I was at a party in Old Saybrook, Connecticut when I overheard a parent say “it doesn’t matter where you go to college.” Having worked with her two older children both of whom worked as hard a possible to attend “good colleges”, in part because of her urging, I had the good sense to stay out of her sight line so she didn’t feel ridiculous when she saw me.
The following paradoxical thought is – as all paradoxes are – seemingly contradictory but true nonetheless:
“in some ways, the name of the college does not matter that much and in other ways, it matters enormously.”
Let’s unpack this thought: It is certainly true that the character of the child will to a large extent determine the child’s college experience. The hard working, achievement oriented, open to healthy experiences type of student will make the most of his/her college experience. The lazy, non-driven, open to unhealthy experiences type of student will not.
But… most 18 year olds are influenced by their peers. If you take a “good” (for lack of a better word) kid, and you place him/her with a bunch of bad kids, well… most will stray. Or at least they won’t make the most of their potential.
And, guess who predominantly attends those name brand colleges: students who are hard working, achievement oriented, and open to healthy experiences.
So that’s the most idealistic reason for desiring to send your child to a top tier college. Their influences will be better than at most other colleges.
The practical reason: the college brand is an asset to be leveraged in the job market. It’s nonsense to suggest that going to Harvard doesn’t matter. Utter and complete nonsense. And, yet, I’ve heard parents try to claim otherwise, largely in my mind, as a false front because they are worried that their child will not be able to get into a top college.
Now, let me go in the other direction. The vanity that derives from having a child attend a name brand college is unhealthy. Indeed, I’ve read in several articles regarding college counseling in super affluent communities that the new prize among the 1% is not a fancy car or house but where their children attend college. That’s all silly and shallow.
Moreover, it is absolutely the case that “fit” is highly important and that many students in Shoreline, CT would not fit in at elite colleges.
And, finally, of course, it really is the child who will make or break his/her college experience.