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Why Apply to Selective Colleges and Universities?

Why high-achieving transfer students with financial need should apply to and attend selective colleges and universities.

You have lots of choices to make during your transfer application process, and one of the most important decisions has to do with what kind of colleges to put on your list: state universities, small liberal arts colleges, technical universities, Ivy League, less rigorous, more rigorous... As a community college student looking to transfer into a four-year institution, you may also be receiving mixed message about your next step. Some may tell you that your community college curriculum could not have prepared you for a rigorous four-year selective college curriculum. Your friends may only apply to transfer to in-state institutions; your family may encourage you to stay close to home. As you sort through the advice of advisers, friends, and family, you have to figure out what is best for you.

Here are some reasons why you should consider applying to rigorous, highly selective schools.

1) Financial benefits — contrary to what you might have heard, 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.

    Per-student expenditure

    Most selective schools: $92,000

    Least selective schools: $12,000

    That $92,000 spent on each student translates into: 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 colleges and universities with the highest endowments (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 covers all costs.


    Estimated 2015-16 cost of attendance

    Average cost if family income is:



    Brown University





    Massachusetts Institute of Technology





    Stanford University





    University of California, Berkeley





    Yale University

    $66, 893



    Estimated cost of attendance gathered from institutions’ websites. Average cost is from College Scorecard.

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 —completion rates tell a lot about a school.

    Community college transfers completing their bachelor’s degrees within 8.5 years of high school graduation

    Non-selective institutions

    Approximately 50%

    Selective institutions

    Approximately 75%

    Most-selective institutions

    Approximately 80-90%

    These numbers mean that if you enter a selective institution, you are highly likely (due to your academic talent adn the resources offered you) to graduate in a timely manner and be well positioned to enter the workforce or go on to graduate school. As a transfer student, the ability to graduate in a concise timeframe is even more important.
  • 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 intelligent people enriches your college experience.
  • Provide you with more — with more resources at their disposal, selective institutions are able to offer you unparalleled benefits.

    More enriching academic experiences

    • Lower student to faculty ratios
    • More chances to take small seminar classes
    • Exposure to top-notch faculty

    More opportunities outside the classroom

    • Study abroad
    • Undergraduate research
    • Internship opportunities

    More access to state-of-the-art facilities

    • Labs
    • Recreation centers
    • Libraries

3) Income and career benefits — for low-income, high-achieving transfer 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.