Is Where You Go to College Really Important?

As high school students around the country wait to learn whether they've made it into their top-choice schools, an important question may linger on their minds: Is where you go to college really that important? The answer: It depends. Here are five questions you can use to decide whether aiming for an elite institution should be important to you.

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1. Are you self-motivated?

One commonly cited benefit of attending an elite university is that students at these institutions have the benefit of a lot of individual support. Rates of graduation at top schools tend to be higher than those at more poorly rated institutions, though this may also simply reflect an ambitious student body. If you're highly motivated on your own, it's likely you'll stay engaged with your coursework, peers and teachers regardless of where you go to school. If you feel like you need more academic and social support, a higher-caliber institution may be right for you

2. What do you want to do?

Another oft-mentioned perk of attending a high-powered school? It's possible that you'll have an inside track when it comes to securing certain jobs. For example, Ivy League graduates are often thought to be best-positioned for the most lucrative positions in select financial companies, law firms and other businesses. That doesn't mean, though, you absolutely won't be considered without an Ivy League degree. Another thing to keep in mind: Depending on your academic interests, there are likely high-quality programs available at schools not traditionally viewed as 'elite.'

3. How much do you want to spend?

Students who are committed to attending elite institutions often resign themselves to taking on large amounts of debt to complete school. If your career goals are attainable with a degree from a less-renowned (and cheaper) institution, though, you may want to opt for a less expensive option. It's important not to close off the idea of an elite institution, though, before considering the fact that many schools provide significant financial aid to students in need. And if you must take on debt, it can help to remember that studies show graduates from elite colleges often do make more than grads from less reputed schools over the long term.

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4. What experience are you seeking?

Elite institutions can offer an experience that is hard to find at less revered colleges. These schools often pride themselves on admitting the best and brightest, which can make for meeting some dynamic personalities and intellectuals during the freshman meet and greet. That's not to mention the impressive resources that the best colleges funnel into academic and social programming on campus. It's not necessary, though, to enroll in the Ivy League to find a once in a lifetime experience. You'll likely find peers who engage you regardless of where you go. And if you do your homework in choosing a school, you'll be able to find experiences that suit your personality and academic interests.

5. Are you going to graduate school?

This question can be multi-faceted. For example, many believe that your choice of an undergraduate school is less important if you'll be moving on to graduate school; in this scenario, your graduate work is likely to be seen by potential employers as a more important indicator of what you're capable of. With that said, very selective graduate programs may require that you complete rigorous undergraduate work at a reputable institution. Before deciding on a college, think about your desired academic path and what it will take to achieve your goals. Checking in with a school adviser is also a smart move.

The Bottom Line

Finding the right college for you shouldn't be about referencing a list of the most elite universities. Instead, it should be about selecting the program that best fits all of your criteria - from academic programming to extracurricular activities and location to cost. Make your decision based on all of the factors most important to you and you'll likely be pleased with your selection come fall..

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