Why Getting Into a Top 30 University Matters

Getting into a top 30 college certainly has advantages. There are even advantages for simply trying to get into a top 30 university. Read on to explore the advantages top universities provide to students and why they’re worth your effort to build your academic profile in hopes of getting into one of them.

Why Getting Into a Top 30 University Matters
By David H. Nguyen, Ph.D.

Having graduated from the University of California, Berkeley for both my undergraduate and doctoral degrees, I understand the immense privilege that a top school has offered to my life. While not everyone will have the chance to attend a top 30 university — and I have written an article discussing why that’s perfectly fine — it is definitely worth trying for the top. Along these lines, please see my article about how to stand out in your college applications. While I know and have worked with countless smart, successful people who never attended a top 30 university, or top 100 for that matter, I also know how much easier it is to find work or get into grad school when one does have a degree from a brand name school.

Let’s explore the advantages top universities provide to students and why they’re worth your effort to build your academic profile in hopes of getting into one of them.

Reputation Opens More Doors

The competitive reputation of a university impresses guests at the dinner table as much as it impresses potential employers. Everyone knows that it is hard to get into a top 30 university, so the assumption is that someone who did get in has to be smart, competent, or just plain amazing. While a degree from a top school does not guarantee that you will be a great employee or graduate student, it does promise a lot. Thus, employers and admissions committees are more willing to give you a chance.

Reputation is an Automatic Stamp of Approval

Top 30 universities often get a spotlight in regional, state, and national news. Politicians, judges, presidential advisors, and change-makers who get national attention often have at least one degree from a top 30 school. This means that anyone else associated with these schools also gets to enjoy the limelight. Whether your résumé says it, or the MC announces it, a degree from a competitive college earns immediate respect. This is helpful for advancing your career in the workplace or as a community organizer. A degree from a brand name school gives you a running head start in life after college.

Alumni Connections Are Eager to Help

“It’s who you know that matters,” we’ve all heard. Alumni from competitive universities feel a camaraderie with each other. Each alumni’s success adds to the prestige of the university and provides a special satisfaction to the person who helped a fellow “alum.” Top 30 universities have the resources to invest in ongoing communications and events that connect alumni from across the decades. This rich resource is crucial to the career success of current students and young alumni. Top universities have alumni who are located around the world. Local alumni clubs in each major city are a social and professional resource that is exclusive.

More Resources Means Better Facilities

The top 30 universities and the top 30 liberal arts colleges, if you were to rank them in separate categories, have robust research programs in each department. Research brings in grant money and donations that fund the building of state-of-the-art facilities and exclusive data repositories. This means that students have access to better computing resources, laboratory equipment, and educational libraries. The result is that their knowledge, experience, and ambition ends up being several times higher than the average student from a typical university. Don’t get me wrong, students from “typical” universities can be awesome — I know many of them — but on average, students from top 30 universities graduate with a tremendous experiential advantage. Top universities also provide their students with a confidence for career advancement that takes other students longer to learn.

More Research Activity Means Inspiration from Invited Speakers

Universities with active research programs will invite speakers from around the nation and world to give seminars. These events are valuable to undergraduates. In addition to opportunities to connect with the speakers, students receive inspiration and get a sense of what standards lead to greatness. Without exposure to excellence, students will resign to “cruise control” and never realize their personal potential. Growth comes through struggle and goals. Not everyone reaches their goals at the same rate, but everyone who gets to success needs challenging goals that bring out their ever-growing best.

More Research Means More Non-Classroom Learning Opportunities

In college, the whole campus is a classroom in which to learn. Seminars and workshops are amazing places for students to learn cutting edge knowledge and skills. Research universities have the demand and resources to put on free workshops for students. These events teach skills that the traditional classrooms cannot. They often exist because research universities have research staff and students who have the knowledge to impart extra training to undergrads whom they would otherwise never meet. All of these extra learning experiences trickle down to the whole campus. Conversations in the dining hall, debates after class, contrarian perspectives on the bus; these are opportunities for intellectual and personal growth that come from an active research environment.

Active Research Means More Interdisciplinary Learning

Top universities have active research programs that inevitably blend into what is called interdisciplinary research. Interdisciplinary thinking merges fields that are traditionally housed in different departments, such as Middle Eastern Studies compared to Statistics. Students who are exposed to interdisciplinary thinking are more adept at solving problems. Though undergraduate students may or may not be able to participate in this type of research, they can at least learn about it through seminars and workshops. Interdisciplinary research often happens when a university has departments that each have many resources, including available staff and physical space.

More Research Means Higher Teaching Standards

Active research programs at the top 30 universities means that the faculty are constantly pushing their own knowledge of the cutting edge. This translates into what they expect their students to be able to learn, because the faculty expect themselves to keep learning. Research faculty tend to teach cutting edge knowledge because it’s just more exciting than what has been done in the past. Textbooks are useful as references, but cutting edge research is often 10-20 years ahead of college textbooks and 5-10 years ahead of graduate textbooks. Students who are required to read peer-reviewed books and journal articles have a tremendous intellectual advantage over students who only learn from college textbooks.

In conclusion, graduating from a top 30 university provides huge advantages to a student in terms of employment potential, advancement potential, and graduate school prospects. The tangible benefits include better training, deeper career connections, and more skills. The intangible benefits include lower barriers to finding employment and a charismatic confidence that is easier to develop.