Throughout high school and the majority of middle school, my dream was to go to Harvard. Without a doubt, I was naive and overconfident about my abilities, and upon entering a competitive school district for high school, I realized that my chances of getting in were slim. I always thought I was destined for Harvard or any Ivy League, for that matter. But today, after completing a semester at Rutgers University, I can confidently say that I made the right choice.
When I received rejection upon rejection during the college application season, I came to the conclusion that I'd end up attending my state school. I would say things like "I'd rather be at the top of an average school than the bottom of a top school" and "the college you go to doesn't really matter for undergrad" and "it's not worth the money; I'd rather spend it on graduate school" to justify my choice.
Truth be told, I was just trying to make myself feel better and hide my shame of not making an Ivy League. College decisions are totally unpredictable, but that's a whole other topic entirely and I do not wish to digress.
The point is, there are many factors that determine which college is the perfect fit for you. After just a semester, I can honestly say that it really does not matter what college I or any of my other high school friends are going to.
It's about what you make of your experience at college.
We've all heard that statement before, haven't we? And it's not very convincing or uplifting, especially when you are a high school senior caught up in seeing other classmates posting their acceptances on Facebook. It's hard, I get it. There are some things I wish people had told me to help me get through it all. So, here are some things to consider before having your heart set on an elite school solely for the sake of its reputation.
1. Grade inflation.
Grade inflation is the practice of giving higher grades for work that deserves something lower. People justify its use by arguing that inflated grades are necessary for students to succeed in our competitive job markets. It was mainly thought that Harvard and other Ivy Leagues engage in this practice, but in a study, it was found that approximately 43% of all grades distributed in 200 universities were in the A range. It was also reported that private schools have more students at the top of the grade distribution compared to public schools with equal acceptance rates. The median and most frequently awarded grade in Harvard is an A-. Other schools like MIT, Columbia, Yale, and Brown also have rampant grade inflation. These schools either have no F's, or simply do not give out letter grades, but rather use a Honors/Pass/Fail system. Almost an astonishing two-thirds of Brown undergraduate students receive A's. It really makes you think whether students from elite schools are actually more competent and successful than their counterparts.
2. You do not make more money.
Ivy League graduates make an average of $70,000 a year, compared to $30,000 for graduates of other schools. Yes, Ivy League students do have a significantly higher income than other students but do not let these statistics fool you. There seems to be a misconception that students from elite schools are smarter and more successful. While true to a certain degree, these numbers fail to take into account personal characteristics that can influence success.
A 2002 study conducted by Alan Krueger and Stacy Dale compared average yearly incomes of Ivy League students and those who were accepted into Ivy Leagues but chose a state college instead. What did they find? The average salaries of the two groups were essentially the same! So, no, you do not just become more successful by attending an elite school. It really is about your intrinsic motivation.
3. Jobs don't care.
While Ivy Leagues can definitely raise your chances of getting a head start in competitive fields, such as finance and law, your college degree will not linger on for the rest of your career path. After your first job, what really matters is your experience, not the college you attended. Your employer is probably not going to go through the effort of scrutinizing your transcript.
3. In the real world, connections are everything.
Ivy Leagues are excellent to build networks. I mean, just take Mark Zuckerberg for example. He went to Harvard and dropped out after developing a social network with his roommates. And now, he is one of the richest people in the world with almost 2.07 active users on Facebook. Some of the most powerful and influential people have attended Ivy Leagues, so attending one guarantees that you are making bright connections. But, here is the good news. Successful and highly motivated people are everywhere. Any big school will have an ample number of people to connect with and opportunities to embark upon.
4. GPA isn't everything.
Due to grade inflation, GPA's have become so saturated and unreliable as an accurate method of evaluating merit and capacity for professional work. No wonder that a recent 2012 study revealed that GPA is the 7th out of 8 factors that employers consider before hiring. Internships, previous job experience and extracurriculars played a much larger role. These are all assets that can be explored at any college.
5. Use college as an opportunity to explore.
In today's age, the decision of whether you go to college matters far more than that of where you to choose to go. A degree is a degree and job outcomes are virtually unaffected by whether you attend UPenn or Penn State. The decision really is yours, so choose wisely. It's easy to get caught up in competition and status, but keep in mind that an elite school will not guarantee your success. Instead, find a school that fits your preferences based on location, environment, cost, and size. College isn't just a straight route to hang a prestigious degree on your wall, but your chance to explore your interests and build a career path.
To be clear, I am not against Ivy Leagues. They are excellent for their academic prowess, networking, and an almost guaranteed "head start" in the work field. Do not shy away from applying to Ivy Leagues but at the same time, keep in mind that a rejection is not the end of the world. In the grand scheme of things, where you went to college will not matter — but rather what you do once you get there.