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Ask the Experts: Top Universities

By Peterson's Staff updated on Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Question Many people always praise ivy leagues and nobody ever has anything bad to say about them. What, in your opinion, are the negative consequences (or cons) of going to an ivy league? - Paul

 

AnswerGood question, and a topic we often find ourselves discussing. The "halo effect" refers to the tendency of people to assume everything is and must be perfect at these highly selective institutions since they are so prestigious, wealthy, and desirable. The fact is, there are a lot of issues on these campuses, not so dissimilar to the issues at less selective institutions. The Ivies and other top colleges have a great deal to offer students, including their faculty, campuses, resources, reputations, academic programs, extracurricular activities, bright students, and opportunities during and after college. However, they are a very diverse lot, from large city universities to middle-sized small town campuses. They serve different students in different ways, and the challenges of substance abuse, academic pressure, poor counseling services, lack of contact with faculty, and other issues are prevalent on these campuses just as they are on other college and university campuses. We encourage students always to look beyond the name and perceived prestige factor of any college in order to assess whether it is a good fit for them.

 

Question Which is better, a top ivy league school or a small liberal arts college? - sam

 

AnswerIt depends on what you are looking for. And, there is a great amount of variability within the Ivy League and among similar most competitive level universities (Stanford, Duke, etc.). Within the Ivies, you have institutions like the University of Pennsylvania, at about 10,000 undergrads in an urban environment in Philadelphia, and Dartmouth, at 4,300 undergrads in a small town, more woodsy campus in New Hampshire. We love the small liberal arts colleges, and there is a great deal of variability among that group as well, from a Bowdoin to a Pomona to a Davidson to a Swarthmore. Neither group, small liberal arts or "Ivy," works perfectly for all students, and one must look carefully at models of each to discern what group, or which schools within each group, will fit your interests and needs best.

 

Question Does the schools prestige really matter, for example if I go to FIU will the person who goes to the University Of Miami be better off than myself, or should I go to Miami Dade's Honors College and then transfer to a university? - Binsen

AnswerWe understand your concern for the value in the future that might attach to a particular college's reputation and are pleased to have the opportunity to respond to an issue that many students ask. Your main goal should be to attend a fully accredited university that offers you the academic courses that meet with your interests and major field of study and is the type of environment and teaching approach that will help you to be a successful student. Graduate schools and prospective employers will focus on your choice of majors, the quality of your courses, and most important, your actual performance as measured by your grades. If you believe that FIU offers what you want to study and you will be able to concentrate on your school work and one or several extracurricular activities, then you should feel comfortable in enrolling there.

 

Question Is there a best college to attend in new york city? - Gaelle

 

AnswerWe are often asked, "what is the best college to attend" whether it relates to a certain location or nationally. Our response is always the same: there really is no one best college that would serve all students. We measure the so-called best more in terms of the right or most appropriate college for the individual. For example, there are a number of quality universities located in New York City and the immediate area. Some are large research institutions, others are small- to medium-sized colleges. They vary in the degree programs they offer, the style of teaching, the intensity of the workload, the student body, and the social/cultural mix and tone of the campus.  

You should begin an answer to your own question by making a list of the factors the matter the most to you, and to no one else: what do you plan to study, what kind of academic and social environment do you think will enable you to succeed, what is the level of your high school performance and thus where will you be admitted. Then you will be able to focus on which of the many choices in New York match up best for you.

 

Question i'm a second year university student in China. i wish to apply for an transfer international undergraduate student to universities in the United States. i find from the website there are regional universities and national universities that both provide undergraduate program. i don't know their differences and the social status of their students in society. if i'm qualified for both, which have a better future for employment and further study of graduate program? are they considered with equal fame if they rank the same? for example, if i study in Brigham Young University or in Brigham Young University in Hawaii, do i qualify the same and be considered the same at my graduation by people? any differences for my future chance of employment and application for my studying of graduate program?  i hope that you can give me some knowledge and guidance about this. thank you - hui

AnswerFirst, you should look for those colleges and universities that offer the programs in which you are interested. General studies in the liberal arts and sciences would be in a college of liberal arts or arts and sciences, while you might have a specific focus in communications, engineering, business, or another area that would lead you to apply to a more specialized college or program.

National universities here typically have a stronger reputation and more programs, but many "regional" colleges and universities can have much to offer. Generally, outside of the rankings guides (which you shouldn't put too much weight on) we differentiate colleges by a different classification system than national/regional. We look at what types of degrees are offered — whether just undergraduate (bachelor's), master's level, or doctoral. The schools offering doctoral degrees and significant research programs are at the highest classification, and would include schools like Harvard, but also larger private institutions like Brigham Young, Boston University, and the University of Southern California, and public universities like Indiana University, the University of Michigan, or the University of California at Berkeley.  

A rankings guide can give you a general idea of what "tier" a college or university is considered to be in — whether first, second, third, and so on. Yes, there is generally a difference between a first tier university and a fourth tier regional college, and if you can get into a first tier university that has programs to suit you, and can get financial assistance or afford to attend there, you will probably find more challenge and resources at the school with the higher and more national reputation.

 

Question Do employers look at where you got your degree and how prestigious the school is? - Tony

 

AnswerSome employers do pay careful attention to where you went to college. They may only recruit at certain top schools, or perhaps certain colleges that offer the major (say, nursing, or communications, or engineering, or finance) that they are interested in, or perhaps they look to schools in their region as "bread-and-butter" sources of good employees. However, in most cases we feel that it matters more whether you went to college, not where, in terms of getting, and keeping, that first job. Additionally, how well you do in college will help your chances for a first job, and, in particular, for graduate school admission — an increasingly important long-term consideration in today's marketplace.  

We recommend that students seek to gain admission to the best colleges that fit their interests, and learning style, and where they feel they'll be successful. Going to the "most prestigious" college won't help you if you don't do well there, or carry around a 2.1 GPA when you're ready to go to business, law, medical, or another graduate school. One could draw the analogy to your high school choice as well. Going to the most competitive private school may not work well for you if you are overwhelmed there. Doing well and taking a demanding curriculum wherever you are matters most.

 

About the Author

Peterson's has more than 40 years of experience in higher education, and the expert staff members here are all ready to leverage their considerable knowledge and experience to help you succeed on your educational journey. We have the information, the know-how, and the tools -- now all we need is you!

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