Comparing colleges can sometimes be like comparing cars. In the same way that all cars are not created equal, all colleges are not also. Some cars are built for speed, like a Lamborghini or an old muscle car. Some are built for fuel economy, like a Smart Car or a Hybrid. A Smart Car is a great vehicle, but if you buy it thinking it is going to go fast, you'll be disappointed. Likewise, a Lamborghini looks cool and can really move, but if you expect to pack your friends in the back for a roadtrip, you've got a problem.
So it is with colleges. Different schools have different goals and meet different needs. Some emphasize particular majors or areas of study, while others include faith as an emphasis, and still others serve mainly one gender or ethnicity. Choosing an institution of higher learning is about more than just which school offers you the best financial aid package or where everybody in your family went to school, or even who has the best program in your major. It’s about where you fit the best and how well that school helps you achieve your goals – whatever your goals are! You need to make sure you know what you're getting when you select a school.
It’s pretty easy to understand that Harvard has a better academic reputation than the junior college down the street. But the differences between most schools are much more subtle, and your choice should have more to do with your goals than anything else. Are you looking for tons of faculty interaction? Does it make a difference to you how good the school’s sports programs are? Do you prefer an urban setting? Are student leadership opportunities important to you?
Although not a foolproof way of comparing schools, entrance requirements can tell you a lot. It’s a bit of an over-simplification, but the tougher it is to get into a school, the better that school is likely to be perceived by employers, graduate schools, and the like. Just ask a medical school if they weigh classes taken at a community college the same as ones from a large university, in their admission decisions.
Don’t assume the same class, taken at two different institutions will be perceived the same by those reviewing your transcript. And don’t assume starting at a community college and then transferring to a university will be viewed the same as starting at a university. Certainly, there are valid reasons for choosing all kinds of schools. Just don’t think all college courses are the same.
There are differences.
The more competitive your plans are after graduation (i.e. graduate or professional school, highly competitive employment, etc.), the more likely the reputation of your school will be considered.
Does this mean you won’t be competitive for admission to law school if you don’t attend the right school? No. But attending one school over another could be considered in the decision.
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