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Last Updated: June 28, 2021

Choosing the Best College- Financial Aid v/s Ranking

Choosing the right college for study might seem easy while the candidate is in high school and choosing the right degree to major in seemed all that mattered. But during the application process, the factors that matter in college selection will finally become clear, making candidates weigh their options even after receiving their acceptance letters. One of the most important factors that come into play is funding. Students would often desire to go to the top Ivy League Colleges if they have the merit to do so. But at the same time, not receiving adequate funding will result in them choosing other options that might be more economically feasible for them.

The other factors that come into play while choosing a college are location, enrollment size, majors and programs the college offers, external opportunities the college has to offer, the selectivity procedure, and the living expense of the city. While international and national ratings of colleges and universities do matter, it is important for candidates to make their own pros and cons list for each university they have been accepted to before making the final selection. This list will be subjective based on the different wants and needs of every candidate.

Graduate School - Money v/s Ranking

Factors that matter vary from course to course and degree to degree. For graduate students, the school’s ranking can matter much more whereas, for undergraduate programs, the rankings of colleges do not matter as much as the GPA and other factors associated with receiving a graduate school admission. The courses where either money or ranking matters the most are the professional courses like business, law, and medicine. Other fields relating to arts and humanities require a deeper focus on the said department than the overall rankings of the university and have a relatively low fee with more opportunities of attaining a financial aid or scholarships.

Law School

Law school rankings are incredibly important for employment outcomes. Ben Taylor, a Forbes columnist, writes that “…rankings couldn’t be more important [for law school]”. Within law school, the T14, or the top 14 schools in the country, are the crème de la crème of the law world, and their graduates are promised high salaries at the best firms and vaunted clerkships.

In this instance, if a candidate chooses a lower-ranked law school, that doesn’t imply that they will never find success. But this implies that it will take them a while to reach the kind of salary the law profession is famous for. While graduates of the top-tier can expect about $160,000 if they enter the private sector, the median salary for new lawyers is only $69,000. According to US News & World Report, which ranks law schools, “only 35 of the 197 ranked law schools reported median private-sector salaries exceeding $100,000.” Given that the average law school graduate borrowed about $113,000 to pay for their legal education, anything below six digits will make loan repayment difficult.

Business and Medical School

The market and economy are always changing, and business schools need to change with them. As a result, the rankings for business and medical schools change all the time and matter less. For medical schools, the rankings matter relatively more than the business schools, and the top medical schools are entrenched at the top of the rankings list.

However, aspiring medical school students should consider the type of medicine they want to practice, as well as where they want to practice. Candidates who wish to specialize in different fields of medicine should have their primary focus on the majors that are offered in medical schools more than the overall ranking of the schools.

Does Ranking Really Matter?

For the most part, where a person goes to study will not adversely affect their long-term job prospects. In his thought-provoking book, Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be, the New York Times columnist Frank Bruni argues that elite colleges do not have a monopoly on success " the candidate’s personality and attitude towards studying rather than the college ranking makes a much greater difference in the trajectory of life.

This assertation is backed up by scientific data. In 1999, the economists Stacy Berg Dale and Alan Krueger published a study that examined the employment outcomes of students with similar academic profiles"some of these students ended up at elite institutions and others at slightly less selective schools. They found that the students who attended less selective colleges earned the same amount as those who ended up at elite universities. A follow-up study, published in 2011, came to the same conclusion.

When does it Matter?

When the rankings of universities do not ultimately matter, the choice of university may matter in other unforeseen ways. Dale and Kruger found that those students who picked schools with higher sticker prices ended up with higher earnings. This probably has to do with the university's resources-the more resources they have, the better off its students are in the long run.

The factors that students can consider before enrolling would be to check the university’s endowment and the amount they spend on every student. There is also the influence one can get from their peers which were seen mostly in underprivileged students who went to Ivy League spaces. Writing in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Jeff Selingo argues that “the so-called ‘peer effects’ of being around other students who want to finish college make[s] a significant difference.” Schools with higher graduation rates have cultures that encourage graduating and are likely to have more resources for students struggling academically or financially. Candidates can then look for institutions that have a high four-year graduation rate even if they are selecting an averagely ranked institution.

Rather than a degree from any specific institution, most employers are searching for people who have the skills and leadership abilities to succeed in today’s economy. A 2014 Gallup poll found that 84% of US business leaders believe that the amount of knowledge a candidate has in his or her field is very important, while only 9% believe where the candidate received his or her college degree is very important. For undergraduates, rankings matter only in the broad sense. The difference between a college in the top 30 and a college ranked in the middle of the pack is minimal.

Tips to Choose the Right College

The choices that each candidate has to make in choosing the best college for them are often not about the rankings and the finances involved in the process. While the choice made can be highly subjective in nature, it is important that while choosing a college the candidate goes through the process of making the right decisions along the way.

This can start from developing a shortlist of colleges they wish to attend to provide their choice of degree and major. This list can then be ranked according to their priorities which could be based on living expenses in the city, time for travel, accommodation-related information, etc. It is also recommended that while choosing the school it is best to understand departmental rankings more than overall school rankings. This is due to the fact that even when the university/ school might be highly ranked, there is a possibility of the department, not fairing well enough.

Candidates must also look into the financial aid factor. If the candidate has external funding available through their family, they will only have to focus on the rankings and departmental benefits for the course. But otherwise, comparing financial aid awards offered by different campuses will be the ultimate factor of choice since students do not want to be riddled in debts from educational loans.

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