Getting into the college of your dreams can feel like winning the lottery.

When it comes to “brand-name” schools like Harvard, Columbia and Stanford — which accept only 5 to 6 percent of all applicants — the comparison isn’t very far off. But while acceptance to a big-name institution may seem like an impossible-to-turn-down opportunity, the truth is they’re not for everybody. So how do you know if they’re right for you?

For many, one of the biggest deterrents to the Ivy League is the price tag, which can clock in at $50,000 per year, excluding room and board (by comparison, the average annual tuition for private college is $33,500, and $9,650 for state residents at a public college). Still, just because fancy schools cost more doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll pay more.

Jonathan P. Figdor went to Vassar College for his undergraduate degree and Harvard University for graduate school. He says it was less expensive for his girlfriend to attend Vassar than her state school due to Vassar’s generous financial aid program. “When making the decision between a prestigious college and a more affordable state school, don’t be so sure that the state school will actually be cheaper,” cautions Figdor.

In fact, some of the best financial aid packages from the biggest brand names of them all: Ivies, which don’t require tuition from students whose annual household income is less than $60,000, and at Princeton, most students from families with incomes up to $140,000 pay no tuition. Many Ivy schools also offer free room and board for students with a lower household income.

Even at less elite private schools, financial aid packages can reach $18,000, bringing the actual cost of attendance down to around $15,500 each year.

Price isn’t the only thing to consider when it comes to college choice. Many people believe prestigious colleges offer a better education and better long-term career prospects. Arvin Vohra, the author of Lies, Damned Lies, and College Admissions, says he’s not sure he would’ve suffered from attending a less prestigious college. He graduated from Brown University in 2001, and he attributes his time in the workforce since graduating from college with fostering his competitive drive for success — not the college he attended. “The open free market, in which I currently have the joy of operating is much more competitive, and pushes me to be my best,” he says.

Having Yale University on my résumé has gotten me in the door for interviews and opportunities.

Erika kerekes

Food entrepreneur and Yale alumna Erika Kerekes described a markedly different experience at her alma mater.

“When I went to Yale, there were plenty of students who were truly interested in stretching themselves intellectually and pursuing their academic passions,” she says. “I played a lot of music at Yale, so those were the people I spent time with. My closest friends today are my Yale people and my music camp people.” In fact, Kerekes loved Yale so much that she encouraged her son, who is now a member of the its class of 2021, to apply.” rather than “In fact, Kerekes loved Yale so much that she encouraged her son to apply, who is a member of Yale’s Class of 2021.

Just because a college has a recognizable name does not mean it’s necessarily a good fit.

She maintains that even the mention of Yale has opened doors to her that might have been closed if she went somewhere else.

“Having Yale University on my résumé has gotten me in the door for interviews and opportunities I would probably not have gotten otherwise. I know because hiring managers have told me so,” she says. “This is the case even now that I’m 50 and almost 30 years past graduation. It’s a seal of approval that continues to have an impact professionally.”

The difference in experiences belies a point that — though obvious — is worth making: Just because a college has a recognizable name does not mean it’s necessarily a good fit. If a school doesn’t feel like it would make you happy, a big name likely won’t be enough to compensate for this fact.

“Even though many families have dreams of brand-name-college bumper stickers on the car, having a brand name should not be the most important factor in this process,” says Colleen Ganjian, president of DC College Counseling. “Rather, the student must carefully consider whether the college is a good fit across many levels, meeting his or her individual needs.”

While it’s easy to fantasize about all the doors a brand-name school will open and the weight it will add to your résumé, this too boils down to personal experience. And yes, while there are many stories of successful Yale and Harvard graduates, there are plenty of stories of those who made it from lesser-known schools. Jodi Foster may have matriculated at Yale, but Morgan Freeman graduated from Los Angeles City College. Mark Zuckerberg may have attended Harvard before launching Facebook, but Jef Raskin — father of the Macintosh — went to Pennsylvania State University (let’s not forget that Zuckerberg dropped out of Harvard). And Bill Gates dropped out of college and started Microsoft in his parents’ garage!

Ultimately, the best indicator of whether a big-name school is right for you is whether it feels like it would be a good cultural fit. Do some research, look into your heart and ask yourself: Is this somewhere that I would be excited to spend the next four years? And would I still want to go here if it wasn’t for the fancy name? The answers to those questions will tell you a lot.