Where you go to college doesn’t define your life

Sarah Ordway, co-opinions editor

Where you go to college doesn’t matter.

I’m not saying that to be nice. I’m not saying that because I think that it’ll be a really motivating, uplifting piece of advice.

I’m saying it because it’s true. 

Especially in Spring quarter for seniors, the questions of if or where to go to college feel like the most important one that you will ever answer. 

There is, admittedly, an element of excitement that is easy to get swept up in; the ability to move anywhere in the country and study almost anything offers so much choice when the biggest decisions you’ve been able to make before is whether you want to take Foods or Woodworking. You feel like you finally get to start the next part of your life, no matter what that might mean. 

But, regardless of how often you’re told to “choose the school that is right for you,” it can be hard to really take that to heart.

Admittance to a certain school can feel like proof that your hard work has “paid off” and sacrifices you’ve made have been worthwhile. 

It can feel like validation that you’re worthy, smart, and unique enough to be “set up for success.” In an unpredictable economy, picking a school with perceived reputability feels important in a job search. 

Despite the feeling that a specific school will mean more success, in reality it is just that: a feeling. In terms of life outcomes, this hasn’t proven to be particularly true. 

Pew Research found that, in terms of “life satisfaction”, there was negligible difference between those who attended private and public universities. In terms of satisfaction in regards to family life, financial situation, and current job, both public and private university students had virtually no difference in their outcomes later in life. (I’m putting a graphic here)

The general trend seems to be correlation, rather than causation. Many studies seem to suggest that if two students are qualified to attend exceptionally selective institutions, they both will end up with the same career outcomes, even if one attends said institution and the other doesn’t. Essentially, it is not the attending of an elite institution but rather being qualified in the first place that leads to “sucess”. 

In 2002, the Quarterly Journal of Economics published a paper that found students attending more elite universities had higher starting salaries. However, when adjusted for other characteristics like SAT scores, there was no difference between these students and those at less selective universities. In other words, students with certain characteristics (for example, high SAT scores) seemed to do equally to each other regardless of their undergraduate institution, further pointing to correlation rather than causation.

A 2017 study by economist Raj Chetty came to the same conclusion. Low-income students benefited disproportionately from the elite networking opportunities at “prestigious institutions”. However, for everyone else, more prestigious universities did not result in greater happiness or higher salaries.

Although some schools may seem to have “the best connections,” even that is up for dispute. 

In 2010, when the Wall Street Journal asked recruiters the best schools for entry-level hires, the top five listed were Penn State, Texas A&M, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Purdue, and Arizona State; all of these are exceptional universities, but they are not the Ivy League, ultra-shiny schools normally perceived at the tippy-top. 

With differences so small, the question of what school you attend becomes a much broader one. It may be tempting to want the prettiest logo you can find to post on the @gbsseniors22 Instagram page, but a lot of the “hype” in attending the most prestigious school is not based in much of anything.

The difference that isn’t small is tuition. When life outcomes are negligible, more meaningful factors become even more important.  

Nothing about the college admissions process is “fair”. Students are given unequal resources and then subject to a review that is not only deeply arbitrary but often impossible to understand. Being “qualified” can range in difficulty given your circumstances.

You do not want the most interesting thing about you to be where you go to college. The peak of your life should not be when you open an admissions portal at the age of 18. Your life won’t be dictated by where you go to school. The pressure to attend a selective school is about perceived status, not reality. 

To seniors who may not have second thoughts or be upset with an outcome they have come to accept. To juniors, sophomores, freshmen, and even younger who are being faced with mounting pressure to get in somewhere.

Where you go to college doesn’t matter. The money you do or don’t save, your area of study, and how hard you work if you choose to attend do. 

Don’t get too stressed out about where you end up going. You determine what your life is going to look like, not your school.