It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement—and sometimes the pressure—of choosing a prestigious college.

Afterall, when you tell parents, relatives, teachers, and friends that you’re applying to prestigious or name-brand schools, they’re usually impressed.

So what makes a college prestigious? It depends on several factors: history, notable alumni, and selectivity rate. Ivy League schools are considered prestigious, as are some top-tier liberal arts colleges, certain public universities, and specialized institutions, like MIT. They could also be schools within an institution. For example, arts programs, like the musical theater program at Carnegie Mellon, accept only a small fraction of their applicants.

In addition to being well known, name-brand schools are often among the country’s most selective. That means that they accept only a small percentage of students who apply. For instance, Stanford, Yale, and Harvard have a 3-5% acceptance rate. So the question is: If you get a welcome letter from a prestigious school, should you automatically say “yes”?

It’s certainly a huge honor to be accepted, but attending a prestigious school may not always be right for you. For one, while many have generous grant-based financial aid programs, they can still be much more expensive than other colleges. They also might not offer the programs and social experiences that are most important to you. So, before you make your final college choice, ask yourself the following key questions.

1. Does your career require a prestigious college degree?

Ask your high school counselor and do some research. Talk to alums from different schools. Or look at the LinkedIn® profiles of people in industries you’re interested in. A degree from an Ivy League or another high-ranking school might make a difference if you’re applying to a competitive medical, law, or business school after college. However, your college choice may not impress employers in the science, media, or technology industries as much. These employers may simply want proof that you have the skills they need. In such cases, you could get a solid education at a much more affordable school and still pursue your intended career. Colleges that offer robust career development opportunities or are near internship and networking opportunities may make more sense for you.

2. Does the school offer the programs and experiences you want?

Whether the school is prestigious or not, you should still think about whether the college is your best fit. For instance, would you be comfortable majoring in engineering if the name-brand college doesn’t offer the more technical engineering program you’re interested in? Will you miss out on the chance to live off campus as an upperclassman because students tend to live in residence halls until graduation? For example, at Stanford, about 97% of students live on campus. Additionally, you should consider the course sizes, extracurricular options, and study-abroad programs the school offers.

3. Are you comfortable with pressure?

High school students who gain admittance to prestigious colleges often have top-notch grades, sky-high test scores, and résumés full of activities.

Once you’re accepted into a selective school, the on-campus atmosphere could be really demanding—academically and socially. Think carefully about whether you’re willing to compete for top college grades, keep up socially with classmates who are serious about networking, or audition and apply to join clubs and other extracurriculars.

But that’s not to say you can’t have a well-rounded experience at a prestigious school—even if it is high pressure. If you’re serious about applying, visit the campus and talk to current students to get a sense of the overall vibe of the school.

4. Will you take on too much debt?

Unless you qualify for scholarships and financial aid that cover all of your college expenses or your family can pay for most of your school costs, you could graduate from a prestigious school with more debt than if you went to a less expensive college. This is where you should consider your major, projected salary, and school cost when determining whether you should attend. Use a free tool, like My College Plan, to help calculate the ROI of your college investment and your ability to repay any student loan debt.

Keep in mind that some prestigious colleges offer generous financial aid packages for families who qualify. For instance, Princeton covers 100% of tuition, room, and board for students whose parents make less than $100,000. The aid is in the form of grants—not loans—which means they do not have to be repaid. Other schools that have similar policies include Harvard, Cornell, and the University of Pennsylvania.

5. What does prestige mean to you?
For some people, getting into a prestigious college can be confirmation and validation of their intelligence and hard work. But chances are, a name-brand college degree won’t give you that feeling of validation you’re looking for. Talk to a variety of alums to get a sense of what different college experiences can be like.

Be honest with yourself about which factors are most important to you. In the long run, those things can matter a lot and influence how happy you are at college. Remember, when it comes down to it, choosing a college is about picking the right school for you—one that will give you the experiences you want and the education you need at a price you can afford. A school’s level of prestige is just one factor among many when it comes to selecting your school.

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