Are Students Leaning Toward Brand-Name Colleges?

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A brand name is a name that a manufacturer or organization applies to a particular product or service. And while a brand name could be the name of the founders of a company, such as John Deere or Johnson & Johnson, these days, brand names are most often strategically thought-out marketing tools geared toward establishing consumer awareness and fostering brand loyalty.

A brand-name college or university is a highly-ranked institution with a name everyone knows. Some examples include Vanderbilt, Harvard, Syracuse, Northwestern, Penn State, etc. Brand-name colleges are often considered validators of a student’s life and work before being officially accepted. 

Applications at well-known institutions, including Ivy League Schools, have spiked. A Common Application report found that applications jumped 24% from 2019 to 2022 at popular colleges. The data showed that more applicants are vying for spots in the same brand-name schools.

“For brand-name colleges, the demand is off the charts,” Hafeez Lakhani, founder and president of Lakhani Coaching in New York, said in a press release. “It’s never been harder to get in.”

Hafeez also added that private colleges that are less prestigious but equally expensive are struggling to attract applicants. “The majority of people are going to say, ‘Is that worth my while?’”

Why Students Look to Brand-Name Colleges

There are numerous considerations when applying to colleges, including dorms, diversity, and programs offered. But all students (and their parents) also look at the price tag of a higher education institution. 

A January 2022 National Center for Education Statistics report recently found that a public 4-year university's average tuition is about $20,000 annually, while a private university costs around $40,000. And for some brand-name, elite schools, the price tag can run upward of $50,000. 

Some students equate high tuition with a superior education. College officials dubbed this belief the ″Chivas Regal Syndrome,″ after the premium Scotch whisky, as an explanation for why Ivy League and other expensive colleges continue to attract so many applicants. 

Students seem ready to pay almost any price for what they believe is a quality education.

“Please, for the love of all that is holy, stop comparing sticker prices of universities. About seven people pay that rate, and none are economically disadvantaged,” Paul Gladney, CEO of Zillion Agency, wrote in a LinkedIn post.

Most of the 10 private colleges with the highest tuition and fee costs are located on the East Coast, with Massachusetts claiming three (Tufts University, Boston College, Amherst College) and New York claiming four (Vassar College, Colgate University, Columbia University, Sarah Lawrence College). 

These East Coast universities can charge higher prices because of the incredible demand. Students want to attend college in big cities where it can be easier to obtain internships, and living in these areas can be fun and stimulating. 

Additionally, colleges usually have both academic and social misunderstandings associated with them. If someone goes to an Ivy League or an academically outstanding university, many people may think of that student as impressive, hard-working, and highly intelligent. On the other hand, individuals may look down upon colleges with lower tuition rates.

A few colleges with the lowest tuition rate in the US include Boricua College, Brigham Young University- Provo, Stillman College, Tougaloo College, and Voorhees College. But sometimes, paying a little more may be worth it if a student’s major or program isn’t found at most colleges or universities. 

Although attending a prestigious university may seem like a badge of honor, it may not be as important as one thinks. The competition to merely enter a brand-name college can deplete a young person even before finishing high school. 

How Can Smaller Schools Compete?

Many reasons exist to look beyond brand-name institutions that have nothing to do with a student's worthiness, talent, ability, or achievement but everything to do with students themselves. 

For example, size, location, sports, clubs, atmosphere, school spirit, and other opportunities are all factors that can make a school appealing. Sometimes, it’s not even one specific aspect. 

A Forbes press release noted that bright introverts might not appreciate the Type-A environments created when overly-competitive winners of the admission lottery gather in one place. And many students dislike the self-regard students these schools cultivate or bring. 

Additionally, a college reputed for its academic rigor may be a great fit for highly competitive students who strive to excel in their chosen program. However, a student who is not as competitive may find the environment very stressful and is more likely to feel like a failure when compared to their peers. 

In these situations, the odds of dropping out are very high. 

Outside-the-box majors and programs that go beyond the norm might be what a student needs to enter an extraordinary field. Some lesser-known higher education institutions with niche programs for students include:

The education quality a student can receive in the classroom does not depend on the brand but on the efforts made by the school and the students. And the reality is that a brand-name college with no aid offer may not be a better choice than a less prestigious university with an attractive financial package. 

Sometimes less expensive options have as much to offer as pricier ones. And lists, especially preliminary lists, are designed to match students' personas significantly. A small school environment allows teachers to be more flexible when planning their curriculum. 

If a topic emerges that sparks interest in students, teachers can shift and take the time for a fuller exploration, allowing curiosity to fuel learning. Small schools also build strong communities. Parents and neighbors are more likely to become actively involved in the school, and students can benefit from this support. 

Many smaller colleges and universities want to compete with larger institutions when marketing to prospective students. But a few effective marketing tactics these smaller institutions can take include showcasing students’ political clout, resolving doubts around resources, and emphasizing personalized learning. 

Smaller schools are equipped to make students an integral part of governance. A Higher Education Quarterly study found that the governance of smaller colleges differs significantly from that of more prominent universities. And the smaller size creates possibilities of a ‘drift’ to a greater role for governors in management. 

Additionally, students at smaller colleges can be confident that they will have access to the latest technology and research facilities, as smaller institutions may partner with other schools or community organizations to ensure students have the proper tools to learn and grow. 

Students often crave personalized learning, and small schools offer personal 1v1 attention from teachers and faculty. First, professors who do all the teaching are more likely to remember students’ names and goals. Classroom sizes are also smaller, and the curriculum has more freedom. 

Faulkner University, a private Christian liberal arts school enrolling approximately 3,200 students, increased its applicants by 28% and the number of students enrolled by 32% by boosting personalized student information into all of its marketing touches — emails, letters, and electronic applications. 

Admissions staff could target different groups of prospective students and staff could quickly identify which students started the savable online application but didn’t finish, then follow up to guide them through the rest of the process. 

Delivering the right message to the right student at the right time helped increase applications and enrollment.

Brand-name colleges have notable benefits, including prestigious students, an influential network, employment opportunities, and high academic standards. But smaller schools can offer advantages beyond academic achievement and address students' deeper personal and learning needs. 

The full experience of higher education can be dramatically different depending on the sense of community and the ability to form solid and personalized relationships with teachers and staff.

Students may look to brand-name colleges because of their popularity and equating high tuition with a superior education. But size, location, sports, clubs, atmosphere, school spirit, and other opportunities are all factors that should be considered.


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