During my college application process nearly four years ago, I remember how important it seemed to get into an elite, or at least well-known, university. It was a form of pressure from everyone around me; they insisted that I needed to attend a prestigious university in order to get further in life. In fact, they assured me that any other choice but the one best known university in the country was not a worthy choice. To some degree, they were right. These type of universities provide you with many experiences that lesser-known universities cannot. They have resources, attending them signifies that you’ll have a more prestigious name, they might come with a salary boost and they help you network your identity in a way that a smaller university cannot do.
In 2002, economists Stacy Dale and Alan Krueger published a paper on the Quarterly Journal of Economics where they concluded that, for most students, the salary boost from going to an elite university, mostly Ivy League, was “generally indistinguishable from zero”. They reached this conclusion after adjusting their study to student characteristics, such as test scores. Meaning that if two different people got the same standardised test scores, like the SAT, and one was accepted into an Ivy League and the other was not, their salary will be virtually the same because they both have similar knowledge. The researchers also found that the average SAT scores of all the schools a student applies to is a better predictor of success than the school they end up attending. The takeaway is this: talent and someone’s ambitions are more important than the resources of renowned universities.
There is a misconception that some universities are better than others. While they all have their faults, it does not take away from the fact that there are great programs and people in all of them. Being an elite university does not guarantee that they will provide you with an education that will lead to success. This applies to professors as well. Take my experience as an example; I’ve attended two distinct universities (a public and a private one) and I’ve had wonderful, knowledgeable professors in both. Nonetheless, I’ve had bad ones as well. Being a prestigious university does not exempt them from having professors who are not qualified, who do not have the knowledge, who do not inspire their students, and who cannot be bothered to teach their students anything.
It’s difficult to put aside the misconception that every single person who attends an elite university is better than everyone else; that they have somehow transcended into another level further from every other human who cannot afford or who cannot get into these universities. Yet, it’s necessary to remove this line of thinking from your thoughts. If we become stuck in thinking that going to renowned universities means automatic success or more prestige, then we would not be able to achieve the goals we have set for ourselves. Success is achieved and defined by hard work, not by going to a well-known university. Someone that went to a smaller, lesser-known, albeit one with the proper accreditations, may be working harder than someone who went to an Ivy League and they might even be more successful, in traditional terms. The opposite may be true as well; overall, it’s something that can be hard to account, given that it’s related to people’s unique experiences.
I should note that I am not underestimating or belittling elite universities; in fact, these universities have had fantastic contributions and they have educated some of the most knowledgeable people. In addition, their education in some fields is more advanced because they have the resources and the money. However, most elite universities are not accessible to everyone. They are very clear in the fact that they only accept the top students and they are very costly. This results in only privileged students being able to attend and few underprivileged students who are accepted by merit. Furthermore, the few underprivileged students that attend, mostly minority students, have positive outcomes from attending these universities.
The bottom line is that although prestigious, prestigious universities can be beneficial in terms of reach, resources, and visibility, they do not equal success, a better university experience or learning experience for different individuals. What does give someone better chances of success and a better learning experience? Hard-work, ambition, motivation, and a desire to learn.