This is a teen-written article from The Saxon Scope, the student-run newspaper of Langley High School in McLean, Virginia.
A “good college” should be the school that is the best fit for the individual. It should be the place where the student who attends it feels it is a good match, and where the education the student gets drives the student to be his or her best. There are plenty of schools available to us that fit these requirements. Thousands of colleges throughout the country offer promising educational opportunities and positive environments. Any one of these schools could allow us to develop our abilities to their full potential. Unfortunately, at Langley, this truth often gets forgotten amidst the hype over college reputation.
It’s dangerous when we place so much emphasis on the reputation of the colleges we’re attending. Students shouldn’t get less attention because they’ve committed to a school that doesn’t have as prestigious a name, and other students shouldn’t get special attention simply because they’ve committed to an Ivy League or other esteemed university.
The college a student attends is rarely a direct indicator of the student’s intelligence, ability to work hard, or likelihood to succeed later in life. Still, “ACCEPTED TO UVA!” would get more likes on Facebook than, say, “Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Class of 2016!!” Teachers lead classrooms in rounds of applause for the students who got into University of North Carolina, but tend to forget about the students who got into Longwood College. That’s not to take away from the merit of Longwood or Rensselaer -- it’s simply an indicator of the perceived importance of fame and reputation.
What’s even more concerning is that fame and reputation are often misleading. Status does not mean as much as we think it does. Take the list Kiplinger’s Personal Finance just came out with. The magazine ranked the top 100 best values in public colleges. Rankings were based on cost, student indebtedness, competitiveness, and academic support. Many of the rankings were surprising. University of Delaware ranked 25th and James Madison University ranked 28th, above Virginia Tech which came in at number 32. George Mason was listed as number 50, above Penn State, University of South Carolina, and College of Charleston.
Or take the book Harvard Schmarvard. Written by Jay Matthews, it dispels the notion that, “the higher-profile school, the better.” Matthews, an actual Harvard grad, references a study by Stacy Dale, who found no difference in earnings between those students who had gone to Ivy League schools and those who had been accepted at those schools but chosen to go elsewhere.
We base the likelihood of success in the years beyond high school on the reputation of the colleges we attend. It’s become about the name brand of the college, rather than the education we get. But our chances at finding fulfillment in life have nothing to do with the university we attend. Whether you have an Ivy League diploma framed on your wall, or a certificate from that school no one has ever heard of, it’s up to the individual to make the most of the opportunities they are given, work hard, and pursue their goals. Remember, you don’t have to be extraordinarily smart, just “smart enough” -- Outliers anyone? -- so you get what you make of the college experience.
To celebrate one certain acceptance more than another adds unnecessary stress to both parties. The students who graduate from the more impressive schools are pressured to continue to have equally impressive accomplishments. On the other hand, students that don’t graduate from a big-name school are sold short. If you graduate from Harvard and don’t grow up to be the Attorney General or a CEO, people assume there’s something wrong with you. At the same time, if, with your certificate from the University of Western Cape, you become the next Bill Gates, society just figures Lady Luck decided to smile on you.
We’re not celebrating learning anymore when we worship the name-brand colleges. We’re celebrating the destination, not the journey. And it’s not that I’m just venting. In fact, I haven’t even heard back from most of my top choice schools so as of yet, I don’t have much to be bitter about. However, when I do make my final college decision, I am going to try to leave the name brand out of the equation. Because the fact is, we all have the capability to do great things and this capability is in no way correlated to what school we get our degree from.