Are you still recovering from admissions season? Are you bummed out that you weren’t accepted to a highly rejective school with an extremely low acceptance rate? There are a lot of reasons why people want to go to places like Harvard, Princeton, or Yale. But are there reasons why you shouldn’t go there? In this blog, let’s explore why you shouldn’t go to the most elite school that accepted you.
It’s Not a Good Fit
There are many reasons why a college isn’t a good fit for you. They may not offer the specific degree you’re looking for. For example, you may want to pursue a BS/MD program where you go straight from a Bachelor of Science to a medical program at the same university. More examples include degrees in Architecture or Restaurant and Hotel Management. If you are interested in those majors, then Cornell may be a better fit than Harvard. Whether it’s a certain department or affiliation of a campus, if you’re not engaged on your campus, that’s one of the leading indicators that your college experience won’t have as much of a positive impact on your life. Research from a nonprofit called Challenge Success shows that engagement is the number one predictor of success when it comes to a college education.
Engagement looks like mentors or faculty you connect with. Engagement can also look like a multi-semester project you undertake with a group or the community. Filling out a survey and feeling a connection with your community can also count as engagement. If you don’t feel that connection with Harvard, Princeton, or Yale, then you shouldn’t go there.
The Economics Don’t Make Sense
Another reason why you shouldn’t go to Harvard is if the economics don’t make sense. Many super elite schools like Harvard promise to meet “100% of Demonstrated Need.” Demonstrated Need is the amount in financial aid you are eligible for. It is the difference between the cost of attendance and your expected family contribution. When a school says they’re meeting 100% of Demonstrated Need, that doesn’t mean they will cover all of your personal need. For example, you may have wealthy parents who refuse to pay for your education. If that’s the case, Harvard may not fit your needs the best.
Schools like Harvard, Princeton, Stanford, and Yale do give excellent financial aid packages to low income students. Additionally, if you are Black or Hispanic, you could receive a real benefit from an elite education, so it may be worth the investment. For someone who is white and middle class, the equation might be different. According to a 1999 study by Stacy Berg Dale and Alan B. Krueger, students who applied to schools like Harvard and decided to attend different, lower ranked schools faired about the same in terms of income level, and life outcomes. In a follow up study, they also found that students who just applied to those elite schools had life outcomes that were about the same.
Return on Investment (ROI)
You may also be interested in your Return on Investment (ROI). Your ROI is the increase in salary from attending minus the cost of attending. If you’re looking at ROI, know that your major matters. Your ROI at Harvard will be different depending on if you major in Computer Science, or Archeology. In other words, a Harvard degree isn’t always worth millions of dollars. If you check out FREEOPP.org you can use their charts to see that certain majors between an elite school and a lower ranked school have no differential at all.
Relative Deprivation Theory
Relative Deprivation Theory is also the Big Fish, Little Pond effect. In his book, David and Goliath, Malcolm Gladwell proposes the idea that students studying math and science shouldn’t go to Harvard. The reason he proposes is this is that persistence in math and science is a problem. In this case persistence refers to the idea that in fields like math in science, if you’re performing in the lowest third of your class you will drop out, regardless of what school you’re attending. By comparing test scores and graduation rates at different schools, Gladwell found that students in the lower and middle thirds of test score results persisted in math and science degrees at lower rates than students who scored in the top third. This means that if you feel you are performing below the students around you, you may never get that STEM degree.
Based on these findings, you can see why you may want to be the Big Fish in the Small Pond. In the Small Pond, your chance of getting the degree is higher. Gladwell notes that your odds of successfully getting a math degree falls by 2% for every 10 points increase of the average SAT score of your peers.
With all this said, you also need to look at yourself. Are your test scores already in the 75th percentile at Harvard? If so, then this probably isn’t a concern to you. However, if you’re in the 25th percentile, you may want to consider a different school.