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Things to Consider When Choosing a College: Compare Reputation with Cost and Majors

The topic of today’s blog post is comparing a school’s reputation versus cost and majors – extremely important factors that go into making your college choices.

With nearly 6000 higher education institutions in the United States, college-bound seniors have quite a few choices of colleges and universities to sift through to pare down their choices to a (relatively) manageable number. Nobody wants to write a hundred different essays. Save that for your writing courses (kidding, but not really).

I can unequivocally say that the importance of your school’s reputation depends on many factors. While there is always a certain amount of pride being able to put down on your resume (insert Ivy League, Duke, Stanford, MIT…), the question is, is it worth it? Chances are that twenty or thirty years down the road, the college you went to will only matter to you. Your success at 40 won’t depend much on what college you went to – it’s up to your own ingenuity, ambition, hard work with a little luck sprinkled throughout (isn’t it always?). However, are bragging rights worth having student loans at 40? The average student today graduates with nearly $30,000 of undergraduate debt, and this can take decades to pay off.

Our goal is not to say whether an Ivy is better than a top ranked state school like UC-Berkeley – rather it’s to show you that with each you can accomplish great things and further that you absolutely should consider all three: cost, majors and reputation of a college.

What’s the difference between a private institution that costs upwards of $40,000 per year and a public one about 10-15 per year? Some of you live in states with phenomenal state schools that can compete with the very best Ivies or just a fraction of their cost – like Virginia, Texas, California, (begrudgingly) North Carolina and Michigan, to name a few. To those who live in those states, if you can get into those respective schools, then more power to you.

There are certain majors and fields where reputation matters more, though more applicable for graduate program reputation like PhDs, MBAs, JDs and MDs. And those exactly are the fields where reputation might come into play – business, law, and medicine. The graduate program you went to will be more important in getting that first job. However, that isn’t to say that where you go to college doesn’t matter – it’ll help you get into the dream graduate program (applications will never end). There are a number of things that come into play with your undergraduate “stepping stone” into good business, law or medical schools. Above all, you need to do well. Remember that if you go to one of the top tier schools, you’ll have pretty stiff competition – we’re talking about the top 1% of students from all over the country. Can you compete? A 4.0 and good ranking in your class is valuable no matter where you went. A mediocre 2.0 from an Ivy? How do you (or an employer, or graduate school) begin to interpret that? You always take the chance.

Ivy institutions and their brethren have resources. And generally speaking, lots of it. But while they have some of the nicest buildings and newest toys, that doesn’t mean YOU get to use them. Having a cast of Nobel Laureates on faculty sound great, but I guarantee you they didn’t get a Nobel based on their teaching ability. Fun (or sad) fact – many of them find teaching bothersome because it gets in the way of their ability to secure research grants and conduct the research that they are passionate about.

Go to the best school you feel confident that you can get good or preferably great, grades. Go on college visits, sit in on a class or two in your potential field of interest (seminars and big lectures). Preferably go during fall or spring semesters (the summers tend to be average representations at best) to see if you can hack it. See what student engagement is like, and whether you feel like you’d fit in.

We recommend you think about a school’s value on the whole – considering reputation alongside cost and majors. Hope that helps you when choosing a college.

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Verne wrote this essay; he’s an admissions counselor and private tutor at Top Test Prep. For more information on getting into top schools, call (800) 501-7737 today.