As the college application process rapidly approaches, hundreds of thousands of rising seniors are trying to figure out what schools they want to apply to. I remember this position all too well (and I should, it was only a year ago!). Of course, there are thousands of criteria to base your college list on – price, distance from home, location of campus in relation to nightlife, class size, overall size, etc. But perhaps the most difficult one for me a year ago was the “name.” No, I don’t mean this in a literal sense (although the ability to pronounce a school’s name is always a plus). I mean this in terms of how well known the name is.
This is a struggle shared by many – do you shell out the extra thousands of dollars to guarantee that when you tell people you graduated from X college, you bring with you a reputation? Or do you save that cash and go to a lesser known, but equally as great of a school?
Obviously, as with all important decisions, this one comes with its own set of pros and cons. I think the most important thing to remember is that no education is ever wasted. It doesn’t matter whether you get an Associate’s degree from a community college or go on to get a law degree from Harvard – every class you take, every test you pass and every lesson you’re taught will count for something in the future. With that in mind, please also remember that the “perfect” school for me may not be the one for you and as such, any and all advice you get about this college process should be taken into account but shouldn’t be your final and deciding factor.
Okay, so you’re torn between going to a well-known yet expensive school or a lesser-known yet cheaper school. Well, there are two main factors here: Are you planning on pursuing a degree past this one? (at grad school, law School, medical school, etc.) and What kind of college experience are you after?
If you do not plan on pursing further degrees, then I think that if you can justify it financially, it is better to go to a better-known school. The reason I say this is because employers tend to look at your most recent education and in this situation, the name of your school will carry some weight. The friends I have at more well-known schools all say that going to a name-brand school has undoubtedly given them more opportunities to build connections with a bunch of different people.
However, if you are like myself and plan to pursue more than one degree, I’d advise you to save on your undergraduate degree and splurge later when you’re in grad school. As aforementioned, employers tend to look at your most recent place of education so if you go to a lesser-known, cheaper school that’s just as academically challenging as some of the bigger schools, you’re not only saving yourself four years of unmanageable loans, but you’re also giving yourself the space to go to a more expensive and better-known school in the future.
The second thing I think is important to consider in this situation is the college experience you’re going for. If you’re like me and like smaller schools where you tend to know most of the people on campus and have a much more personal experience, you may not enjoy going to the bigger, better-known schools. The truth is that most of the better-known schools are also bigger in population. However, if you are someone who wants the real “as seen on TV” big school experience, then you may want to consider a bigger and better-known school purely because for you, the cost will be worth it because it’s the experience you’re after.
Here’s what I learned through the guidance of many of my older friends:
1. You can make connections from any school, regardless of its size.
2. If you go to a lesser-known school, you are also less likely to meet people you already know so you will have to go the extra mile to make friends.
3. Going to a better-known school means that you will rarely have to answer the questions “Where is that?” or “What is that?”
4. You will get out of your school what you put into your school. That being said, you can have a great experience at either a very well-known school or a lesser-known school.
5. Go visit the campus and see if you can imagine yourself there.
Personally, I’m going the lesser-known school route because the school I’m attending offered me a very generous scholarship, and I know I will be going on to pursue more degrees so it made sense for me to go this route. This is not what I had initially planned, though. It took lots of visits to the campus and talking to upperclassmen at this school for me to be secure in my decision. However, everyone is different and everyone wants different things so make sure you really sit down and consider what you want out of the four years you’re in college.