Ivy League Schools: Not Good Value?

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As you’re applying for colleges, you probably have one of the Ivy League universities on a “dream college” list. Whether it’s the prestige that comes with being an Ivy League graduate or the access to well-connected alumni, almost every student would love to get accepted to these eight schools. 

However, between the potential pressures from parents or the hyperfocus required to build an Ivy League application, it can be easy to lose sight of other opportunities that could reward you in the long run. Although the Ivy Leagues are seen as a powerful one-size-fits-all education solution, the truth is far from the matter. Some majors, such as engineering, may not be a good fit for certain Ivy League universities. Furthermore, the eye-watering price tag may be a nonstarter for certain applicants. 

Let’s discuss some potential reasons why you shouldn’t aim for the Ivy Leagues and what you should do to get the same amount of opportunities, even if you aren’t a student there. 

The True Cost of Ivy League Universities

Although the average cost of colleges can be around $22,690 for in-state students and $39,510 for out-of-state students, Ivy League schools can cost up to $90,000 a year! That’s an enormous jump, and can be a huge dent to your wallet. With the average student loan debt being $30,000, expect that amount to be much higher if you attend the Ivy Leagues. 

On a similar note, let’s compare the financial return Ivy League students get for their degree to the average rate of return for a public university.

Source: Investopedia, “Is an Ivy League Degree Worthwhile?”

Based on the huge difference between an ROI of 38.4% versus 84.7%, you can see why questioning the “value” of an Ivy League degree is important. If you are spending that extra money, you should get an equivalent guarantee for your future job opportunities and income. 

However, you may ask, what about financial aid? Although certain Ivy Leagues may offer free tuition for families under certain household income levels, that’s only tuition. You still need to factor in room and board costs, which can cost around $11,950 per year, and possibly more in a high-demand area like the residential area near Ivy League universities. Ivy League schools also don’t typically offer merit based scholarships, unlike many state schools, so if your income is higher than the guidelines for need-based aid, you're out of luck. 

Ivy League Universities Aren’t Perfect   

While the cost of an Ivy League degree may seem high, it’s ultimately the prestige and connections that keep people coming back. After all, the Ivy Leagues are where the best of the best from around the world come and study. Shouldn’t that be a benefit in itself? 

Not all Ivy League degrees are created equal. Everyone wants to go to Harvard, but it doesn’t even crack the top fifteen of the best computer science schools. Not doing your research into this type of data can lead you down the wrong path when choosing between some of the most expensive universities in the world.

Recruiters know this, so when they are searching for new job candidates, rather than looking for Ivy League graduates, they look for students who have studied in a university known for, say, their engineering department or their tech research. Of course, this doesn’t mean an Ivy League degree decreases your chances, it just means that if a recruiter has to choose between two high-grade candidates, one from a specialized college and another from an Ivy League, they would likely choose the candidate who they know had a more focused and updated education. 

Even with the strong alumni network that comes with a degree from an elite college, for some majors such as engineering, salaries can differ by less than $1,000 when you compare Ivy League schools versus state school graduates. You can already see this using PathMatch’s College Scoreboard Tracker, an all-encompassing tool to help you decide a potential university to attend, as well as a potential major. 

Let’s compare Cornell University, an Ivy League college, to Carnegie Mellon University, which is not. 

The average annual costs are comparable, but the recent Carnegie Mellon graduates earn nearly $10,000 more. Knowing the actual numbers, is it truly worth struggling to get into an Ivy League school?

How to Become Successful Even Without an Ivy League Degree

So if you shouldn’t aim for Ivy League colleges, then what should you aim for? Rather than focusing on the name or weight of your college, it’s important to build up your skillset and strengthen your resume. After all, even a valedictorian of an Ivy League college isn’t a competitive job candidate if they don’t have any work experience. 

No matter what university you go to, it’s important to take initiative and learn in-demand skills. Even if a college is an Ivy League, they are often too far behind to have their curriculum updated for modern tools and software such as HubSpot or ChatGPT. This prevents you from gaining the skills that today’s jobs actually need from candidates.  That’s why internships, co-ops, and upskilling via online courses can more than make up for not attending an ivy league school.

In general, companies are more likely to hire students that have real-world experience on their resumes. That’s why PathMatch’s Hireability Score increases so much more when you list real skills and experiences, more than just which college you graduated from. If you have a higher Score, the more likely recruiters will reach out. Although searching for an internship or job can be tough, landing one is ultimately much more important than simply getting good grades at some prestigious university (although that doesn’t mean you should ignore your classes either). 

At the end of the day, choosing the college that’s best for you depends on what you want out of the experience and how well it positions you for the future. Although getting into an Ivy League is a huge accomplishment, don’t feel discouraged if you didn’t get in or if you can’t afford it. There are so many options out there to have a thriving and fulfilling career, even without the Ivy League degree. 

So what college and major should you choose? Our AI-powered career matching can help. Create a PathMatch profile today and get started taking ownership of your education and your future.

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