Deciding Where to Go: First-Generation and Minority Students

Deciding what college to attend is a complicated process. There are lots of things to consider: distance from home, cost, social setting, how good the personal fit might be at your college. We discuss many of these issues throughout this section. There is one issue that often influences college choice but is not as important as people think for many students. Many people assume that how prestigious or “elite” a college is will make a big difference in your personal and career success. It turns out that in general for students of equal academic talent, your future earnings do not really depend on whether or not you attend a more prestigious school – unless you are a minority or first generation college student (meaning your parents did not attend college). If you are a minority or first generation college student, it seems that if you go to a more prestigious school it may help open career and earning doors that would not otherwise be open to you.

So if you are a minority or a first generation college student, it will help if you go to a more prestigious school (keep in mind that attending a prestigious school will probably help you in the long run but it is still more important for your future career that you simply attend college). The fact is though that often, first generation and minority students do not know this and actually go to schools that are not as good as where they might be able to be admitted (this is called under-matching). This under-matching seems to happen for several reasons having to do with where prestigious colleges send recruiters, where high school based college advisers have contacts and often the idea that prestigious schools will not be affordable (see: Why Many Smart, Low-Income Students, Don’t Apply to Elite Schools).

It turns out that there are many excellent and affordable state colleges and universities and also there are prestigious schools that are making an effort to recruit more first-generation and minority students (see: First Generation Students Unite). It is true that many students attending prestigious colleges come from well-to-do homes, but there is a growing community of more socially and economically diverse students on these campuses and schools are doing more to help these students feel at home on campus.

So, if you are a strong student and have done well on your entrance exams, you should not immediately ignore your big state university or that prestigious school you’ve dreamt about (and we are not just talking about Ivy League schools – there are lots of really excellent and prestigious colleges and university scattered across the country). You may have a better chance than you think to be admitted and succeed at that school!

To read more about the value of attending elite schools check out: Revisiting the Value of Elite Colleges.

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