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Does Going to a Prestigious University Matter?

by Van Thompson

A prestigious university can carry a hefty price tag, even before you get in. The costs of test preparation classes, college counselors and programs for gifted students can be thousands of dollars, but every year, thousands of students willingly pay these costs to get into prestigious universities. While some students find that a first-rate institution of higher learning is worth the stress and effort, these schools are not right for everyone.

Networking and Name Recognition

A prestigious university offers high name recognition, and having an elite school's name on your resume might get you a job interview. Competitive schools also offer opportunities for networking. Your peers' parents may have connections that can help you, and networking with other elite graduates may help you get your foot in the door at some jobs. However, elite universities aren't the only ones with strong name recognition. If a potential employer graduated from the school you attended, you might end up with an advantage regardless of the school's prestige.

Instructor Quality and Graduate School

Prestigious colleges are able to recruit highly qualified faculty members who may even be celebrities in their fields. This gives students the chance to work under experts, and may even help them get into graduate school if they can get a recommendation or do research under a prestigious instructor. However, students can only gain these benefits if their courses are taught by professors, and many schools rely on teacher's assistants and graduate research assistants to teach introductory classes. Similarly, there are highly qualified professors at most schools, and students don't have to have "celebrity" instructors to get excellent instruction.

Tuition Costs and Student Debt

Prestigious schools are generally more expensive, with Ivy Leagues being the most costly, averaging $55,000 a year in tuition and fees in 2011, according to "USA Today." According to the College Board, a public four-year college averages only $8,655 a year for in-state students and $21,706 for out-of-state students. The high costs of a prestigious university can saddle students with debt that they may struggle to pay, even if they land a high-paying job. And because prestigious schools are so competitive, admitted students are less likely to earn scholarships.

Grades and Student Perception

Prestigious universities offer challenging, competitive classes, so students may have to work harder to maintain good grades. Graduating from a first-rate school with a 4.0 is impressive, but prestigious schools are notoriously challenging. Difficult courses can lower your GPA, so if you're not sure if you can tackle the work at a prestigious university, you might end up with a better GPA at a slightly less competitive school. Moreover, students don't necessarily think that prestigious schools are worth it. The National Survey of Student Engagement, for example, found in 2008 that 90 percent of variation in student assessments of educational quality was within a school, not between different schools.

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