How often have you heard “she went to Harvard” in over-awed tones? While Ivy League schools have some of the lowest acceptance rates in the nation, and graduation from one can be the mark of a lot of hard work, the fact is that the diploma their students walk away with is equivalent to one from any local college.
While an Ivy League degree can carry the “ooooooh!” factor at cocktail parties and a strong alumni network (and even the advantages of that are open to debate), it’s certainly not a prerequisite for a successful and happy post-graduate life. When deciding which colleges to apply to and attend, it’s important not to get lost in brand name envy.
There’s nothing wrong with a degree from Yale, Princeton, Harvard, Brown, Dartmouth, the University of Pennsylvania, Cornell, or Columbia, of course, but remaining open to the many other avenues to a B.S. or B.A. might make life easier both before and after the application process.
Less Stressful Admissions Experience
We’re all familiar with the stereotype of a hyper-motivated high school student frantically rushing about for four years attempting to gain entry to their Ivy of choice. Student council positions, charity work, extra courses, SAT prep, and enrichment activities might be undertaken partially for their own sake, but some are piled into an admissions packet so as to make for a ready-made Yale man or woman. An entire industry has sprung up around gaining entry to the Ivy of one’s choice. And to what end?
What is the point of high school? The attainment of a high school diploma is ostensibly to provide an educational baseline for a functioning young adult in the workplace or in higher education. It signals the acquisition of certain fundamental skills; even if the course they are acquired in might seem useless for everyday life, as in algebra, the fundamental study and problem-solving skills learned in high school level classes apply throughout adulthood. But if high school or preparatory community college courses are treated solely as boxes to check in order to reach the goal of college, that point is somewhat lost.
Focusing on a number of schools to apply to, not just as “back up schools,” can provide exciting possibilities. Not only will having several options cushion the blow of perhaps not receiving the traditional thick envelope when acceptance letters are issued, focusing on the pros and cons of several schools can provide helpful reminders that one’s identity can and should exist outside of school colors.
You Won’t Necessarily Make More Money
It’s easy to assume that a diploma from a famous school automatically equals a healthy salary. But that’s not always necessarily the case. A degree earned in Women and Gender Studies at Harvard might sound impressive, but most people who graduate in the major tend not to work in it after graduation, and even then the average salary can ricochet anywhere from $20,000 to $60,000. But someone who attended a less selective school and completed a business degree might land a job as a quantitative analysist, earning almost $84,000. In other words, the school name at the top of a diploma isn’t as important as the skills associated with the degree title in the middle.
The Economist recently studied economic values of American colleges universities, weighing how much alumni earned a decade following graduation versus their peers. The results initially appeared to favor the Ivy Leagues, but a closer look at the data reveals that on average, they fared no better than the likes of the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania. Major factors affecting a college graduate’s earning power include career choices (STEM vs. the arts, for example), place of residence, and avoidance of major debt. Such decisions can be made the same with or without an Ivy League degree.
The issue of staggering student loan debt is under a great deal of discussion; it prevents college graduates from starting families, buying property, or pursuing further education. Since graduating with an Ivy League diploma does not necessarily guarantee a higher-paying job, why don’t more students choose lower profile, but cheaper, colleges?
Tuition at an in-state public university averages around $25,000 for a full school year. Attending a private school can cost almost twice that. These numbers don’t reflect room and board costs, books and supplies, technology fees, or various student activity dues; adding in these necessities of college life can quickly raise costs.
Compare that, however, with the average tuition at the Ivies: The “cheapest” option is Princeton, which will likely cost $49,000 in 2019. Two semesters at Columbia in New York will demand a whopping $59,000. While these are largely in line with most tuition costs at competitive private colleges – which is what the Ivies are – it’s clear that beginning a working life with an impressive diploma doesn’t necessarily mean that student debt will be cleared any faster.
There’s Always Grad School
Earning a Master’s degree or beyond is an option for many students who wish to accelerate their earning potential or widen their career options. In this sense, a diploma from an Ivy might make more economic sense, depending up on the specialization or course of study. Graduate degrees from Ivy League schools can also be cheaper, with Cornell offering some Master’s classes for the relatively modest $30,000 a year.
Aiming for an Ivy League graduate degree can make for a less frantic application process than in high school, and at a more advanced age, when a prospective student has gained maturity and more agency over his or her life. They are also far more flexible, given that they can be earned online. Most graduate schools will accept summer or online credits which have been earned at an Ivy League school.
But, again, tuition at lower-profile schools is almost universally cheaper, and many graduate courses can be completed locally at night or on the weekends. Students can thus begin their careers while boosting their earning power – all without an Ivy diploma.