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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  • 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.

  • Joe H. says:

    I find this argument to be very elitist and not uncanny for someone who attended an Ivy League School. The Ivy League is seen as the golden gates from heaven that narrow peoples life choices into a dichotomy between working minimum wage and earning 300k+ a year and causes people to not emotionally develop as they spend their youth trying to “make it big”. Everyone knows the Ivy League and other selective schools rarely admit anyone from outside their social circle of rich and well connected families. The truth is that despite the COVID-19 pandemic and transitions to a different lifestyle, anyone through hard work,dedication, and passion can succeed in the United States. Talented people that graduated from lower-tier universities have developed business strategies to help our country adjust to the “new normal” and charter the path to the unknown future. It’s the american way. And also, due to the ongoing pandemic,it’s unlikely higher education will see a revival as people are reconsidering attending private and public colleges in record numbers; Who want’s to pay $55k/year to watch zoom lectures, even if they get financial aid? It won’t make a difference. So go ahead, tell people that where they go matters, you’re unlikely to get many people from your elitist academia bubble.

    • Wes says:

      I completely agree, Joe. Even in the very study that this author referenced by AJC, it states, “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.” First, this ISN’T TALKING ABOUT ONLY THE IVY LEAGUE! It is talking about a group of selective schools, a group which I could not find because the study was poorly cited and I was unable to even find it. Second of all, this study shows that yes, these schools CAN help you significantly… IF YOU ARE POOR. The article ALSO says that even the SLIGHT economic advantage given to RICH people is being compared to NO COLLEGE AT ALL, NOT to another college not in the Ivy League. It is almost as if ivycoach sells college admissions help SPECIFICALLY for Ivy League schools, and will show misleading data to push their own agenda.

      Most people who read this article went to Harvard, but have nothing to show for it, so the only achievement they can actually brag about is going to Harvard. These same people also look at the only article that shows up to support their perspective, so I guess Harvard hasn’t taught them much about bias, either.

      Rant Over. Wes Out.

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