Perhaps the silliest thing I occasionally hear from parents – who are likely trying to calm themselves and their children down about the college process – is “it doesn’t matter where you go to college.”
I realize that some parents are saying this in an effort to defuse the competitive nature of the college process that seems to inflict affluent places like Shoreline, Connecticut. I also know that, at least with some parents, they could unbundle the statement to mean that one’s career path will depend more on forces outside the specific college such as character, choice of college major, interpersonal skills, and work ethic. Nonetheless, now with my own child in college, I have a personal sense beyond the 1000 plus client reports about why the specific college one attends matters.
I’ll address all areas outside of the career path:
Location: Going to college in Boston versus North Carolina matters not only for the 4 years of college but also thereafter. Friends/boyfriends/girlfriends, job opportunities, familiarity with the location all weigh Many of my old college counseling clients keep in touch through social media and I see that a fair number of them had their entire lives changed by their choice of college. Those who went to California usually stayed there. That’s why as a family-first type I urge both students and parents to think of the implications of going to college far away.
People: Location has a more obvious variable that can be controlled. But there is no doubt that the type of people within a college is likely the largest factor that will influence your child. Perhaps the craziest thing to think about is that your child’s spouse may come from the pool of students at your child’s college. I tell people that I would have laughed – as would my high school buddy group of 7 – if we were told that we would meet our wives in college. But 3 of us did. The national average used to hover around 20-25%. I’m sure that number is down but I’m also sure that many of clients are unwittingly headed to a college where they will meet their spouse.
Values/Mission: Colleges really do shape students – again outside of the career path issue – and that matters. There is something about Jesuit colleges that leave an imprint on those who attend. Those who attend large fraternity based colleges are shaped differently than those in smaller colleges.
So, yes, where you go to college does matter. A lot. And for reasons that you might not have fully considered.