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Apply to Selective Colleges & Universities

Why High-achieving Students with Financial Need Should Apply to and Attend Selective Colleges and Universities

You have lots of choices to make during your college application process, and one of the most important decisions has to do with what kind of colleges to put on your list: state universities, community colleges, small liberal arts colleges, technical universities, less rigorous, more rigorous... Your friends may only apply to the in-state institutions; your family may encourage you to stay close to home. As you sort through the advice of your closest friends and family, you have to figure out what is best for you.

Here are some reasons why it is vital for you to consider applying to rigorous, highly selective schools. There are:

1) Financial benefits — counterintuitive to what you might think, applying to and attending an “expensive” college or university can cost less and get you more. 

Compared to many colleges and universities, selective institutions:

  • Spend more money on you — selective colleges invest more money per student than nonselective schools — the per-student expenditure at the most selective schools in the United States is $92,000 versus just $12,000 at the least selective schools.  That $92,000 buys you such things as excellent, dedicated faculty; state-of-the art laboratories and libraries; fully staffed centers to help with career planning, tutoring and studying abroad; and a greater diversity of majors, so you can choose what is right for you.
  • Lower the costs for you to attend — the richest colleges and universities (such as Harvard, Yale, and Stanford) ask many students to pay only 20 percent of the overall cost of attendance. In other words, for a school that says its tuition and other costs are close to $50,000 per year, the student only pays $10,000 of that. For low-income students, that is usually reduced to $0 because financial aid (through grants and loans) covers all costs.

2) Educational benefits — not all colleges provide the same educational opportunities; instead the quality of a student’s education can vary based on the resources the school has to offer.

Compared to many colleges and universities, selective institutions:

  • Are designed to help you graduate on time — four-year graduation rates tell a lot about a school; the best schools in the nation graduate 85 to 88 percent of all freshman who enter within the four-year timeline. This increases to 90-98 percent if you extend to six years. This means if you enter one of these schools, you are highly likely (due to your academic talent and the resources offered to you) to graduate in a timely manner and get a job or go on to graduate school. This is important when the majority of college students attend schools that may offer only a 30 to 50 percent chance of graduating; that is a 50 to 70 percent chance of not graduating!
  • Give you the chance to make friends with those who share a passion for learning — attending a selective school means you are likely to be surrounded by other intellectually curious students; what you learn from other smart people enriches your college experiences.
  • Provide you with more — more choices of major, more opportunities outside the classroom (such as study abroad, undergraduate research, and internship opportunities), more access to state-of-the-art facilities such as labs, recreation centers, and libraries, and more exposure to top-notch faculty (because there are more faculty per student than other colleges and there are more chances for you to take small seminar classes where you get to connect more personally with faculty).

3) Income and career benefits — for low-income, high-achieving high school students, the rewards of attending a selective college or university can stretch well beyond graduation, affecting such things as exposure to greater postgraduate opportunities and overall earnings.

Compared to many colleges and universities, selective institutions:

  • Expose you to graduate school opportunities — students who attend selective colleges and universities receive greater exposure to resources that can help on the path to graduate school (these include faculty mentors and like-minded peers).
  • Provide you access to important and influential networks — alumni groups can help open doors to new opportunities.
  • Increase your chances of making more money over your lifetimeresearch has found that students from low-income backgrounds who attend elite schools stand to make greater financial gains over a lifetime than their peers who attend less selective schools.  

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