Is it better to averagely succeed in a 'hard-to-get-in' university or immensely succed in a 'normal-not -so-hard' university?
How much it matters depends on your field of study and your who your employer is. In some fields, like investment banking and big law firms, employers only hire from top tier schools. And while there are plenty of fields where that’s not the case, in most graduating from an elite or highly competitive school is still seen as shorthand for “really smart and hard-working students.” And that’s something employers very much care about.
Where you go to school can pay off in salary too. Study’s have found that the median starting salary for Harvard is 32% higher, and after 10 or more years into graduates’ working lives, that spread is 34%. But we’re just talking about patterns here. None of this is to say that you won’t be hired for a great job if you went to a less elite school, people from all sorts of schools get hired for good jobs all the time. I went to a tiny school that lots of people have never heard of, it’s never been an obstacle.
And it’s rare for an employer to look down on a mid-ranked school, it’s more about looking particularly highly at the top-tier ones. If you’re going to a solid school with a decent reputation and you do well there, your schooling is going to be just fine for most jobs. But it probably won’t be as much of a plus as Harvard. That’s just how it works. Also, prestige aside, it’s smart to go to a school where you’ll be happy — because you’ll do better and be more likely to take advantages of the resources your school offers.
As for grades, they can matter in some fields — for your first few years out of school. At that point, you don’t have a ton of experience and accomplishments, so in some fields GPA can function as a rough stand-in, an approximation of what you might be able to achieve on the job. It’s a very imperfect gauge though — there are plenty of people with high GPAs who end up doing mediocre work, and plenty with unimpressive GPAs who excel on the job. But early in your career, without much of a track record to point to, some employers (although not even the majority) will use GPA as a predictor of how well you’re likely to do if hired. So a high GPA isn’t crucial for getting a job — far from it, and plenty of employers won’t ask about it at all — but early in your career it can in some contexts open doors that might otherwise be closed to you. And it’s nice to have options, particularly in a job market where everyone’s options are already constrained.
The best advice is to take the most challenging courses available and put in the extra effort to earn high grades. However, don't sacrifice your sanity and extracurricular interests to attempt an overly ambitious academic schedule Samyukta.
Let me share you a personal experience - I did not come from a top school in my home country. When I was looking for a job, some job postings even indicate the name of the school that they would accept for application. I didn't give up though; even if it took me a few months to finally get a job, I knew it will be worth it.
So I would say, studying in a top school has its advantages but it should not be the only reason for studying there.
The one thing I would add is that at university's that aren't as high level you sometimes have the ability to explore really unique opportunities. For instance, I attended a pretty good university, it wasn't an Ivy League though. I performed well and was able to work very closely with a professor who was one of the top researchers in his field. I likely wouldn't have gotten this at another school where there can be intense competition around academics and working with professors. Some of it comes down to what subjects you're interested in and where you can get the best mentors for that subject/career path. While a school can be important for a resume, it is also vital to have good experience to develop your skills and stand out from others.
Best of luck!
One thing is clear, do not take the decision in a haste but do a study, meet alumni of the universities you are eyeing at. Understand the dynamics. Finally, it is going to be a package deal. It will have many factors. You have to choose the package best suiting to your needs and requirements. Best Luck!!!
Getting a 3.9-4.0 at a smaller school is also phenomenal. It shows employers that you were dedicated to succeeding in your studies and that your focus was on school. All people are different, employers and graduate schools will understand the reasoning behind selecting a smaller school and excelling there. Some people would struggle with a huge change in routine and having 100's of people in classes at a big school may dissuade them from that option.
In the end, neither is a bad option, but, If you have a chance to go to a school like Harvard and be average.... TAKE IT. It will set you up for networking and life beyond university better than many places could even imagine. Make the choice that will enhance your skills and compliment your style of learning the best to excel for the future.
It really comes down to what you want and need from your education experience. When you leave college you will have gained more than a degree, but the foundation of how you will approach challenges in your career and beyond. Personally, I don't think I would have done nearly as well in a different environment. Consider what kind of learning environment works best for you and you will find the school that will ultimately bring you the most success personally and professionally.
I am a current college student and want to share my personal experience attending a medium-sized university that is not considered "prestigious" or "hard-to-get-in." I work hard to achieve good grades and am involved in an organization on campus. Attending my school has given me opportunities and experiences that I may not have received at a larger or more competitive school in which many students are competing for opportunities.
For example, through my school I was able to apply and obtain a major scholarship to study/intern abroad. Before that, I did not think I would study abroad in college because it was not a financial priority for me. I would bet attending a "hard-to-get-in" school and being average might still offer opportunities and experiences, perhaps majorly in terms of networking. However, in my opinion, working hard to succeed in a "not-so-hard-to-get-in" university that offers various scholarships or extracurricular activities you'd be interested in can allow you to have some awesome experiences that will set you apart once you graduate! So I lean more towards immensely succeeding in a "normal" university.
(As a point of reference, I am a business major so I can't speak to whether a degree from a top school would really make a difference in the future for other fields - that could be the case but I think using alumni and career events, you can still make the best of what's available to you!).
My school changed their name the year I graduated, so they would stand out more. Once again, its really about that first job, career choice, location, and connections that matter. Some careers, it makes a difference that is Harvard or Yale. There is also the other potential that you could be discriminated against it as well. Pick the school that is going to be the best suited for you. If you fit better at school, you will succeed more. If you are forcing it where you don't fit in, your grades will suffer and networking potential as well.
Things to keep in mind.
Other factors or questions I might suggest asking yourself is:
does location matter to me? does the location of the school provide certain unique opportunities? for instance, an university in a city may provide more types of unique internship opportunities or exposure to a diversity of companies.
does cost play a role into my decision? if not, great. If so, that's okay, too! The cost of attending a university is absolutely variable and is important to consider when making this decisions. A more affordable school can also provide a great opportunity- it all depends on what you are looking for. In my experience, you will have colleagues from all types of universities and each has followed a different path to get to the same place.
does cultural experience matter to me? Some cities may offer more cultural diversity than others, which can play a role in your college experience.
Overall- pick a place that you can envision calling home for a couple years. It can be overwhelming to pick a university and it's great to seek counsel from others who have gone to that university you are interested in. My best advice is to give yourself grace and compassion during this time- you will know what feels best.