Whether you’ve yet to send out college applications, or have already received your acceptance letters, you are probably wondering if it really does matter where you go to school.
You can choose between:
- The top-tier college with the glam, “makes-everyone-swoon” brand name, and comes with a high 6-figure student loan attached.
- The mid-tier, much more affordable college, without the “industry-leading” professors and exclusive network opportunities.
Either way, there is a question that sits heavy on every student’s mind: “Does it really matter what college you go to in the U.S., and how much will it impact my life in the long run?
But, like most of life’s big questions, this isn’t something with a black and white answer.
Apart from the quality and cost of education, there are many other factors to consider.
Relying on general social beliefs is probably not the best way to find answers.
In this guide, we’re using actual data-based proof from real-life studies to paint a clearer picture.
Read on to find answers to your biggest questions, and an analysis of the success-defining factors.
1. Do prestigious universities in the U.S really provide better quality education?
Perhaps 50 years ago top-tier colleges were sure to be offering higher-quality education. But, today, over 200+ colleges across the U.S. offer similar levels of education, faculty, and facilities.
In fact, top-tier institutions often win their academic acclaim because of their focus on research publications. Hence, they tend to reward professors based on their research successes.
This system can sometimes result in industry-leading professors who are more focused on their personal research than they are on teaching.
In such cases, a mid-tier university professor, who focuses solely on teaching, might give you a better learning experience.
Apart from that, a 2017 NSSE survey found that a highly competitive, top-tier college does not guarantee a better learning experience for students.
Many less selective universities ranked just as well as top-tier ones when it came to teaching quality.
Most big, brand-name colleges boast their share of top-rated academic programs. But, that doesn’t mean they are the best for all courses of study.
Depending on what major you want to pursue, a state university program might be more highly acclaimed than the one at Princeton. So, study the ranking of colleges for your course of choice to avoid falling prey to the lure of a brand name.
Reach out to a few students studying your desired major to know the ground reality of the college you plan to join.
2. Does the college you go to affect your job prospects after graduation in the U.S.?
What about after you graduate? It’s time to wonder, “Do employers really care which school you went to?”
There’s no debating the fact that top-tier colleges carry a certain level of prestige. A prestige that some employers value as a marker for a “good, quality candidate.”
According to research done by Lauren Rivera, around two-thirds of recruiters in elite firms valued “college prestige” while making hiring decisions. These were firms in the investment banking, law, and management consulting space.
Ivy League and top-tier colleges also offer students a definite leg up in their careers with access to better networking opportunities during college. This is not only their highly successful alumni network, but also top industry experts in well-funded college events.
Depending on your major, top-tier colleges really can give you easier access to better job opportunities.
But, that does not mean you have no chance of landing great jobs without the college brand name.
According to a 2013 Gallup poll, only 9% of business leaders felt a candidate’s college was a very important factor in making hiring decisions.
A NOVA study of employers in the tech space found that most employers valued individual skill and mastery of current technologies as the most critical hiring factor.
In fact, very few managers even mentioned candidate’s college name in their list of hiring factors.
3. Does the college you go to in the U.S. affect your salary after graduation?
The common notion is that graduates from top-tier colleges tend to be compensated better than those from state universities.
But, research shows that this is true only for a select few industries.
According to a study by Eric Eide, Mark Showalter, and Michael Hilmer, for business and engineering majors, the name of the school you go to makes a difference in your earnings.
They found that business and engineering graduates from top-tier schools earn around 12% more than those from middle-tier schools.
The reason perhaps being easier access to elite internship opportunities, or because the brand name was considered a guarantee of quality for employers.
For graduates in other majors, however, little difference in income was found from college to college when comparing students who had similar resume qualities in all other aspects.
4. Are the sky-high student loans in America worth it?
The college tuition fee and expected student loans are often what it boils down to when comparing colleges. It is a very personal choice to make, with no blanket answers to offer.
How much money you feel is worth investing in college depends on your financial status and your comfort in paying back loans.
But, here are two crucial factors that will help you decide if the student loan amount is going to be worth it.
How marketable is your degree? What job stability and income potential does it offer?
Your college major has the biggest impact on your expected earnings and income potential, and will help you predict if an expensive degree is worth it.
Degrees in healthcare, engineering, finance, and business tend to offer much higher salaries and return of interest on tuition fees, than those in subjects like English or history.
This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t consider a low-paying degree, but you must make calculated choices, so that you don’t end up spending the next two decades paying off your student loans.
Look at the long-term earning potential as well. Some careers have low entry-level income, but offer much higher salaries later on.
How much will you owe in student loans, and will you be able to pay it off?
Students often overlook hidden fees and living expenses that can rack up your student loans to be much higher than expected. Ensure you count in the total cost of attending college as part of your student loan.
Then, calculate to see if you will be able to pay off the loan, based on your expected entry-level salary.
Financial experts suggest that your total student loan should never be more than what you expect to make in one year of working full-time, post-college.
There’s one final factor to consider for whether a college will improve your career growth and success: It’s your dedication, focus, and ambition.
In a world-view-changing study, economists Alan Krueger and Stacy Dale compared the earnings of graduates from elite colleges with those from middle-tier colleges.
They compared students with similar high school GPAs, SAT scores, and college majors across the two groups. Shockingly, they found that 20 years down the line, both sets of students had very similar earnings.
So, at the end of the day, it really doesn’t matter where you go to college.
Your strength as a student, and as an individual, determines your destiny, not the school you go to.
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