I think that there are a lot of families out there that would like to drop out of the race to get into the most prestigious college possible. They know that there are good reasons to look elsewhere. With seemingly ever decreasing admission rates, the numbers are against you. And financially, it often just makes sense to go to a lesser-known school. But people can’t help but wonder if doing so means “settling” for less. They want to know what happens to people who go to colleges no one has ever heard of.
Let’s get something out of the way first. Colleges and universities that are generally nationally recognized are graduating successful students. Their students obviously are getting jobs and being accepted into graduate school.
Of course, there is the chicken and the egg issue. Do the schools produce good students or are the schools good because they accept good students? On one level, who cares if it is because of the quality of the program or the quality of the students–it’s the end result that matters, right?
But for those who want to drop out of the prestige race, the question is are these schools the ONLY way to achieve the same results?
Now, figuring out the deciding factor in producing successful students, good schools or good students, seems a bit more important.
In general, I find that it’s wasted effort trying to convince people who buy into the need for prestige and reputation that students are not ruining their lives by attending colleges no one has ever heard of.
It’s More Important What You Do at College
But I do think there is plenty of evidence to offer families who are looking for some reassurance for their decision to go the road less traveled. A lot of what follows I have discussed before so I’m just trying to put it all in one place. These are a few resources that I think should provide some evidence that people do find success graduating from colleges no one has ever heard of.
In The Truth About Rejection by Elite Colleges, I show that there’s increasing evidence that the phrase repeated by college counselors everywhere, it doesn’t matter where you go to college but what you do there, is true.
Research by Krueger and Dale shows that students who were actually accepted to the most elite colleges and went elsewhere were just as successful as those who did attend the “must get in” schools.
In fact, the most recent research shows that “the average SAT score at the most selective college students apply to turns out to be a better predictor of their earnings than the average SAT score at the college they attended.”
As for people not knowing about your school, which people are we talking about? People get nervous when friends, co-workers, and family members look at them blankly and say they never heard of the school. However, unless one of them is the director of the human resources department for a fortune five hundred company, they really aren’t the people you need to worry about.
There Are Many Paths to Graduate School
Think going to a small college will hurt your chances for graduate school? Take a look at the “Baccalaureate Origins of S&E Doctorate Recipients.” All of the big-name schools are there but the list also includes schools that would qualify as colleges no one has ever heard of such as Kalamazoo College, Earlham College, Hendrix College, and Lawrence University.
You can download a list of institutions with Rhodes Scholars at The Rhodes Trust. Be sure to pay attention to the warnings about using the statistics. Also, keep in mind some institutions have a much stronger process in place to assist students in applying for such scholarships. Yes, you’ll find some of the most competitive colleges in the country at the top of the list. However, Sewanee: The University of the South actually has had one more Rhodes scholar than Georgetown and the University of Mississippi has had eight more than Emory.
Another website to visit is the Fulbright Student Awards and look up which schools have received awards by year. In 2020-21, The University of Texas at Austin had more than Tufts and Indiana University Bloomington had more than Cornell University.
Med School and Law School
The Washington University Medical School had a table showing the undergraduate institutions represented by their incoming class. I did a post just on this table, Do College Rankings Matter? Examining the table (at the time) showed that:
During this time period, ten students from the University of Illinois Chicago, ranked 150, enrolled in the Medical School which is just one less than the number of students that enrolled from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, ranked 29.
Unfortunately, they no longer list colleges that send less than three students a year for multiple years which would keep smaller and lesser-known schools off of the list (talk about protecting your brand.) However, even with the bias, University of Nebraska – Lincoln, Oregon State University, and Truman State University show up on the list.
Take a look at the undergraduate schools of the law classes admitted to Harvard. The list may be dominated by top ranked schools but you’ll see a few colleges you’ve never heard of or at least are unexpected. In 2021-22 the schools included Alabama State University, Arizona State University, Cal State-Long Beach, Calvin College, Chapman, Florida Atlantic University, Georgia State University, Hamline University, Hampton University, Oklahoma State University, University of Houston, University of Indianapolis, University of Texas-San Antonio, University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, and the University of Nevada-Las Vegas.
I used to include the University of Virginia Law School’s undergraduate profile but it seems to have caught the same disease as Washington University in St. Louis and is now only listing schools with at least 4 students in the first-year class. Given the increasing number of schools that don’t list the undergraduate origins of their class, I think people should start asking for the lists. Why are they worried about potentially listing colleges no one has ever heard of?
Perhaps a more interesting exercise is to search for medical school class profiles (not those showing up at the top of the rankings) and see where the students came from. After looking through a few schools, you’ll see students from Princeton and Cornell attending the same school as students from Austin College and Texas State University. The University of Louisville Medical School’s (ranked #87 by US News) recent entering class includes students from Emory, Princeton, UCLA, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, Notre Dame, Vanderbilt, and Yale.
Where’s the Guarantee?
As I stated in the beginning, this isn’t about proving that prestige doesn’t matter. Rather, it’s meant to show that it’s not necessary depending on the student. It may be a risk to stop chasing prestige but then again, chasing prestige doesn’t provide any guarantees either.
Check out the 50-50 College Listing to start searching for a college no one has ever heard of but might be a great opportunity for you.