If you are in the enviable position of staring at several acceptance letters, but now you don’t know which college to choose, read on…

First, if financial aid is a factor, weigh your offers and read the fine print carefully!  Is this a guaranteed offer for all four years, or might the offer change (decline) after year one? How much debt will you realistically be walking out of college with? If it is a substantial amount, ask yourself:  “Is this college worth it?”

Herein lies the age-old question:  “Can’t I get just as good an education at a school that is not considered “name-brand?”  My answer:  Yes, of course, —but… You can certainly get a fabulous education at many state schools and less selective colleges.  You can then go on to get a great job and change the world.  For most, this is a simply a debate of privilege. It is an exercise for those who are in the fortunate position of first being able to choose between schools, and secondly being able to (more or less) afford the hefty price tag associated with most prestigious schools.

Let me say off the bat, I am a big believer in “name-brand” colleges and the doors a diploma from these schools will open.  My husband would go so far as to call me a “school snob,” but I have experienced first-hand the opportunities offered to me by my Ivy League pedigree.

Yet it is important to recognize that there are advantages to name-brand schools that go beyond the name recognition and prestige, and these advantages should not be forgotten or brushed aside during a debate such as this one.

The first advantage to name brand recognition is, of course, credibility.  When someone finds out you went to a highly selective college or graduate school, you have instant “street cred.”  No one asks what your grade point average was in college, what your SAT scores were, or how many community service activities you participated in.  Instead they say, “You went to Harvard?  Well, I guess you must be smart.”  This then leads to first interviews, first impressions, and first picks.  Door # 1 has just opened.

The second advantage to a name-brand school is, simply, the education you get while you are there.  There is a reason that America’s top colleges continue to maintain their positions on the “top schools” lists, with little if any movement from the bottom of the list to the top.  Top colleges draw the top professors, men and women who are experts in their field, and those conducting groundbreaking research or producing cutting edge fiction, poetry, or historical analysis.  An education from a highly selective college or university places you in the classrooms of these remarkable people, allowing you to both learn from their expertise and even be a part of their future research and thought processes.

Additionally, recruiters from top companies regularly visit selective colleges and hire for summer and post-graduation jobs.  It goes without saying that these opportunities can literally launch one’s career. Alumni connections and networking opportunities further ease the job-hunting burden.

Finally, your classmates at this name-brand school will arrive on campus with experiences and ideas that more often than not will humble you and make you wonder if the admissions department has somehow made a mistake in admitting you.  Once you get over your feelings of inadequacy, you might then find yourself, as I did, soaking up the experiences and ideas of your new friends and appreciating the inspiration they offer for your own life.  “You went trekking in Nepal before stopping in India to build houses for those in need?”  Great idea.  Maybe I could do that. “You’re thinking of double majoring in Mandarin and International Business?”  Hmmm.  Maybe I should consider that. To be inspired by your classmates to do big things with your own life is perhaps the greatest gift a competitive college can offer, even above the name-brand recognition.

THAT SAID, please know that I recognize that less selective schools, including state universities and “off the radar” schools, of course attract many outstanding students who are there for a multitude of reasons.  There are fabulous professors at these schools and students who will offer inspiration to their classmates. For many, a name-brand institution is the absolute wrong choice of school, for both personal and financial reasons.

So can you get a wonderful education at a school not considered “name brand”?  ABSOLUTELY.  But my point is that there are advantages beyond the name recognition, and beyond the prestige at a highly selective college or university.  Is it worth the mountain of debt you might walk out with?  Perhaps not, but this is for each student and his or her family to decide.

So pick carefully, and then be happy with the choice you make.  Don’t second-guess, and don’t look back.  Make the most of your choice and, above all, take advantage of every opportunity while you are there.

Go get ‘em.