Does prestige really matter when choosing a college?


We expect certain universities, like the Ivy League schools, to be included on the annual “best universities” lists. But is attending an Ivy League school all about the prestige or do they truly offer an unmatched educational experience? Let’s consider this.

The student makes the experience

Do these prestigious colleges offer an experience that can’t be obtained at another school?

Having the best faculty members doesn’t impact a student unless the student takes advantage of their experience with them. It’s not the quality of a professor, class or program that matters the most, it’s the willingness of the student to leverage the opportunities presented to them by that professor, class or program. 

In other words, the individual who has the most influence on your student’s college experience is your student. Will they take advantage of opportunities presented outside the classroom? Will they ask if they can get involved in any research projects their professor is working on? The experience a student has at college — prestigious or otherwise — comes down to what the student makes of it.

Finding the right fit is key

Do academically excelling students want to go to an Ivy League college simply because it’s expected? 

It’s certainly true that some high-achieving students put these schools at the top of their dream list because of their names alone. There’s a tendency to focus on getting in rather than on all the pieces that come with a higher education experience, including programs, affordability and opportunities. What these students should be looking for in a college is fit — does it fit their learning style, personality, goals and expectations? 

Without considering these other aspects of the college experience, your child could get into a top school only to discover once they start classes that it’s not the right fit for them. 

High-achieving students will thrive 

Is your student earning straight A’s in high school? On track to be class valedictorian? Can they fulfill their potential if they don’t go to a prestigious school? 

Absolutely! Many colleges offer plenty of valuable opportunities and experiences that high-performing students can find enrichment in. The common belief that access and excellence can’t coexist harmoniously is inaccurate. Colleges across the country are proving that you can admit a higher percentage of students and still provide a high-quality education. 

Ultimately, your student should consider a variety of factors when deciding on a college. Prestige may very well be one of those factors, but it shouldn’t be the only one. Your student should be able to identify why the schools they want to attend will help them meet their education and career goals. They shouldn’t apply to an Ivy League school solely because it’s an Ivy League school. There should be other aspects of the school that make it the best fit for your student.

What do you think?

What are your thoughts about the value of attending a prestigious university? Share your personal experiences with us.


Contributor Matt Lopez, executive director of Admission Services at Arizona State University