Is a college education really necessary? Does where you go matter?

For over a quarter of the students attending Loomis Chaffee, their journey as a Pelican is approaching the end. From freshman orientation to sophomore retreat, it’s almost surreal how quickly time has passed for our seniors. With the final college decisions rolling in, the first chapter of their lives is over. The stress surrounding junior year has all but evaporated, and their visions of college are quickly becoming a reality.

Although seniors are nearing the end of their high school careers, they have only just begun their lifelong journey. The next step for them is college. Where they go and what they do from this point on will determine the course of the rest of their lives – or will it?

The idea of a college education is a very significant topic and has worked its way into both political debates and household conversations. Which college should I go to? Is this college’s acceptance rate too high? Should I just apply to all the Ivy’s? Do I even need to go to college at all?

To start off, going to a college or university and getting a degree in higher education is worth the time and money. If you want to make a steady income and live a comfortable life, continuing to pursue a degree in higher education unarguably trumps dropping out. In a study by the Pew Research Center, they noted that of the millennials age-25 to 32, those with a bachelor’s degree earned on average $17,500 more than those who only graduated high school. Sure, once in a while, a college drop-out might end up creating one of the most successful technology companies in the world, but 99% of the time, it will be smarter to continue pursuing a college education. Especially here at Loomis, all of our students should be going on to attend institutions of higher education. After all, Loomis Chaffee is a “college preparatory” school and has numerous resources and programs designed to help its students succeed in the college process.

Once the decision to attend college has been made, it’s only the beginning of the college process. Being in an environment like Loomis where almost every student is academically or athletically motivated, students frequently feel pressured to get into “good” schools. Acceptance rates and prestige become so important that many students apply to schools which they know little about. In some cases, students feel pressured to apply to as many Ivy schools as possible simply because they are part of the Ivy League. Now, although there are obvious downsides to this method, there are many advantages which prestigious colleges hold over their competitors.

Consider a student who will require full or a significant amount of financial aid in order to attend college. In this case, higher-ranked schools will frequently hold an advantage over other schools. For the 2015-2016 school year, only 66 schools offered full financial aid. Included in these schools were all the Ivies along with Stanford, University of Chicago, and MIT.

In addition to the financial support which wealthier and more elite colleges typically provide, there are other advantages to attending top-tier schools. Depending on the path one wishes to pursue in college, the school that one goes to can give students a leg up. For example, it is much easier to land an internship on Wall Street if you are coming from a powerful college or university. In fact, 6 out of the 8 Ivy’s are among the top 10 schools which dominate the investment banking world. Turning to the west coast, the situation is the same for highly competitive areas such as Silicon Valley. Five out of the 10 schools which dominate Silicon Valley jobs are Ivy League. Also in the top ten are Stanford, Duke, and MIT.

Now although top-ranking colleges may have their advantages, a school cannot determine a student’s future. Elite colleges may be able to provide extensive financial aid, but there are many less-known colleges which can provide nearly the same amount. Furthermore, while top-tier colleges may hold advantages in some vocations, there are many areas where the playing field is level. In the end, it’s up to the student to shape his/her future, not the school which he or she attends.