As hundreds of thousands of students rush to fill out college applications to meet end-of-the-year deadlines, it might be worth asking them: Is where you spend the next four years of your life that important?
State universities and community colleges rock, but elite institutions offer many benefits you just can’t get at state universities or community colleges. If a student has a choice between attending a state university or an elite university, she should definitely go with the latter option! Why?
The truth is, top universities still reign supreme among exclusive industries such as tech, consulting, and finance.
So, what advantages does going to a top university give you and why does it matter?
First off, what does a “top university” mean?
Before we begin, it’s important to understand what top universities mean in the context of this blog.
Stagnant rankings are inherently unhelpful. As objective as they try to be, none of them capture the true essence of US colleges. Picking US universities to apply to is an extremely personal process; one that requires you to think about numerous factors and their overall importance to your happiness, your education, and your success. In order to find the right university, you need to compile your own list of “best-possible” universities based on your preferences.
So, for the sake of this blog, top universities refers to universities whose graduates tend to get high-paying jobs at large, lucrative companies. These universities include, but are not limited to:
- The Ivy League
- A few “Public Ivies” (a term referring to public universities which are akin to the Ivy League in terms of selectivity, education quality, resources and image) such as University of California, Berkeley (UC Berkeley), University of Michigan at Ann Arbor (Michigan) and University of Texas at Austin (UT Austin).
- New York University (NYU), University of Chicago (UChicago), Duke University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Stanford
As stated above, these universities are the top universities when it comes to lucrative industries such as tech, finance and consulting, they are in no way the only path to success but they can help you succeed more quickly.
Why applying to a top university matters?
#1. Access to virtually every resource
Most schools offer a variety of resources to their students, including libraries and study space, but the resources offered by elite universities and Ivy League schools are especially amazing!
Elite institutions are home to a variety of historic documents and artifacts, as well as state-of-the-art labs and research facilities. Not only do elite universities offer these resources to their own students, but they also offer them to students of other elite universities as well! Need access to an unfinished, unpublished Shakespeare manuscript? At an elite university, you can get it by the following week!
If students attend an elite university, they too will be a part of this academic community and have access to all of these amazing resources as well.
#2. Access to Alumni
Every single school has alumni who make their schools proud. Do you know where Bill Gates went to college? You’ve probably heard it was Harvard (even though he dropped out). How about Larry Page and Sergey Brin, the founders of Google? You might have heard that they went to Stanford. And President Barack Obama went to Columbia as an undergrad and Harvard for law school. Nearly all of the world’s most prominent leaders attended elite universities or Ivy League institutions. Oftentimes, these notable alumni return to their schools and make speeches, hold master classes, and sometimes they just come to hang out.
This really can generate positive feedback loops: the better the achievements at a school, the better the reputation it has; the better the reputation, the more funding it gets and the better the students who want to attend. The better the students, the better the achievements the school creates. And this continues perpetually so that places like Harvard will likely remain at the top of the education game for a very long time.
Attending top universities and colleges can help you build influential networks that open doors after graduation. Faculty members and alumni can help you obtain references and job leads, and you can build a large network of friends at a top college that could eventually lead to job opportunities.
In addition, conferences and seminars at top colleges provide opportunities for you to connect with experts and specialists, which could lead to internships and full-time employment.
And, who knows – maybe someday, you will get to be one of these awesome alumni!
#3. Socialization amongst other elite students
You may be familiar with that old phrase, “you are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with.” So why not surround yourself with brilliant people?
It goes without saying that the professors at elite universities are brilliant (most professors are), but elite universities are unique in that every student is brilliant as well. What makes these students so special? They really are the cream of the crop. These schools are incredibly tough to get into, and often having good grades is not enough. Each of these students proved to admissions that they are spectacular.
These are the students who strive to make change, and go out of their way to make the world a better place.
#4. Job offers at prestigious big companies
Prestigious universities feed students into prestigious big companies. Representatives from prestigious ‘name-brand’ big companies like Google and Microsoft would come to top schools career fair several times a year and do on-campus interviews to fill summer internship and full-time job openings. Most of the students who wanted summer internships at such companies would be able to get offers after their sophomore and junior years. Although some companies are attempting to widen their recruiting network, elite universities do offer an advantage that most other universities do not.
You may be asking why don’t big companies do more outreach to students from normal (lesser-known) universities? Aren’t they passing up lots of great candidates by not paying much attention to the vast majority of universities? Yes, they are probably passing up lots of great candidates, but they don’t care because they can still get more than enough great candidates from name-brand universities. Companies are not social charities dedicated to fair representation; they are out to maximize profits! If it’s most cost-effective to recruit at a name-brand school because they get a higher ‘hit rate’ of good employees, then so be it! They will ignore lesser-known schools while fully knowing that they are passing up some great people. For example, if IBM can find 35 great candidates for every 50 they interview at MIT, but they can only find 5 great candidates for every 50 they interview at a normal school, then it makes financial sense to direct much more recruiting efforts to schools like MIT.
#5. More favorable starting positions and higher salaries
The most prestigious and super-high-paying front-office jobs (e.g., investment bankers, traders, quantitative analysts) are only offered to graduates of name-brand universities like Harvard and MIT, whereas the less prominent support jobs (middle-office and back-office) are open to graduates from normal schools.
In 2017, 11% of students at the University of San Diego went into finance/business with an average starting salary of $56,250 USD. In comparison, 8.6% of students at MIT went into finance and 4.3% went into investment banking with average starting salaries of $116,083 USD and $105,000 USD, respectively.
Let’s compare the income of an average Harvard graduate with than of an average ASU graduate:
As you can see, the average Harvard graduate has a higher starting salary than that of the average ASU graduate, and the average Harvard graduate has a significantly higher mid-career salary!
One of the main qualms parents have with sending their kids off to elite universities and Ivy League schools is that they are so expensive!
But if you think about it in terms of the return you’ll be making on your investment, you’ll realize that it is well worth it—a good education really is priceless.
The Real Advantages
In the aforementioned industries, the top universities have the upper hand when it comes to access to opportunities, recruiting and salary. These universities (coupled with hard work) open doors to top internships, top jobs and ultimately top salaries.
Today, most people change careers at least three times before they are 32 so being part of an alumni network that will give you access to the top of any industries gives you the freedom you need to take risks.
“A low-tier school may get you in the door at a tech company but top universities get your foot in the door at banks, consulting firms, tech companies, government agencies, non-profits; wherever you want to work, a degree from a top university can get you there. The elite networks get you in the door in the long run,” says Crimson Strategist and Harvard alum, Bryan Moore.
At the end of the day, top universities give you the option to fail.
And having that option, in today’s fast-paced entrepreneurial world, is what you need to become successful.
Now that you’re aching to go to a top US university, you need to figure out how to get accepted, sign up for our College Compass program to be guided through the whole application process.
Also check out our ebook of U.S. Financial Aid for International Students to gain more understanding about the basic types of financial aid and how to apply for them.