Cost is an important factor in choosing a US university… and so is the chance to attend some world-famous institutions. If you’re torn between choosing where to go based on cost or reputation, this guide can help you sort out the benefits and drawbacks.
We’ll be honest with you up front: there’s no right answer to this question! There are great reasons to attend a prestigious university, and there are equally great reasons to try and save money while you pursue your BA.
So, you’ve been accepted into Harvard, Yale, Stanford, MIT, or one of the many other US universities whose names are famous around the world. First off, congratulations! This is a super impressive achievement, but you definitely don’t have to attend just because it’s impressive. Let’s think it through.
- Reputation means connections. Just like in the UK, there are tangible benefits to having a famous name on your CV once you graduate. In certain fields like finance, an Ivy League resume is all but required. There’s no question that in many fields, graduating from a big-name institution will open a ton of doors for you, and connect you to an alumni network of powerful and influential people who can offer you opportunities because of your shared educational background.
- Big names come with a price. These famous schools tend to be private universities, and thus fairly expensive. Make sure you’ve researched the full cost of attendance, including their estimated costs for housing, meals, and books.
- Did they offer you a scholarship? On the other hand, these famous universities often have a lot of money to offer in the form of scholarships. A few of them will even promise to cover the entire cost of your tuition if you get in. You’ll get your scholarship offers at the same time you’re accepted to the university, so weigh up what they’re offering you compared to others - and research whether it will be possible to apply for other scholarships in future years of study, or maybe earn them through your grades or other achievements.
- Do you actually want to go? It’s easy to be dazzled by the idea of going to a really famous university, or so amazed at getting in at all that you feel like you just have to attend. But do you actually want to? Really think about what the university offers, and make sure you’ll be able to pursue the things you want to there. Consider, as well, what it will be like studying in a small, competitive, elite community. Famous universities tend to have a relatively large proportion of international students and are working hard to recruit students who are, for example, the first in their family to go to university - but the majority of your classmates at many of these institutions will likely be fairly wealthy and often from a family who have attended the university for generations.
Of course you don’t want cost to entirely dictate your choices, but maybe the lower-budget universities you’ve been accepted to are looking pretty appealing considering the costs of moving to the US in the first place if you’re an international student. There are some great reasons to think seriously about making that choice, so let’s dive in.
- Less fame means community. Maybe you’d never heard of the University of Washington before applying there, and are worried employers won’t either. But the alumni networks of less-famous universities can sometimes be even tighter because they aren’t well-known. They’re eager to reach out about a shared experience that feels a little more niche, and offer connections in different industries and locations than the global networks of elite universities.
- Low cost, high quality. Don’t assume that cost indicates quality. Changes in the hiring market for lecturers means that it has become incredibly competitive, so elite scholars are finding work in unlikely places. Do your research, check the reviews, but definitely don’t assume that you’ll be getting an inferior education just because the university is less famous and costs less.
- Don’t discount graduating with low debt. Don’t feel guilty for thinking about money. Graduating with low debt is an incredibly wise choice, and one you’ll be thankful for years after you graduate. It’s especially important to consider as an international student in the US, where you won’t be eligible for the same kinds of low-interest student loans that you would be in your home country. If your only option for paying for an elite university is to take out a private loan, it’s very sensible to think twice. Learn more about financing studies in the US here.
- Do they have what you need? Just because a university is world-renowned doesn’t mean it’s actually the best at the things you want to do. If you’ve been accepted at MIT but want to minor in drama, a less-famous university with a big theatre department might make you happier in the long run.