Home Opinion Prestige Over Practicality: How Important Are Highly Ranked Universities?

Prestige Over Practicality: How Important Are Highly Ranked Universities?


For many high school students, the dreaded time has come: the time for these students to choose their respective futures, and gain a glimpse of what it means to be independent and adult. Choosing the right college is an extensive and complicated task. Attending a college has become more important over the years, as the unemployment rate gap between high school graduates and college graduates augments.  For some students, their parents are hovering along every step of the way, choosing their major and college of choice on their behalf. For others, they feel pressure by their peers or society to aim for a “brand-name” college. The pursuit of “brand-name” colleges is far from a new occurrence. Society tends to judge colleges on their SAT averages and rankings, rather than what these colleges have to offer other than popularity. This provokes relentless expectations that exist in reputable and prestigious high schools which compel “smart kids” to aim for expensive and popular schools that they may or may not feel comfortable in , or succeed in. But the real question is, does it really matter where you go to college?

With all of the importance put on national ranking, who determines this ranking, and how accurate can one determine the superiority of certain institutions? The most influential and widely used of this ranking system is U.S. News & World Report, which releases a “Best Colleges” guide each and every year since 1983. The factors that contribute to a college’s ranking in order of increasing importance is as follows:  undergraduate academic reputation, graduation and freshman retention rates, faculty resources, student selectivity, financial resources, graduation rate performance, and alumni giving. The first and most weighted factor, undergraduate academic reputation, proves to be the most troubling. This system employs peer assessments taken by college presidents and high school counselors that play a large role in determining a college’s worth. This means college officials are to rate colleges of which they know nothing about, leading to a disparity in rankings of brand-name colleges and lesser known colleges. Because many people trust and rely on this ranking system, many universities purposely reject students or increase tuition in order to achieve a higher rank. This is evidently unfavorable on the applicant’s part. The system of ranking colleges based on primarily monetary factors creates a dishonest and inaccurate portrayal of lesser known universities while favoring prestigious and long standing ones.

Brand-name colleges are promoted due to the belief that it increases one’s chance of obtaining better jobs with more money, but to what extent is that assumption true? While reputable colleges such as the Ivies have ample students with great success, one does not have to attend one of these schools to be successful. In fact, when the Wall Street Journal asked recruiters the best universities for hires, the top five were Penn State, Texas A&M, the University of Illinois, Purdue, and Arizona State. In one study, two economists, Alan Krueger and Stacy Dale found that people with similar SAT scores shared similar yearly earnings, regardless of which college they attended. Their original study found that brand-name colleges do not enjoy a great advantage over lesser known colleges in terms of average earnings. What college a person attends does not determine their success or average earnings, but how they make use of their education. 

Contrary to popular belief, admittance into a highly ranked or prestigious school has no effect on one’s success or future. What is of importance however, is passion and perseverance, also known as grit. Even more importantly, success is not the acquisition of wealth and material goods, but rather knowledge and happiness that constitutes true success, none of which can be obtained by which college a person chooses to attend. So whether its a state school or an Ivy, it is imperative that a person works hard and makes a conscious effort to remain happy.