Recommendation letters, heartfelt essays and entrance exams

Recommendation letters, heartfelt essays and entrance exams are some of the many matters high school seniors have to deal with to get into their dream school. Most high school students nearing the end of their twelfth grade journey find comfort in receiving acceptance letters from certain colleges and universities. In some cases, they seek the biggest, most prestigious schools from all across the country. Students have the preconceived notions that “bigger is better” or that those top-tier schools will ensure the most successful future possible. While these elite schools are beneficial in some aspects, students are not seeing the bigger picture. College selection may not always play a role in determining future success. The quality of education, collegiate experiences and whether or not the school truly fits the specific needs of a student are of more importance than the prestige name-brand schools offer. As best-selling author Nancy Gibbs expressed, “college is a match to be made, not a prize to be won” (2).
Elite schools, such as the Ivy League universities, are held at the highest regard. However, the disadvantages of going to a top university outweigh the advantages. Many people question if the high price is worth the distinction. The cost to attend Yale without financial aid is around $70,000 in total. 17 year-old Mostafa Ibrahim chose the University of Cincinnati despite getting accepted by schools like Yale and Columbia because UC provided a better financial aid package. Chloe Thompson, a 22 year-old from Atlanta, picked the University of Georgia’s Foundation Fellows program to pursue her dream of majoring in international business. Gibbs explained how Thompson had several other offers, yet she settled on UGA because it offered free tuition and provided the opportunity to travel in 10 countries (8). Getting admitted into these schools is incredibly difficult as well. Out of the thousands of applicants every year, only a small fraction actually get in. Princeton turned down 4 out of 5 applicants (Gibbs 2). The rejected students were most likely the very best at their school. New York Times journalist Frank Bruni stresses how getting into elite schools does not define an individual or their competence:

If you were shut out of an elite school, that doesn’t mean you’re less gifted than all of

the students who were welcomed there. It may only mean that you lacked the

patronage that some of them had, or that you played the game less single-mindedly, taking fewer SAT courses and failing to massage your biography with the same zeal. (Bruni 4)

Being able to go to elite colleges sometimes has to do with the connections some students may have. Legacies, or the children of alumni, are usually benefited by their parents’ alma mater. Moreover, wealthy families pay thousands of dollars for college admission tutors who sometimes even complete the work for the students. Journalist Tyler Kingkade presents a case in which a rich couple started a charity in Africa in order to build up their child’s resume (3). Furthermore, Ivy Leagues and other top universities do not always offer the best education. William Deresiewicz, a Yale English professor himself, admitted that nice, attentive and perceptive teachers were a rarity. Richard Vedder claimed, “Universities typically are deemphasizing undergraduate instruction and using incremental tuition funds to finance lower teaching loads, more administrative hires, more luxurious student facilities, etc” (1). Many may argue that people who go to elite schools are bred for success and are better off in their careers. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Robert Peace had a promising future, yet he drifted from the right path. He smoke and drunk by the time he was 13 years old. Peace went to Yale and was a drug dealer on campus. He had a degree in molecular biochemistry and he used this knowledge to create his own marijuana strain (Vedder 6). A rival gang hated competition, so they killed Peace. A similar story is that of Andrew Lohse told in the book Confessions of an Ivy League Frat Boy. Lohse went to Dartmouth and wrote in the campus newspaper bashing on the “intoxicating nihilism of fraternity life” (102). Lohse claimed that fraternity life changed people’s mindsets. Being president of a fraternity even if they had low grades was better than having good grades and being independent. Lohse’s argument that these fraternities, or prestigious schools in general, are not as good as they seem is detailed in his book:

Young men who, scant years ago, had been the bright-eyed valedictorians of their Iowa

high schools were now spending their time playing beer pong in dank basements, relating

grim anecdotes and oral histories of fellatio and corporate internships. We came to this

school to probe big questions about why the world is the way it is – not to conform to a

withering idea of wealth and virtual power that we have been manufactured to hold

dear. (Lohse 103)

Many of these students are no longer in search of answers to pressing questions or even have a slight desire to expand their knowledge for the better; a paper confirming their attendance at an Ivy League is enough. Top-tier schools do not always promise a positive outcome. Jeff Hobbs, a Yale graduate, stated, “Nobody, it seemed, was making the money he’d thought he would make, inhabiting the home he thought he would inhabit, doing the thing he’d thought he would do in life. Nobody was fulfilling the dreams harbored on graduation day” (“American Horror, Ivy League Edition” 107). It is clear to see how some elite schools are not always as advertised.

Some may argue that smaller or less prestigious schools can not measure up to their esteemed counterparts, but they are missing crucial details. According to Michael Bernick, around 200 colleges offer quality education comparable to that of an Ivy League (2). Smaller schools often have an emphasis on individual skills, problem solving and teamwork. Several colleges and universities that are not at the top of the list are inexpensive and may be considered a better investment. Students that go to non elite schools tend to me more passionate, open-minded and are not only interested in making their resume look good (“American Horror, Ivy League Edition” 109). Also, the individualized education makes for better preparation. James Sanchez is an aspiring neuroscientist hoping to find a cure for Alzheimer’s. He figured that at a top school he would not get much lab time, so he turned down Harvard and went to Davidson College in North Carolina. Sanchez was confident he’d strive since he would have much more lab experience and his knowledge would help him get into medical school. The style of education at prestigious schools is also not very beneficial in individual growth. According to Gibbs, these non elite schools are not so heavy on exams, grades, or required courses. Instead, students write research papers, do meaningful projects, and they receive a detailed evaluation to help them improve, not just a number or letter grade. The enrollment numbers are increasing in schools like these, including community colleges. Community colleges were viewed as inferior before 1995, but now they are valued for their affordability and one-on-one instruction. It is common to think that the most influential people in the country went to an Ivy League. However, other colleges and universities have successful alumni as well. David Andreatta uses the well-known director Steven Spielberg as an example of a person who did not need an Ivy League education to reach stardom (1). Spielberg was rejected by two top film schools, so he went to a public university. Despite being rejected, he went on to become an amazingly wealthy and iconic Hollywood director. Apart from that, Kingkade claimed that the University of New York, Illinois and Michigan have just as many Nobel Prize winners as Princeton (7). More representatives and senators went to state schools in Virginia, Texas, Georgia, Florida and North Carolina than any Ivy League aside from Harvard and Yale. Non elite schools do not fall behind as far as innovation goes. Kingkade explained how Iowa State created the first digital computer in 1937, the University of Florida invented Gatorade, and Portland State created an invention that identifies pills, helping doctors in emergency situations (5). Ivy Leaguers are not the only ones making a difference. According to Gibbs, only seven people from the list of top 50 CEO’s were Ivy Leaguers (4). Students overlook these schools because they are not as well known as other universities, yet they are just as good, if not better.

College choice usually does not determine job prospects. Several other factors are considered when hiring and these typically include work ethic and competence. In fact, a study conducted by Accountemps found that over half of 270 CFOs said where an applicant goes to college was not important. Only 15 percent said it was vital where they went to college. Andreatta states, “…a new survey suggests holding a degree from a top-tier university influences one’s future success far less than wide-eyed applicants are led to believe” (1). Bernick goes on to explain that the skills and abilities pertaining to the applicant’s field is more important. While employers do look at resumes, it all comes down to what the person actually has to offer. Bernick offers information regarding the factors that are considered when hiring:

In one study, NOVA interviewed tech employers and learned that mastery of current

technologies is the most critical factor in their hiring decisions. Few employers even

mentioned college degrees as a factor. ‘Especially in the tech industry, employers

want to see skills applications rather than traditional resumes’ says Stadelman.

Past work experiences matter more because it truly shows what the applicant can do for the company. Another study conducted by economists Alan Krueger and Stacy Berg Dale in 1999 shows how college selection does not affect future earnings (Bernick 2). The study compared the earnings of graduates from top schools and “moderately selective” schools. Those who went to smaller schools were usually accepted to the elite schools but chose to go elsewhere. After 20 years, both groups earned the same or the numbers differed slightly. For the most part, when applying to colleges students look at what programs the university offers that could help them in their career instead of how prestigious it is. They also consider the location and size of the college. Also, students with similar academic goals will frequently find themselves in the same university (Gibbs 5). Various elements go into college selection, but given the information, it becomes apparent that it has little to no effect on future success. If anything, it affects how enjoyable their college experience is and whether or not they feel like it is the right fit.

The arguments that people may make about the benefits of elite schools or the disadvantages of non elite schools are reasonable from time to time. Public schools, no matter the reputation, are not cheap. Kingkade offers a statistic that claims that two thirds of graduates from public colleges have student debt when they get their degree (6). “The risk is that debt is impairing a lot of graduates from taking risks to start a business or move to where they can find better employment” (Kingkade 6). This debt is impeding graduates from moving forward. In addition, community colleges have extremely high attrition rates. Bigger schools are at the top of the list of the best colleges of the country. US News ranks Harvard in first place. While top schools are incredibly expensive, universities like Harvard and Yale occasionally give great financial aid packages. In some cases, going to a top-tier college gives job candidates an edge and poses a threat to competition. Andreatta explains how law students are more likely to be recruited to important companies if they are graduates from elite universities. Andreatta continues by showing how a portion of employers do care about college choice. “Elite universities also tend to have a leg up on lesser-known schools in maintaining alumni databases that can be used by job seekers to target employers with a soft spot for their alma mater” (2). The amount of elite alumni that become influential people is still large. Harvard graduates compose more of Congressmen and presidents than any other school. Nonetheless, there are just as many representatives and senators from the University of Georgia as Stanford. The University of Minnesota at Twin Cities has made as many vice presidents as Yale. These opposing viewpoints all take us back to the idea that the downsides of elite schools outweigh the benefits.

By examining the negative aspects of elite colleges and universities, pointing out the benefits of non elite schools and establishing how job prospects are not entirely affected by college selection, it is clear to see how college choice does not have an effect on an individual’s success in the future. Students think name-brand universities are the way to go because of their reputation or fame. It is time to take a step back and truly consider all the components that go into selecting a school. While choosing what is pleasing to the eye can be tempting, all the details should be taken into consideration to shape the bigger picture.

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