Why are there certain colleges everyone knows about? It pays to understand what makes a college so famous, and then decide whether those famous qualities are right for you.
It's important to know what's behind a college's reputation. That way, you're in a better position to determine if those qualities make the college a good fit for you—rather than try to fit yourself to a college because of its prestige.
What Leads to a Famous Reputation?
Rankings. Well-publicized college rankings can boost a college's reputation. Many students and parents assume a highly ranked college must be desirable, whether or not the ranking is based on qualities that fit the student well.
Age. Over their long tenure, many older schools have produced celebrated graduates, eminent faculty, and Nobel prize-winning researchers. People tend to think that colleges founded 100 or more years ago must be doing something right to have lasted so long, even without these achievements.
Money. A long line of successful alumni may have built up the college's endowment, giving the school the financial resources to fund everything from biotech research to generous financial aid.
Looks. The architecture may have endured from a period now considered classic. Colleges with good reputations are often situated in the most desirable and beautiful settings.
Sports and Traditions. Famous colleges have had a chance to build a history of revered traditions and spirited team rivalries with other famous schools.
Rigor. Most famous colleges have many academic programs that are at the top of their fields, renowned faculty, and graduate programs that attract students from around the world.
The Connection Between Reputation and Selectivity
Famous colleges are usually very difficult to get into, further fueling the college's reputation. Admitted students have extraordinary academic and extracurricular achievements, leadership skills, and talents. An undergraduate student body chock full of super students increases academic intensity across the campus, sometimes to an extremely high level. Just getting into such a college may seem a tremendous achievement, regardless of whether it fits your personality and goals.
Should You Choose a College Based on Reputation?
It's important to keep your own needs and goals foremost in your mind when choosing a college. For example, working closely with faculty at a famous college may sound appealing, but those professors may not teach undergraduates with the kind of individual attention you seek. They may not even teach undergraduates at all. There are many highly regarded colleges that are less well known, where the faculty is closely involved with students. One of these colleges may be a terrific match for you.
You can find out about schools that fit your needs with CollegeData's College Match. To learn more about what it takes to get admitted to your favorite schools, use CollegeData's Admissions Tracker, which lets you compare your qualifications and background with those of students who were recently admitted to those same colleges.