The Ivies v. The States: Who’s Worth It?

Almost every senior in the country dreads the start of school, and for good reason. Every year, millions of high school seniors are faced with the stressful decision of where to apply for college. Yet year after year, Ivy League schools seem to be colleges that the greatest number of students aspire to attend. This group is comprised of Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Columbia, Dartmouth, Cornell, Brown, and the University of Pennsylvania, all renowned for their enormous endowments, brand identities, and exclusivity. Getting into these schools is a feat in itself, and many job recruiters go immediately to these schools to find high quality job candidates. However, experiences from state college students around the nation have sparked the debate questioning whether an Ivy League education (and the price tag associated with one) is truly more valuable than an education obtained from any other college, such as a state school. So, at the end of the day, is the Ivy League really worth it?

Many people believe that the Ivy League’s prestige is an excellent indicator of the supposedly excellent education it offers compared to that in state schools. However, journalist Michael Pruser from the Dough Roller explains how experts in academia argue that “students are paying big bucks for a brand and not necessarily for a higher level of education.” He also points out that many state universities are known to have similar curricula to those present in the Ivies, which makes the quality and quantity of educational opportunities in a state school comparable to the education received at an Ivy League school. Thus Ivies may actually be overhyped and be associated with intelligence only due to their prestige rather than the quality of their educational material. Furthermore, Pruser does clarify that while Ivies do have challenging academic courses, that does not necessarily indicate educational superiority relative to state schools.

Regardless of the educational experience in Ivy League schools, a majority of students are horrified when they see the price tag associated with them. Many clearly qualified students choose not to apply to any Ivy Leagues at all because of the better value state schools can provide them. State schools can provide almost equal social experiences and similar courses for a fraction of the cost of their Ivy counterparts (which reach over $200,000 for four years). Top students who are capable of going to Ivies can often go to state schools with partial or full scholarships; meanwhile, the Ivies give out no merit-based scholarships. For many high achievers, it’s certainly outlandish to assume that paying up to five times as much for an Ivy League would lead to five times as superior of an experience. Clearly, cost is a reason to eliminate an Ivy League school from one’s college list because it literally may not be worth the overall education or future jobs one may receive.

According to Ms. Rivera, head of the guidance department, “parents are a big push” when it comes to motivating students to apply to Ivies. Because Ivy League schools are consistently found at the top of college rankings, many parents encourage their kids to aim for the top without a consideration of other factors. While Ms. Rivera acknowledges that the Ivy brand does pop out on a resume, it ultimately doesn’t have much significance from her personal experience. Few people value where she got her degree over her ability to perform in her job; indeed, after experiences at both the City University of New York and Columbia University she finds that she was equally challenged and prepared for the workforce by both schools. “The main difference,” she says, “is that Ivy Leagues have Nobel Laureates as professors” whereas state schools may have similarly capable and educated but less distinguished professors. Outside the classroom, state schools have equally diverse extracurricular and educational opportunities, from clubs to work programs to research. Ultimately, Ms. Rivera advises students to make the right educational and financial choice for them because what one chooses to do with their college experience is more important than the school one attends.

The Ivy League is certainly a wonderful group of colleges. However, it does not definitively offer the best education compared to all the other state schools in America. There is a clear sense of favoritism towards the Ivies mainly due to their strong brand identities; however, public image is simply one minor factor of dozens that determine the quality of a school. So, to all the high schoolers who have to make that stressful college decision, consider this: Ivy League schools can be good, but state schools can be better.