The Forest Scout

Brand Name Colleges


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If you’re a senior, you know all too well the question, “So, where are you applying?” For seniors, their year has already been dominated by college applications, and  more frequently, questions about those applications. Students, teachers, parents, friends, and family all want to know exactly where you’re applying. More often than not, there’s judgment behind these questions and the answers that come with them.
The “brand name” issue that I refer to in the title of this piece is a broad topic. What I mean when I say this is that there is a lot of scrutiny surrounding the name of the college you attend. Typically, a brand name college is a highly-ranked university with a name everyone knows. Some classic Lake Forest examples include Vanderbilt, University of Southern California, Northwestern, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, or the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor. All of these colleges are the typical “brand name” colleges that Lake Forest students apply to or dream of. If you apply or go there, people tend to think more highly of you, deeming you smart and dedicated. On the flip side, if you’re going to a college that everyone perceives as less academically rigorous, people have a tendency to look down on you.
We’ve all had experiences that match this description. People nod along and smile when you mention well-known colleges that are difficult to get in to, but lose interest when you talk about schools that don’t fit into that category. If it’s a “safety” school, they develop a pretentious air. If they haven’t heard of the colleges you’re applying to, they’ll make it clear that it’s not on their prestigious radar.
We’re guilty of this stereotyping too. Colleges usually have both academic and social misunderstandings associated with them. If someone goes to an Ivy League or an academically outstanding university, we think of that student as impressive, hard working, and highly intelligent. On the other hand, colleges with high acceptance rates are looked down upon. For example, College of Lake County is widely thought of as a joke to most students at Lake Forest High School. The unwarranted stereotype attached to people who attend CLC is far from respectful. Whether you admit it to yourself or not, the name of a college and the things you know about it influence your view of a person going there.
The seldom acknowledged truth is that there are many factors that go into a college decision. Many people fail to realize that ulterior motives that defer from your own interests can play a big part in which college you go to. For example, some students might choose a college because they need to be close to home, or based on their financial situation, or because of legacy or pressure from parents. They could even be searching for superior academic opportunities (such as honors colleges) at universities that on the surface seem easy to get into or academically mediocre.
Furthermore, even when it is completely up to the student, there is more to take into account than just a college’s academics. Size, location, sports, clubs, atmosphere, school spirit, and other opportunities are all factors that can make a school appeal to someone. Sometimes, it’s not even one specific aspect. When you visit a college, you can tell whether you love it or not. Maybe it’s not because it’s one of the best universities in the country — maybe it’s just because you feel in your heart that you belong at that school. Whatever it is, a school’s academic reputation isn’t the whole school, it is just one part of many.
You may also be applying to schools that don’t necessarily fit what people think of you. If they know you as an academically dedicated student, they probably expect you to apply to selective universities and pursue a difficult major. If they know you as someone who values social interaction, they may see you to attending a large college with lots of social opportunities. If they know you as someone who’s into the arts, they might expect you to apply to famous art schools; however, you don’t have to apply to places just because people think you would fit there. More importantly, you don’t have to refrain from applying to schools that others “can’t see you at.”  You might really love a school, but people claim that it goes against the vision they have of you.
The fact is, ultimately you know yourself better than anyone else. If you are drawn to a school and really feel that you would belong there, it doesn’t matter what other people think. You know where you’re going to have the best college experience. Nobody should have a say in that decision except you. Apply for your reasons, not others’ opinions. Set aside the brand names and choose the school at which you will be happiest.

1 Comment

One Response to “Brand Name Colleges”

  1. Megan Miles on September 21st, 2018 10:50 am

    You go Mary King! Agreed. Many times a school just feels right to a student and that is a really important factor! Open minds through this process are helpful to our entire school community.

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