The Name of Your College is Not the End All Be All

Student Life

Many high schoolers dream of someday attending a prestigious college, often becoming obsessed with the idea of achieving admission into such a school. Society places so much emphasis on college prestige that many students have come to believe that acceptance into a top college is the epitome of success. This mindset places unnecessary stress on already exhausted students and promotes a damaging environment where grades and test scores are prioritized over mental health.

Society's Obsession With Elite Colleges

The infatuation with selective colleges extends far beyond high schoolers, infiltrating news headlines, social media, businesses, books, and almost every other aspect of life.

In 2019, the college admissions scandal exposed the blatant selfishness and privilege of the rich. However, it also revealed the enormous value people place on attending highly ranked schools and the status that comes with such an achievement. Wealthy parents were willing to go to great lengths to secure admission for their children, even paying up to $6.5 million dollars for fabricated test scores and bribes to coaches.

While the actions of those involved are inexcusable, there is a much larger issue besides a handful of greedy parents. We cannot solely blame them for the incident, as their manipulation is a direct result of the society we live in. The majority of us are not guilty of bribing colleges, but we are guilty of romanticizing name-branded schools and fueling a system where cheating is a viable option.

The excessive emphasis on college prestige can also be seen through last year's admission statistics. During the COVID-19 pandemic, many name-brand schools saw a massive surge in applications. This, in turn, caused much lower admission rates and intensified the selectivity surrounding already elite schools.

For example, Harvard, which is considered the most prestigious university in the entire world, received 43% more applications in the 2020-2021 admissions cycle than the previous year and had a mere 3.43% acceptance rate.

The Cost of Prestige

In addition, elite private colleges often cost much more than other schools. The average tuition and fees of an Ivy League school during the 2020-2021 school year was $78,417, which is about three times more than that of in-state public colleges, which was $26,820. Although many top schools offer generous financial aid, students from middle-class backgrounds often do not qualify and have to opt for cheaper colleges.

The education quality of a highly ranked college is most definitely not three times greater than a public state school, yet we still view these colleges as inherently “better.” By idolizing elite universities, we are creating a destructive system that promotes prestige over actual learning.

Along with tangible costs, it is undeniable that the admissions process is extremely stressful for all high schoolers, even those that aren't seniors. The looming threat of college applications creates a toxic atmosphere where student success hinges on the opinions of unpredictable admissions officers rather than personal accomplishments.

High school is supposed to be a time of self-discovery, but many students feel pressured to become the stereotypical Ivy League admit brimming with all A’s, leadership positions, volunteer work, and academic awards. This prevents them from pursuing their own interests, as they may not seem impressive enough or give the GPA boost that other classes provide.

Does Name Recognition Actually Matter?

Like with any other college, there are both benefits and costs to attending a prestigious university. Although society touts these selective schools as the gold standard of education, in reality, they are certainly not the strongest in every single field. For example, the distinguished Princeton University does not even have a law school.

In a paper by Challenge Success, a non-profit affiliated with the Stanford University Graduate School of Education, researchers found that "college selectivity is not a reliable predictor of student learning, job satisfaction, or well-being." They determined that a more important factor for success after college is engagement, which involves making the most of the resources and opportunities provided.

Fit Over Prestige

Additionally, a top college may not necessarily be the best option for everyone. College is much more than just a ranking; it's a place where students develop their passions, form connections, and experience independence as young adults. Although academics play a large role in the college experience, the social and cultural climate of a school also has a significant impact on the overall campus atmosphere.

Deciding which college to attend is a highly individualized choice and depends on multiple factors, such as location, size, specific academic strengths, cost, and much more. Prestige can be included in this decision, but it definitely should not be the only or most important aspect.

Valuing prestige over the actual environment of a school causes many high schoolers to make decisions solely based on how they would impact their chances of getting into a top college. However, this mindset ultimately harms these students, as they haven't had the opportunity to develop any true interests and may lack motivation without the external incentive of college admissions. Thus, it is essential to prioritize engaging learning over shallow resume boosters, as they allow students to pursue a more fulfilling education in the long run.

Life After College

Many students stress over where they go to college so much that they forget to consider the bigger picture. College is not the ultimate end goal of K-12 education, but rather a single step in the lifelong journey of learning.

Instead of focusing on the results of the college admissions process, we should celebrate every students’ unique learning journey and encourage them to pursue topics they are genuinely interested in.

While gaining admittance into an elite university is an incredible accomplishment, it should not be the only one that holds value. After all, what you do during and after college matters much more than where you go.

Laura Zhang
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Laura Zhang is a 15-year-old high school student from Virginia. Along with writing, Laura is passionate about math, computer science, and tutoring. In her free time, she can be found curling up with a good book or listening to a podcast.