Are you Fixated on Elite Schools?
This month’s newsletter is directed to parents with smart teenagers. Chances are, you may be encouraging your children to aim for highly selective colleges.
At the same time, you may be stressing about how you’d pay for some of these extremely expensive brand name institutions.
Some of these schools are now charging upwards of $280,000 for a single bachelor’s degree. And for parents with two or more children, the costs are beyond staggering-even for those with comfortable six-figure incomes.
Where the chances for merit scholarships are slim to none
One of the realities is this:
The schools with the very shiniest brand names don’t have to bother giving merit scholarships to highly accomplished students from high-income families.
Why? Because there are plenty of wealthy parents who will pay ANY amount to get their children into one of the U.S. News & World Report’s rankings darlings. Schools like Harvard or Stanford could charge $1 million or $2 million for a bachelor’s degree and they’d still reject most teenagers.
Once this reality sinks in, many parents begin wondering if they should plunder their retirement accounts and/or take on debt to underwrite a degree at one of these elite schools that seem (notice the emphasis on seem) to have a monopoly on dispensing golden tickets.
Here are some key things parents need to know:
You don’t have to go to an elite school to succeed!
It is not uncommon for a bright student to get accepted to the flagship school of their dreams, only to find little or nothing awarded to them in the form of merit scholarships. Yet these same students routinely can snag big, fat merit scholarships from other good, but lesser known schools.
This may not seem as obvious to parents in wealthy communities who sometimes view getting into prestigious colleges as a trophy sport. There are parents who have been known to obsess about their children going to a prestigious college while their children are still in diapers!
The following hypothetical is NOT true, but let’s just say all the best jobs in the entire country go exclusively to the graduates of the most highly ranked colleges and universities. This would still leave roughly 99.5% of jobs left to the rest of us.
One quick, easy and practical way we can unscientifically confirm this is to take a look at your LinkedIn contacts (if you have a LinkedIn profile). Most, if not all, of the most successful contacts you have did not attend a trophy school.
The smartest student advantage
There have been two highly touted studies on whether an Ivy League bachelor’s degree conveys a professional advantage for students.
The main conclusion of the papers is this: Students who attend Ivy League institutions and equally bright students who apply but get rejected from these elite schools or who get accepted, but attend other institutions end up making roughly the same amount of money in their careers. These are bright and motivated students, after all, who can succeed wherever they go to school.
There was an exception to the research findings. Minority and first-generation students who don’t enjoy the same advantages as the students whom the Ivy League schools specialize in educating – wealthy students – did gain an advantage from attending these elite schools.
SAT score predictor
What should make parents feel better is the conclusion that Alan Krueger, the famous Princeton economist and coauthor of the studies, reached.
Krueger pointed out that the average SAT score at the most selective college that students apply to is a better predictor of their future earnings than the average SAT score at the college they attend. Read that again and let that sink in!
Here are shorter summaries from the New York Times and the Brookings Institute on what the famous Ivy League studies uncovered.
A Gallup survey conducted with Purdue University last year provided further evidence that people should really stop fixating on elite schools.
The survey results indicated that the type of institution that college graduates attend matters less to their future happiness at home and work than the experiences they have at whatever college that they end up at. In fact, the survey concluded that whether respondents attended an elite school, a public flagship, a private college or a regional state school didn’t matter at all.
-WEBSITE OF THE MONTH
The Chronicle of Higher Education just released a search tool that allows you to sort colleges and universities by state, tuition, room/board and total cost.
You can also sort by type of school including public institutions, private, nonprofit schools and twoyear colleges.
You can also check the price figures for individual institutions and trace the published prices from the 1998-1999 school year up through 2016-2017.
Most of The Chronicle’s website is behind a pay wall, but this search tool is available to anyone.
Michael Howell is a registered representative with, and securities offered through LPL Financial, Member FINRA/SIPC.
This research material has been prepared by Horsesmouth
The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.