Sorry, Where You Go To College Matters

College Choice Matters, Ivy League, College Admissions Matter
Where you go to college matters. You may not want to hear it. But it doesn’t mean it isn’t true.

“It doesn’t matter where your child goes to college. All that matters is that your child is happy.” You know you’ve heard that line before. It’s the kind of line you hear in passing and you find yourself nodding in agreement. Who can argue with wanting your child to be happy? It seems sweet and sensical. But let’s get real. That argument is absolutely ridiculous. A student can be happy at an elite university just as a student can be unhappy at a university that isn’t all that prestigious. A student can be unhappy at an elite university just as a student can be happy at a non-prestigious university. What exactly does this have to do with the price of tea in China?

There are Happy and Unhappy Students on Every College Campus

We understand and appreciate that in our “everyone is a winner” climate, the parents of students who don’t earn admission to highly selective colleges are often quick to say that it doesn’t matter where students go to college, all that matters is that they’re happy. If that soothes their egos, we’re all for such thinking. But, to cut through the nonsense, it absolutely does matter where you go to college. Sorry, Malcolm Gladwell, we’ve read every one of your books — including your latest, Talking to Strangers — but let’s just say your arguments, while absolutely gripping and always worthy of the purchase, are often unsubstantiated.

Attending a Highly Selective College Increases Economic Outlook

The fact is, students who attend elite universities have higher earning potential. In a piece published a few weeks back by Maureen Downey in AJC entitled “In college admissions, the rich get in and get enriched,” she writes, “Economist Raj Chetty found attendance at Ivy League and highly select campuses — an elite grouping he dubbed Ivy Plus — provides a greater economic payoff for poor children than rich ones. ‘If you’re a rich kid, attending an Ivy Plus college rather than no college at all increases your odds of making it into the top income quintile as an adult earner by a factor of four. So you do get an economic boost from your college education, but it’s not a huge one,’ writes Tough. ‘If you’re a poor kid, though, attending an Ivy Plus college rather than no college is truly life-changing. It increases your odds of making it into the top income quintile by a factor of fourteen.'”

Still not convinced? Well, a recent CNBC Make It study analyzed data to determine the top 50 colleges that pay off the most. The top ten on the list? They’re all highly selective institutions: Stanford University, Princeton University, University of Chicago, California Institute of Technology, Harvard University, Yale University, Columbia University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Pomona College, and Duke University, respectively.

As Abigail Hess writes in her piece for CNBC entitled “The top 10 private US colleges that pay off have one thing in common—they’re super hard to get into,” “Going to college is a major investment. Though experts agree that earning a college degree pays off, the costs can be overwhelming. CNBC Make It analyzed data from colleges and universities across the country to determine the top 50 U.S. colleges that pay off the most, and found that there is a wide range of schools that offer students a top-notch education at low net costs. The top 10 private U.S. colleges on our list, in particular, provide a significant premium for students that attend. But there’s a catch: They’re all extremely difficult to get into. Students applying for a spot in the class of 2022 at these prestigious private schools faced tough odds. Fewer than 10% of applicants were accepted at each of the top 10 private schools on our list, with individual school acceptance rates ranging from 4.3% at Stanford to 8.6% at Duke. The average acceptance rate at these 10 schools is 6.2%.”

Many Who Say It Doesn’t Matter Where You Go to College Don’t Believe Those Words Themselves

So to the folks who say, “It doesn’t matter where your child goes to college. All that matters is that your child is happy,” continue to smile and nod politely. When a high school counselor at The Derryfield School in New Hampshire pens entire op-eds about how going to an elite university is essentially overrated, check out his Twitter feed. Note the kid featured prominently in the Yale t-shirt in the profile photo. Note the schools featured prominently on the high school counselor’s own school’s college counseling website. So, yes, those people are often hypocrites. Those people may say it doesn’t matter where you go to college, but that doesn’t mean even they believe it. But smile, nod and go about your day anyway.

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2 Comments

  • elizabeth venturini says:

    Yes. It does matter. All of my international families care about rankings, brand name, and the prestige of the school. If a school is not one of the top 50 on US News and World Report they won’t even consider it.

  • Jefferson Bowen says:

    @elizabeth venturini, I’d submit that international families feel that way because the odds of their kids getting admitted to elite schools are much lower than USA citizens and human nature dictates that people always equate scarcity with value. That’s not always true.

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