When you’re figuring out where you want to spend the next four years of your life, there are many factors that go into your decision process—academics, geography and size are just a few. However, there is no denying that a school’s name can have a major effect on the way we perceive and rank it (both positively and negatively). While it can be hard to avoid falling into this trap, we’ve talked to real collegiettes on why it’s better to put names and (some) reputations aside when deciding on a school.
1. There are great schools you’ve never heard of
When looking at the strength of different academic programs, it can be easy to get caught up in Ivy League and big name schools—after all, they have well-established programs and thousands of successful alumni to back up their claims. However, being a well-known school and being a quality school aren’t synonymous traits.
“In high school, I knew I wanted to go to school for fashion and only applied to schools with my major,” says Sarah Cahn, a senior at Kent State University. “I applied to Kent State with no intentions of attending the school. I had never heard of the school before and did not want to go somewhere no one knew of. However, when I visited, I saw the beautiful campus and realized it had everything I wanted––a big school with Greek life and study abroad options.”
Sarah’s experience is proof that not every school is as it seems. Most schools, even if they’re small, have more to offer than you think.
“I am now a senior fashion merchandising major who is in a sorority and I was able to study abroad in Florence, Italy,” says Sarah. “This school has given me so many opportunities and I wouldn't want it any other way!”
If there is a school on your list that you’re not sure of or feel like you don’t know enough about, be willing to step out of your comfort zone and try a visit. You never know which school could end up being the one!
2. Big names and great reputations don’t guarantee happiness
Just because a school has a great reputation doesn’t mean it’s perfect for you. If you’re facing pressure from parents, counselors, or friends about your college decision, remember that in the end it’s your happiness that counts—not theirs.
“When I decided to go to The University of Alabama, everyone was shocked and disapproving, since I grew up in a suburb near Stanford University where the academic atmosphere since kindergarten was always highly competitive,” says Helmi Henkin, a current sophomore. “Where I'm from, rankings are often the only reason students apply to schools, and several of my classmates chose a higher ranked school over a school where they might have been happier because of the pressure they faced to impress the members of our community. However, I believe if you are happier at a school, you will excel there much more easily than if you go to a school just because of its name or reputation.”
While it can be difficult to overcome the reputations and stigmas that surround certain schools, it is important to consider every school you’re looking at equally. Rankings are just numbers, and you won’t know what a school is truly like until you take the time to visit and experience it.
3. Not all schools get enough credit
If you look at articles about “successful” and “highly-ranked” schools online, it’s no surprise that you will see the same names appearing again and again. It is easy for big schools to make headlines since they already get so much attention and funding elsewhere. However, there are many schools that are just as successful, but because of their size, don’t receive the publicity that more “popular” schools do.
“I think smaller and lesser known schools don't get enough credit,” says Alaina Leary, a first year graduate student at Emerson College. “I finished my undergrad at a small, unknown state school last year and it was one of the best experiences I've ever had: hands-on learning, small class sizes, easy opportunity for independent study and thesis projects, tons of co-ops and internships available.”
While many people assume smaller schools have less opportunities, Alaina’s experience proves it’s actually the opposite—a smaller student body can make it even easier to find internships, jobs, and other ways to get involved on campus.
“I now go to a slightly larger school with a really good rep for media and creative fields, and while people who find out are certainly more impressed at first mention of my in-progress master’s degree at a well known school, I think my undergrad prepared me in a way that people don't necessarily understand just because they've never heard of the school,” says Alaina.
Although rankings can clue you in on experiences and programs that are important to you, they should never be a make-or-break factor in your college decision process. After all, numbers are just numbers.
4. You have to follow your heart
While going with your gut is not the most strategic part of the decision-making process, sometimes, you just know what is best for you. If there is a school on your list that you can’t help but keep coming back to, you shouldn’t ignore that—regardless of its name or reputation.
“I think you're meant to be where you're meant to be,” says Kayla Lewkowicz, a graduate of Colby College. “As a high school student, I had trouble understanding that––particularly after the wait lists and rejections rolled in. But, I wouldn't have traded my experience for anything! Not going to an Ivy League school was the best thing for me. I would have been unhappy anywhere else!”
Even though money, location and size are all important factors in the decision-making process, sometimes, a school just wins your heart over. If you go on a visit and totally fall in love, a school’s name or reputation shouldn’t have any effect on that.
Although it can be difficult to overcome outside factors and opinions, remember that choosing a college is your decision and your decision only. Own this decision and avoid getting caught up in the rankings and numbers that surround a school. After all, only you can know what is best for you!