.0 GPA.

Yale University Graduation
Yale students celebrate graduation; 96.3 percent graduate in six years.

2. High Quality Education

You can get a great education at a lot of colleges, but there is something to be said for the amazing education that prestigious colleges have to offer. Top-notch teaching faculty, impressive facilities and sky-high standards are likely to set you up for success. You should still consider whether or not a prestigious school will work with your learning style, but if you do end up at a highly selective place, you’re almost guaranteed to get a great education.

3. Job Market Success

Schools like Harvard, Princeton, Stanford, and Yale scored a spot on Payscale.com’s list of schools with the highest paid graduates, and this doesn’t come as a huge surprise. These prestigious schools look impressive on a resume, and the strong communities they build provide students and alums with a ton of networking opportunities. This doesn’t mean you can’t get a great job after going to a less selective school, but attending a prestigious one may up your chances.

3 Reasons Why Prestige May NOT Matter to You

1. Price

Unfortunately, highly prestigious schools also tend to be very expensive. However, some offer great financial aid options that allow their students to graduate with low debt. It’s important to assess your personal financial situation and determine how much tuition you can pay and how much aid you’ll need. Once you’ve done this, you can determine whether or not you can possibly afford the prestigious school you’re considering. If you think you may able to, you should next consider…

2. Selectivity

Prestigious schools aren’t just expensive; they’re also highly selective, meaning that they’re very difficult to get into. Research what kinds of students get into the school you’re considering – what are their grade point averages and SAT scores? If they’re well above yours, it may be a waste of time and money to apply. Even if you could miraculously gain admission with lower stats, it’s important to consider…

3. Academic Environment

Just because a school is known for having rigorous curriculum doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s a good match for you. For example, if you were a B-average student in high school, it may be unnecessarily stressful for you to be in an environment where everyone consistently gets A’s. Also, an “excellent” or “difficult” school may not have programs or majors that are right for you, rendering the “impressive” curriculum irrelevant to you. Remember, the college matching process is about finding a school where you personally fit in, not where you have to struggle to find your place.

So, does college prestige matter? The short answer is that it depends on your wants and needs. Remember, what ultimately matters most is whether or not a school is a good match for you, regardless of whether it’s prestigious or not.

People Who Read This Article Also Read:

Is an Ivy League College for You?
How Selective Are Top Colleges?
What is the Value of a Bachelor's Degree?
Colleges With the Best Return on Investment (ROI)

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