Are Colleges Becoming Brand Names?

This piece was published in the October 2015 issue of the Prep News and was written by John Godfrey


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Correct me if I’m wrong, but two plus two equals four, whether you are at Rockhurst University or Yale—right? Surprisingly enough, a large number of college applicants struggle with coming to this conclusion.

With the college selection process seemingly superseding all other aspects of life, the emphasis on prestigious schools seems a little drawn out.

Don’t get me wrong. I would love to be an Ivy Leaguer, a Blue Devil or even a Commodore. Prestigious schools lead to great opportunities—unique opportunities a student would be hard pressed to find at a state school. For some students, admission and attendance at an affordable price to these schools is a genuine reality. And to this group I admiringly salute, “Congratulations.”

But to the majority of students whose lists are lined with only storied universities, whose heads are filled with images of wearing the Knitted Sweater or chanting with the ‘Cameron Crazies’, I politely and respectfully say, “Let’s get real.”

When looking at colleges, a student—through no fault of his own—can be drawn toward attractive and highly selective schools. These schools dominate the college discussion; and to a certain extent, deservingly so. Their admission standards offer a challenge to most students. Mere acceptance to such schools is an incredible achievement, in itself.

But there comes a point when elite schools can distort the actual goal of the college selection process: to find a school which fits a student’s relative academic, financial and social situations.

This issue is in no way unique to the Class of 2016, nor Rockhurst as a whole. It is safe to assume that throughout the entire country, the prestige of storied universities breeds this somewhat-blinded ambition.

Choosing a college may be the hardest decision a senior in high school has ever had to make. If this selection is such an important aspect of a teen’s life, it seems counterintuitive to equate attending a state school as “settling.” Options become unnecessarily limited.

In doing this, a student makes the decision a social one, a symbol of status or excellence. We attach ourselves to these big name universities in order to brand ourselves, in a sense.

But colleges cannot be worn or flaunted like an overpriced polo. It would be a sad sight to see the college decision process embody the same superficiality as the labels we so proudly sport. If the decision is becoming reduced to just another mean of expressing one’s status, the next four years of education lose irrecoverable value.

I am not intending to be cynical regarding the collegiate futures of students. Rockhurst men have always put great thought into their college decisions, and many have become highly successful individuals. I don’t foresee a change in that pattern. I am simply extrapolating an interesting perception I have noticed thus far.

But, thankfully, as the college decision continues, and push inevitably comes to shove, relative realities begin to become more apparent to most students. With the help of college counselors, and through gradually maturing in the process of finding the right school, students broaden narrowed horizons. More mindful choices are eventually made.

The mindfulness is proved through the top five choices of the Class of 2015: University of Missouri, University of Kansas, Rockhurst University, Creighton University and Miami University (Oxford, OH).

In no way am I glad most students eventually realize Ivy League schools are not a reality due to academic or financial situations. No doubt, these realizations are tough. But the actuality of a situation allows a student to see that the negative views toward “lesser” schools are poorly and prematurely formed.

Schools like MU and KU are long lasting academic institutions with tenured professors, excellent facilities, diverse student bodies, exceptional curricula, challenging honors programs…the list goes on. Most students at Rockhurst High School would be eligible for in-state tuition at either university, allowing the schools to become desirable from a financial standpoint, as well.

As the process continues and as application deadlines approach, it is my hope that the superficialities fade. Frankly, this choice is hard enough as it is. There is no need to add yet another variable to the equation—and a petty variable, at that.

The day to select a college will finally come. And, yes, that day will come soon. But, before that day, however, a sense of relief will hopefully fall upon each student. For there is great relief in knowing that unimaginable success can be achieved at any college in the country.

So be confident in the choice you will make. Be confident in your undergrad, wherever you earn it. And be confident that two plus two will equal four, no matter where you go.

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