Why do so many people obsess about going to the most elite colleges and universities?
As you do your college search, try to keep the school rankings in perspective. The rankings tend to focus on only a handful of schools. There are over 3,000 four-year colleges in the United States. Can you name more than 100? Probably not.
But do not feel bad, because you are certainly not alone. We all know the names of the most popular, most elite, most sports-oriented colleges, but in reality, that is a small fraction of the number of colleges in the country.
To keep sane during your research, it is best to abandon this myth that “you have to go to the most elite college or else you will be a failure.” Tons of successful people have graduated from colleges you have never heard of.
Estimating the Payoff to Attending a More Selective College
Scholars have researched this issue of whether Ivy League and other elite schools are actually worth it. The benefits seem to be debatable. A provocative study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research argued that attending a brand name college does not always equate to higher earnings. In their 1999 study, Stacy Berg Dale and Alan Krueger examined the earnings of college graduates who attended elite private colleges with those who went to less exclusive colleges.
The authors compared earnings for students with comparable academic backgrounds to determine if graduates from elite colleges out-earned their counterparts who graduated from the non-elite colleges. Their findings were fascinating:
Graduates from brand name schools did not earn more than their peers who were also accepted to those schools yet chose not to go (opting to attend less prestigious schools).
In other words, they determined that there is no long-term financial benefit from attending the most exclusive colleges.
Try to keep this in mind as you do your college search.
College Quality, Earnings, and Job Satisfaction
In a more recent study published in 2010, professors explored whether college graduates from elite schools were more satisfied with their careers than those who graduated from less well-known colleges. Interestingly, the authors determined that:
Graduates of brand name colleges actually had less job satisfaction than those who had graduated from less exclusive colleges.
Why We Are Telling You All This?
It’s not because we don’t want you to apply to the top school in the country. Rather, we want you to understand that getting in and paying for one of the most selective schools in the country won’t necessarily make you a happy person.
One of the main reasons the college search is so stressful is that so many people believe that you are doomed if you do not go to an elite school.
The reality, however, is that there is no perfect college out there. Moreover, there is no college that will guarantee a successful life or happy career. Rather than finding the “perfect” school during your college search, your job is to find the college that is the perfect fit for you.