What I Learned About College Prestige

A variety of well-meaning family members, teachers, and adults at church have said “You’ll know where the right place is” or something similar, over the past few months. It made me believe that choosing a college would have something of the magic of a “Say Yes to the Dress” moment, and when I walked onto a particular college campus I would suddenly feel certain of where I belonged. Seven college visits, 9 applications, 8 acceptances and one rejection later I still have not had my fairytale moment of clarity and “said yes to the college.” Part of my illusion of the college decision began with the idea of prestige, and even though I knew going somewhere with a slim acceptance rate wouldn’t really make me more important or better off educationally, the idea of wearing that t-shirt with that school’s name on it and answering the question “So where are you going next year?” with that school’s name was still quite appealing.

Cartoon by: Hannah Reich

The idea of prestige all came crashing down as soon as the final financial aid packages came in from each school; the numbers stacked on top of each other gave me headaches. Despite getting great scholarships at Samford, a school I really loved, the out of state, private tuition was something that I couldn’t work around and promised a large sum of student debt in my future. Now that I’ve decided to go to Reinhardt, the school I applied to last minute and would have never imagined picking until I realized the value of their music program, I’ve started to wonder just how much greater of an education a more prestigious expensive option would have provided.

I’m not the only senior who had cost play a major role in my college decision. Senior Nadia Ahmedin was accepted into Yale, but is attending Georgia Tech on the Presidential Scholarship. Countless others have been accepted to a costly private school with a bigger name, but chose to attend state schools. The Hope and Zell Miller Scholarship’s incentive made in-state college a much more realistic decision for them. This year the Hope Scholarship awards a maximum of $7,200, and the Zell Miller Scholarship awards a maximum of $10,008. “My parents wouldn’t let me go out of state because they couldn’t justify that a private school education was $40,000+ better than the education I am getting for $10,000,” said senior Abby Thein. Thein and other seniors spoke about how receiving that money along with other merit and need based scholarships, it was difficult for out of state schools to be an option.

The other factor that caused prestige to go out the window in my college decision was my interest in music. Even though not everyone is planning on venturing into the unstable career path of performance, almost everyone has a specific area they want to focus on as they leave high school. I realized the schools that had the best music programs weren’t necessarily the Yales and Harvards of the world, but were often lesser known schools with little prestige attached to their name. And because I want to go to graduate school later, choosing a pricey school for an undergraduate degree could not end well for me financially in the long run. Slowly I realized that the value of the education I would get at certain schools didn’t match up with the face value it was given by society. No matter what field you plan to go into, thinking about the school that’s best specifically for that can change what is really valuable and “prestigious.”

I have come out on the other side of the Common App and the essays and the auditions with the ability to see beyond a prestigious name on a t-shirt and see the bigger picture of how school would function as a tool to get me to the next place in life. Whether you’re a senior heading off to an Ivy League, a junior confused by the college process, or a freshman who has never heard of the FAFSA, remember that college has nothing to do with the name, but everything to do with what will give you the right skills you need for a future career at a reasonable price. It could be Princeton, or it could be Georgia State, but in the end, what the person wearing the t-shirt does in college is much more important than the school name on the shirt.

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