Selective Schools: Pros and Cons

You’ve got good grades and standardized test scores, you’re heavily involved in extracurriculars, and you’re applying to college. Where do you apply? A selective school, of course! Well…not so fast.

Each year, hundreds of thousands of applications are submitted to top-tier institutions, and the volume is only increasing. While your numbers may lead you to believe you belong at a highly competitive program, that may not always be the case! A flashy name should never be a determining factor in choosing a college or university—it’s all about fit!

One of the ways to think about fit is: Will you actually be happy there? Many students and families view highly selective schools as obvious choices because of their academic opportunities. But going to a top-tier institution to get a good education is not enough of a reason. You can get a good education from a multitude of schools! Your rationale for wanting to attend should go much deeper. For a school to be a good fit, you have to buy into everything: student culture, extracurricular offerings, professional opportunities, campus environment, the whole shebang!

It’s also important to remember that your success as a student isn’t solely based on getting As—otherwise, we would all go to schools beneath our academic profiles. It’s more about your success within the school’s community. A successful college career is marked by substantive connections with peers, administrators, and professors—not just a strong transcript.

While everyone’s priorities are different, the table below might help when considering whether to apply to a highly selective school:

Priorities Things to Consider
Strong Academics If you have a specific major in mind, you need to pay attention to that academic department. Being a highly selective school does not mean it is automatically the best choice for every field. The reality is that even top-tier colleges have non-top-tier programs.
Extracurricular Offerings Yes, selective schools tend to offer more resources and activities for students. However, if you’re not going to take advantage of them, this isn’t a worthwhile consideration. Opportunity is great, but only if you’re willing to seize it!
High-Paying Careers Prominent universities do attract prominent employers. However, while you may have a better chance of getting a high-paying job right out of undergrad, this is not a guarantee. Salaries are often dictated by the field, not the school you graduate from. If you want to work for a small nonprofit, saving insects in the rainforest, you shouldn’t expect the salary of a consultant, even if you went to a fancy college!
Culture Does school stress you out? Do you think ambitious, highly motivated people are difficult to work with? Then a competitive college might not be the best cultural fit. Remember that students are clawing their way into these schools—that attitude doesn’t go away simply because they receive an acceptance letter.
Cost Top-tier universities come with high price tags. Again, you have to take into account campus culture, the strength of your particular program, extracurricular offerings—EVERYTHING. It’s not worth the cost if you’re not going to take advantage of every opportunity.

Remember that an admissions officer’s job is to find students who are the best fit for their college. While a strong academic record might qualify you for a selective college, it doesn’t mean you would ultimately be happy there, and that’s what counts! So please, take into account more than just a name. A selective school is an amazing opportunity for some, but it’s definitely not right for everyone!

To learn more about the college process, check out our Guide to College Admissions!

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