Name Brand Colleges

Deep into application season, here’s some advice I’ve been giving high school seniors for years: it doesn’t matter what college you go to.

There is no good reason to spend many times more on a fancy, “name brand,” out-of-state school.  It may look a little more impressive on paper, but that’ s about all the difference you’re likely to ever get out of that extra huge investment.

In the real world, most companies and colleagues won’t care where you went to school; it’ll just matter that you went at all.  Just as it’s better to take a harder class and get a lower grade, it’s better to go to a less distinguished school and finish what you start.

Ultimately, the point of college, for career purposes, isn’t skill training or networking: it’s to prove that you can make a difficult long-term commitment and see it through.  That’s what people want to see.  That’s what makes your college degree important.

Besides, paying ten times more for a name brand school is absolutely not going to earn you ten times more salary in life.  It’s a poor investment.

Yes, there are exceptions: colleges that specialize in a certain field, for instance.  But generally, in education just as in medicine, the generic stuff is just as good as the designer brand.  (The same, really: what do you think Harvard knows about teaching college algebra or Shakespeare that your local school doesn’t?)

Don’t waste your money.  Go to Hometown U.  And graduate.

Idolizing BYU

As in worshipping a false idol.

Several years ago, a mother and daughter came into my school office for help resolving a conflict: mom wanted her daughter to go to BYU, and the daughter just wanted to go to a school as far away as possible, a school that was not BYU.  Mom’s argument was simply that BYU was where you send your kids so that they’ll finish growing up spiritually safe.  I didn’t overtly contradict her naive perception, but I definitely worked them towards a compromise. 

Her simplistic devotion to what she’d assumed BYU stands for is not an individual error: it is a deep-seated error in thinking among the Latter-day Saints that BYU is not only a special school but a better school, and the one for which good Mormon kids and families should strive. 

In the earliest days of the Church, converts were encouraged to gather into the main body of the population, but as the 20th century progressed, “the First Presidency specifically admonished the missionaries to cease preaching emigration; the converts in foreign countries could do more to build the kingdom if they would remain in their own lands.” (“Growing With A Living Church,” Arnold K. Garr, Ensign, October 1996).  Or, as Bruce R. McConkie put it, “we have gathered, from their Egyptian bondage as it were, the dispersed of Ephraim and a few others, initially to the mountains of America, but now into the stakes of Zion in the various nations of the earth.” 

If that principle is true of where we physically build our homes and raise our families, why would some assume that it isn’t true of where we send our children to school?  Where does anyone find in the teachings of any Church leader–anywhere–ever–the idea that righteous families should set BYU as the goal for their children?  Has the Church set up and sustained an awe-inspiring system of global Institutes of Religion at hundreds of college campuses because they would prefer people to ignore them? 

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