The superficiality of 'brand' in college decisions

First Lady Michelle Obama recently offered some advice to students applying to college in an interview with Seventeen magazine. She explained that the decision of where to go to school should not depend upon the name or brand of the institution, but upon what the school can do for you.

As colleges increasingly invest more money into their brand and pay close attention to their rank in U.S. News and World Report, students should take heed of the First Lady’s words.

For high-achieving students, the temptation to attend top-ranked schools because of the prestige and name-recognition can be very high. Certainly, it must be said that many of these institutions have the status and reputation they do because of demonstrated success and the number of opportunities available to students.

Yet, students must make school decisions based on the fundamentals of universities rather than on the superficial gloss a brand name provides.

Different schools have different areas of specialty and different opportunities for students. When making the decision to attend a college or graduate school, students should first think about what they want to get out of their education and what their long-term future plans are.

The highest-ranked school or the one with the best brand may not be the best fit for students. For some students an Ivy League school may have everything they want (Michelle Obama chose Princeton), but these schools may not meet the needs of others.

Michelle Obama also recognizes that students’ initiative and determined pursuit of their goals is more important than the name of the institution they attended. Just as she did not let anyone dissuade her from pursuing Princeton, students should take a realistic look at what they hope to achieve, decide what institutions will best support these plans, and determine what steps they need to take to be admitted to their school of choice.

When a school nurtures a student’s educational and career goals, students are more likely to succeed than when they choose to attend a school for which they are ill-suited because of a brand name.

This also falls on the shoulders of the academic institutions themselves. While marketing and making the institution name more recognizable to potential students are certainly reasonable goals for any college or university, it does not benefit the students if the perceived image of a university is not backed up by realty.

An institution’s primary focus and investment should be in its academic opportunities, faculty, facilities, and overall preparation for a student’s desired path.

For the many high school students either finishing up their college decision process or just beginning, the First Lady’s advice should be strong guideline for how they view prospective schools.