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Articles / Applying to College / What Studies Show that Elite Colleges Are Worth the Cost?

Nov. 30, 2011

What Studies Show that Elite Colleges Are Worth the Cost?

Question: Can you direct me to any studies that support what I will call the "reputational difference" of attending an "elite" school. My son is applying to UPenn, Princeton, Stanford, WashU, Northwestern as well as a few smaller private institutions. The cost to attend these "elite" schools is $25K - $30K higher than these smaller schools. We are planning on helping him pay for his school, but not as much as the government or these schools expect us to. So he needs to make a decision to go to an "elite" school and graduate with over $100,000 in student loans, or go to a smaller private institution and graduate with $10,000 - $15,000 in loans. He is convinced it is worth the extra cost, I am not. I know these "elite" schools have no incentive to do such a study as there is no shortage of students and parents that seem to just accept it is worth the cost. Just hoping someone somewhere has done a study that can help him make his decision.

The Dale and Krueger study cited here is the most famous one: http://www.usnews.com/education/blogs/the-college-solution/2011/03/01/the-ivy-league-earnings-myth

But it doesn't support the "reputational difference" of attending an elite school. To the contrary, it says that those who are qualified to attend a renowned college--but don't--fare just as well in the earnings department as those who actually enrolled at one.

Yet, although I am always the first to wave warning flags when a family is about to take on considerable debt, I still believe that the “Should I spring for the pricey school?" question can only be answered with a resounding, “It depends."

Factors such as a student's family background (Ivy League? Blue collar?), a student's career goals (investment banker? accountant? teacher?) and the student's personality (Type A? Laid back?) as well as a look at the student's overall college acceptance list and bottom-line costs would all go into the hopper before I would offer advice.

Hope that helps … and good luck with both the college decisions and your own.

(posted 11/30/2011)

Written by

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone knows the competitive and often convoluted college admission process inside out: From the first time the topic of college comes up at the dinner table until the last duffel bag is unloaded on a dorm room floor. She is the co-author of Panicked Parents' Guide to College Admissions; The Transfer Student's Guide to Changing Colleges and The International Student's Guide to Going to College in America. Sally has appeared on NBC's Today program and has been quoted in countless publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Weekend, USA Today, U.S. News & World Report, Newsweek, People and Seventeen. Sally has viewed the admissions world from many angles: As a Smith College admission counselor for 15 years, an independent college counselor serving students from a wide range of backgrounds and the author of College Confidential's "Ask the Dean" column. She also taught language arts, social studies, study skills and test preparation in 10 schools, including American international schools in London, Paris, Geneva, Athens and Tel Aviv. As senior advisor to College Confidential since 2002, Sally has helped hundreds of students and parents navigate the college admissions maze. In 2008, she co-founded College Karma, a private college consulting firm, with her College Confidential colleague Dave Berry, and she continues to serve as a College Confidential advisor. Sally and her husband, Chris Petrides, became first-time parents in 1997 at the ripe-old age of 45. So Sally was nearly an official senior citizen when her son Jack began the college selection process, and when she was finally able to practice what she had preached for more than three decades.

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