Why college choice matters

Posted on August 6th, 2013

Does it matter where you go to college?

You’ll hear answers across the spectrum, and there are certainly other factors besides where you go to school that determine your future success. We, like most parents, believe it’s important for students to go to a college that will give them a good education and help them succeed.

But are parents being choosy enough about where their child goes to college?

In a recent NY Times blog post, writer David Leonhard argues that they’re not.

Does college prestige make a difference?

While this might seem surprising given the lengths many parents go to get their child into a selective college, from calling admissions offices, making donations, and managing the entire college application process for their student, Leonhard argues that parents are focusing on the wrong aspects of choosing a college for their child.

Here’s the problem: parents are focusing too much on a college’s prestige. Leonhard notes that research suggests that attending an Ivy League college, for instance, has a relatively small effect on a student’s future success.

So if prestige isn’t very important, what is?

According to Leonhard, it’s graduation rates.

Why are graduation rates so important?

Graduation rates are important because whether or not a student graduates from college has a huge effect on their future success.

It’s not enough just to attend college. As you can see from the chart below, higher education has a direct correlation with lifetime earnings.

Source: Carnevale et al. (2011), “The College Payoff.”

It’s clear that whether a student graduates from college has an enormous impact on future success, in terms of earning potential, career choice, and more. But many colleges, Leonhard argues, “do a notably poor job of turning their freshmen into graduates.”

College selectivity and graduation rates

new report from researchers at Georgetown University shows that for students with similar SAT scores, there is a huge difference in the completion rate of those who attend a selective college and those who attend an open-access college. (Their definition of “selective” includes 468 colleges, based on criteria set by Barron’s.)

But smart kids will do better than less accomplished student no matter where they go, right? Turns out that’s not the case.

Perhaps most incredibly, children who score between 1,000 and 1,099 on the SAT and attend a selective college are more likely to graduate than those who scored above 1,200 and attended an open-access college.

Source: Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce calculation using NCES – Barron’s Admissions Competitive Index Data Files and data from the National Education Longitudinal Study (NELS), 1988, 2000.

What does it mean for students choosing a college?

These numbers show that a student can be on the right track in high school, but if he or she goes to a college with poor graduation rates, their chances of graduating could be lower than a less-motivated student who goes to a college that does a better job of graduating its students.

Selective colleges do a better job of graduating students, so college selectivity DOES matter.

This study shows that it’s extremely important to be careful when choosing a college. It’s crucial to compare graduation rates, along with financial factors, when choosing a college, rather than focusing too much on average SAT scores and prestige.

Of course, for many families, cost is a huge consideration. If you’re having trouble choosing a college that will put you on the right track for graduation without drowning you in debt, we can help you sort through the college choice maze. Feel free to contact us or call us toll-free at 1-888-234-3907.

Category: Choosing a College