Prestige over preference: Attending college because of its name

The Old Well at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill is a nationally recognized site. Students all over the country know about UNC, simply because of the prestige it has. (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

This spring, students at Leesville have their minds focused on college. Seniors prepare to graduate, and many have already been accepted to universities. Sophomores and juniors work hard to finish their semesters with the highest grades they can in order to polish their transcripts for upcoming applications.

Many students applying to college understand how competitive the process is. Duke University, the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, and North Carolina State University, all located in the Raleigh area, are three of the top universities in the entire country.

All of the schools have Division I athletic teams, outstanding academics, and highly achieved alumni.

Clearly, earning an acceptance to any prestigious college is not easy. Students are required to have high performances in their classes, great scores on their standardized tests, and extracurricular activities. Therefore, it requires much effort to earn acceptance.

Josh Bellue, Leesville sophomore, explains the number of steps needed to take to apply to top colleges.

“Obviously good grades, especially As, are important. You have to have a really high GPA, be a part of so many clubs, and it doesn’t hurt to play a sport. I know admissions officers look for volunteering, test scores, and basically anything that sets you apart or makes you better than the other people applying,” said Bellue.

Students face competition among others locally and nationally. The more reputable and esteemed the college is, the lower the acceptance rate.

Students even in their freshman year of high school already have their mind set on attending a certain college. Often, they set their sights on selective, well-known universities, like the ones in the Triangle area.

“I really want to go to UNC-Chapel Hill or UNC-Wilmington because they have really good nursing programs. Everyone that I know that goes there absolutely loves it, and I think I would love that community,” said Lauren Ellis, sophomore.

An interesting question to ask high school students, especially those set on a certain future, is what is their rationale for choosing the college? Some may explain how beautiful the campus is, how amazing the school’s respective sports program is, or how going to the school runs in the family.

The most intriguing answers, though, are not about personal sentiment, but about reputation.

Telling other students about one’s acceptance into a top college is not only major bragging rights but boosts self-confidence and sense of personal achievement. reports that without financial aid, out-of-state students pay almost $65,000 a year to attend Stanford University in Northern California. Although this is extremely out of many middle-class students’ price ranges, being a part of the 4.8% of accepted applicants seems like a big accomplishment.

“I think that for most students the school’s reputation is pretty important because you’re able to feel successful. Also, when you try to get a job after graduating, just the name will give you the leg up,” said Caroline Petrini, freshman.

A major issue with students attending schools just for the name is the lack of success they might have. People inform high schoolers to search for universities that best “fit” them, in terms of majors, tuition, and personal preferences.

If the aforementioned middle-class student accepted to Stanford attends Leesville and wants to major in business, the California college is quite a poor decision for them to make. Not only is the college extraordinarily expensive and thousands of miles away, it also does not have a pre-business school. For this hypothetical Leesville graduate, acceptance could be an achievement, but attendance would be a failure.

Athletes especially should consider scholarship opportunities when looking at colleges. Division I college athletics recruit players worldwide, ensuring that they enlist the “best of the best”. Unfortunately, this expands the competition pool and makes it even more difficult for students to receive money for college. At small schools, athletics are just as competitive, but they are not as well advertised. Division II colleges maintain a high athletic reputation but commonly look for players within proximity.

The overall lesson to be taught is that reputation does not mean everything. Universities do have the prestigious status for a reason, the reason being that they are fantastic schools that have existed for decades and often centuries.

What many people don’t realize is that the United States, and even other countries, have hundreds of great smaller universities. There are over 200 schools in North Carolina alone, some that may even cater to a person’s wants and needs better than a “big name” university like UNC or Duke. After all, not every person wants to go to a large college to begin with. Being able to brag about excelling in a smaller college might just be a major advantage over becoming an average student at a “big name” university.


  1. why not take into account financial aid? using the stanford statistic is misleading considering many admittees receive significant monetary incentive to attend.


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