Community / Opinion

Push past “prestige” in college process

Dear Juniors,

As my college process comes to a close, I leave you with the most valuable parting wisdom I can: the most discussed factors of this journey — prestige, rankings, and acceptance rates — are the least important parts.

When I first began to think about college, my list consisted of universities widely considered “prestigious”— schools with the lowest acceptance rates and shiniest reputations. I was preoccupied with one in particular. However, upon visiting, it didn’t take long for me to recognize that it just wasn’t a fit. I realized that if I applied, it would only be because others found it impressive. Perhaps that was the reason I was interested in it all along. 

I began to understand just how much I had let outside factors dictate this personal choice. I had allowed the opinions of U.S. News rankings and others to become more important than my own. I lost sight of the purpose of the college process. It’s not about schools that others define as “great,” but instead finding the school that’s great for you. 

You should be focusing as much on yourself as on the schools you’re researching. This process is an opportunity to think about what matters most to you and find the university that aligns with those values. You’re the one who will spend four years at whichever school you choose, so don’t let others decide for you. 

Finding the right school for you means considering all aspects of the college experience, of which academic reputation is just one. Think about the social scene, opportunities for your intended major, location, proximity to jobs and internships, size, accessibility of professors, community spirit, campus life, financial aid, diversity, and more. Lists and rankings can be helpful, but it’s essential to get beyond simply the academic ones. Understand your criteria and allow that to guide your research.

I mentioned values before. What I mean by that is I encourage all of you to find a university that prioritizes the things meaningful to you. For me, that meant a school that was emphasizing and investing in the student experience, as well as focusing on community involvement beyond campus boundaries. Understanding my priorities allowed me to realize that that initially appealing elite institution was wrong for me. It felt like the administration was most concerned with preserving their reputation and touting their “prestige” instead of aspects that would benefit individuals and the community. 

You may find that the most “prestigious” colleges are, in fact, the best fit for you. If you do, and it’s for the right reasons, that’s great. However, don’t dismiss other possibilities simply because they aren’t a “big name” institution. Remember, reputation is often just attributable to good branding. I ended up applying Early Decision and enrolling at a university that I knew nothing about before my college search — and I couldn’t be happier with the choice. 

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