Opinion: Don’t be fooled by colleges’ names

Caroline Richards

Features editor

(April 16, 2015)  When you start thinking about applying to college, it is important to keep a few things in mind. First of all, you should know what you are interested in: you do not want to go to a liberal arts school if you want to major in physics, and you do not want to go to a polytechnical institute if you’re planning on writing poetry. This is general knowledge. You should consider some of the things you hope to achieve during your four years of higher education. Similar to shopping, you may or may not have a clear idea in your head of exactly what you want, when you start out, but you should be thinking about it so you aren’t completely lost when you get there. Do you want to have an active social life? Do you want to play a college sport? How many students do you want in your classes? Do you want to be able to go to the beach after class in Florida or do you want to get blown by the wind as you walk through the snow in Vermont?

Just like shopping, some people go in with preconceived notions, blindly deciding on a school that has name-brand recognition. “Name brand schools” are very similar to the name brand products – like Nike – that you buy while shopping. The name brand schools are the schools that everybody thinks they want to attend, everybody knows the name of, and everybody thinks that is where all the smart people go. If you are not smart, you go to a community college or not one of the name brands, and that is that. These are schools like Princeton, Harvard, Yale, Dartmouth, and Columbia. They are also known as the Ivy Leagues. Now, could you buy a $500 shirt from Prada that is made out of a fine mixture of silk and cashmere handmade in Milan? Yes, you could. Could you buy that same shirt made of simple cotton for $12.95 at Forever 21? Yes, you could. I find this to be very similar to people’s thinking about this country’s higher education system. You can pay a lot and go to a great school with tons of smart people and teachers, or you can go to a good college that costs a lot less and also get a very good education. The phrase, “it is what you make it,” is applicable here. If you work hard, take extra courses, study a lot, and get a true understanding of the concepts at a college with a less recognizable name, well then isn’t that the same benefit as going to a name brand school?

I want to stress that I am not here to ridicule these schools and tell you that they are not great schools and that you should not go to them if you want. I am here to tell you that they are not the only schools that you can attend and they may not be the best choice for you. Colleges use all types of propaganda to make themselves look good and attract strong student applicants. It may be confusing at first to think of colleges using propaganda to effectively “lure” students into applying to their school and paying their increasingly over priced tuitions, but there it is. As many know, a college is rated on a lot of different things to determine how, for lack of a better word, prestigious it is. These include acceptance rate, graduation/dropout rate, how successful and effective the professors are, the amount of work that is given, important alumni, etc. But what many people don’t know is that some colleges “cheat” their way to the top by using any number of tactics. First of all, consider the acceptance rate. You may or may not have received those pamphlets in the mail that have a group of smiling kids on the front saying, “we think you’re special!” and an invitation to attend the open house or visit the campus.You think “oh, how cool, a college has noticed me and wants me to attend!” I don’t want to burst anyone’s bubble, but no, they probably don’t know who you really are or what your academic merit is or really care at all – unless, of course, you apply or visit and make them look good. You may go on the website and look around and choose to be impressed, or email the Dean of Admissions and ask questions about the college, further swaying your opinion as the more you see, the more impressed you are. What you don’t realize is that when you apply to a college, you are unknowingly upping their application rate and lowering their acceptance rate. For example, if a school has a freshman class numbering 500 students and 10,000 apply, that’s a 5 percent acceptance rate, a very low percentage as far as acceptance ratings go (Princeton has an acceptance rate of 7.4 percent, Harvard’s is 5.9 percent, Yale’s is 6.3 percent.) But the acceptance rate goes down simply because of the number of students that are applying: the more students that apply, the more are rejected – the lower the percentage goes and the more prestigious they look. It seems silly to make a thing such as acceptance percentage a huge deal to colleges and the rating system.

Not to say that it is an easy world out there for colleges trying to make enough money and educating kids, but a name shouldn’t sway your decision. Do not let the idea that a name gives a college power over you, or society at that. Choosing where to attend college should be your own decision, and your decision should be based in the knowledge that a college with a “brand name” may not be the best place for you.

Tags: , ,