To what degree will your degree affect thee?

These days, what we look for in universities and what we want our schools to do for us has shifted from the tangible to the virtual. The value we perceive in college prestige is mostly a product of our own insecurity, a mechanism we have created to distract ourselves from what we are truly scared of: choice.

The freedoms which accompany graduating high school are overwhelming. Living in a time where the wrong major could trap you in crippling student debt, the pressure is on to choose a major or path which will be stable in the future instead of one which satisfies the student’s desires and interests. With this sacrifice comes another trivial concern: rankings. An anxiety bred from anxiety, prestige is mostly just hot air, not really anything that carries any weight in our daily lives. Measuring this is tricky because when it comes to people’s careers, many variables have to be considered.

First, going to elite private universities correlates to higher wages because of the steep price tags which accompany these schools. This leads to a wealthier student population as well as better career connections. On the admissions front, the hardworking students who get accepted into these prestigious schools are of course likely to make more money later on, for the hard work that goes into getting a 4.0 still somewhat translates to the work environment.

When these points are considered, the entire process is complicated. On paper, the people that go to Ivy league schools do make more money, but not for the reasons you may think. Stacy Berg Dale of the Andrew Mellon Foundation and Alan Kreuger of Princeton have both made similar inquiries and in Estimating the Payoff to Attending a More Selective College: an Application of Selection on Observables and Unobservables concluded that “students who attended more selective colleges do not earn more than other students who were accepted and rejected by comparable schools but attended less selective colleges” (pg. 1523). Still, we hear about where certain colleges stand on the US News Top 20, which schools are better than others, and way too often I hear something along the lines of “why did he/she go to X if he/she got into Y?”, without any thought to what the students actually wants to do.

Does this pressure improve academic performance? The simple answer would be yes, at least when it comes to your GPA and SAT, but what makes a teenager “successful” needs to be reevaluated. Sure you can get the grades, but if you relegate pursuing your own interests to the backseat, how will you learn what you want to do when you are older? That’s the point of being young, to better learn about yourself and your own interests so that when you start life in the real world you are prepared for what you may face.

This is where going to a prestigious school will actually let you down, because the real world isn’t Harvard, and living in an environment where being the best out of the 2,000 kids at your high school is the minimum discourages students, something that will greatly hinder their productivity when they start working. Talking about work performance almost seems trivial here, because if you are going to be unhappy during highschool/college and beyond, what is the point? People will most certainly think you are smart, but that doesn’t mean you won’t have to prove yourself, and in a world where employers are more and more placing work experience and technical skill over education, the college rat race comes at a steep cost.

So what’s the play here? Well, play! You, the presumable Newbury Park High School student who is reading this very article owe it to yourself to explore your own interests and figure out what you want to do with your life. It may sound either much more or muss less overwhelming than pursuing full IB, but in the end, which one will benefit you more?

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