By Kaitlin Dunn
When it comes to choosing a university, one factor that inevitably ends up on high schoolers’ pros and cons lists is the prestige of the universities they are considering.
A college or university’s prestige is defined by its reputation, and with a highly regarded reputation comes increased selectivity.
“While reputation may seem to be a nebulous factor, it breeds success. The U.S. News & World Report’s Best Colleges list, which has become the gold standard for college rankings, is influenced in part by reputation. U.S. News’s methodology counts reputation as more than 20 percent of a college’s ranking score,” The Seattle Post said.
With this in mind, we must consider what it takes for prestigious schools — such as Ivy League universities — to maintain their status.
According to The Economist, Columbia University Professor Michael Thaddeus posted an analysis of U.S. News’s college rankings on his website.
“He accuses [Columbia University] of submitting inaccurate data about the university’s class sizes, the number of full-time faculty, the number of faculty with a PhD or similar degree, the student-faculty ratio and instructional spending. These five quantitative measures make up 23% of the score,” The Economist said.
Some may argue that Columbia University is fudging its numbers in order to remain a top-ranked university. If a school would lie about something as seemingly minute as how many professors have PhDs, what else would they lie about for the sake of saving their reputation?
The importance of prestige to student applicants could play into the school’s interest in maintaining a high ranking.
The prestige of colleges, particularly Ivy League schools, can open doors for students later in life. A student pursuing a competitive career, for example, may benefit from their affiliation with Harvard University because it is known for rigorous academics.
“Prestige begets prestige. My classmates also benefited from the opportunities provided by our alma mater. Consulting companies and financial firms actively recruited students through our career center. Our college also had various scholarships for students to fund their passion projects and internships,” Dr. Yoo Jung Kim said in an article with Psychology Today.
Prestige provides students with opportunities that may not otherwise be available to them. Stanford University’s strong alumni network and recognizable name may be hard to beat.
While prestige does open doors, it is not the end all, be all in terms of a successful career. Having a prestigious name on your diploma comes with a price tag.
The average cost of an Ivy League school in the 2020-21 school year was $56,746, according to The Balance. This means that access to prestigious Ivy League degrees and opportunities are inaccessible for many people.
When considering the reputation of colleges and universities, it’s important to recognize the inherent classism that comes with their cost.
According to data collected by The New York Times, the median family income of students attending Brown University is $204,200.
It is evident, based on these numbers, that students from high income families attend prestigious Ivy League colleges at a disproportionate rate.
In addition to being barred from these schools by steep costs, Ivy League schools’ use of legacy admissions further challenges low-income, BIPOC applicants.
According to The Guardian, legacy admissions unfairly favor wealthier, white students with connections to the college they are applying to. This is especially relevant amongst Ivy League schools.
“At Harvard, the acceptance rate for legacy students is about 33%, compared with an overall acceptance rate of under 6%,” The Guardian said.
Legacy admissions perpetuate a cycle of privilege. The system disadvantages applicants who don’t have a recognizable name or significant wealth and excludes first- and second-generation college students.
“Many graduates from prestigious colleges come from privileged backgrounds and continue to benefit from the perks of their institutional affiliations,” Kim said.
According to The Washington Post, the average Ivy League graduate makes twice as much money 10 years after graduation as non-Ivy League graduates.
While Ivy League students and graduates may benefit from affiliation with a prestigious college, non-white and low income applicants must overcome significant barriers before even being accepted into one such community.
Once at an Ivy League school, students may then face a reality that does not live up to what was advertised.
Prestige is complex and problematic. It might be worth leaving off the pros and cons list.
Photo by Jakob Watt
Featured Photo Caption: Though Washington College is not as prestigious as Ivy League universities, the College provides students with unique resources through its alumni network, signature centers, and more.