What’s in a name? It’s an age-old question Shakespeare poses when love is forbidden based on family name alone in Romeo and Juliette. Names conjure up ideas and emotions. That’s a fact. Advertisers bank on the “right” brand name to sell gourmet food, fancy handbags and flashy sports cars. The same holds true for “big” name colleges. Brand name schools influence prospective students and their families.
With thousands of colleges in the United States, why do so many parents and students focus their college search on the top 50 name brand colleges and universities? For many it’s the perceived prestige. For others, it’s the affirmation that a name brand college is a solid choice. Perhaps the most common explanation is naivety: students and their families are not familiar with the multitude of possibilities. But name brand schools aren’t always the best fit for individual students.
Instead of focusing strictly on big name colleges, consider a student’s academic, social and financial fit. Does a college meet the student’s academic needs with programs of interest and offer the right academic support necessary for success? Second, does the college have the right social environment to make friends and offer activities that are of interest to the student? Third, will the college likely offer the need based/merit based aid necessary without the student incurring crippling debt? Work closely with a counselor to determine a complete list of criteria that’s important to narrowing in on a student’s right fit school.
Parents should be aware of the current academic offerings and social cultures of today’s colleges. Over the past three decades many colleges and universities have reinvented themselves. Some colleges have diversified their academic offerings. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and Stevens Institute of Technology are no longer strictly engineering institutions. Once single sex colleges Vassar and Skidmore are now coed. And colleges that were once considered regional now have national reputations. Vanderbilt University has seen sweeping change in its student population and selectivity level over the past 20-years. In 1999 Vanderbilt was primarily a Southern university with an acceptance rate of 61.4%. This year the regular decision, admit rate was 8.8% for the class of 2020 with students hailing from all 50 states. The message here is research schools and don’t assume that a school you knew 30-years ago has the same academic and social landscape as it once did.
Being brand conscious during the college search process is human nature. But don’t forget to explore the possibilities outside the familiar. When students find the right fit college, no matter what its name, the opportunities for growth and success are endless and the rewards are great.
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