Dunbar: Is the college name worth it?


Blair Dunbar, Columnist

This past weekend, I visited my friend for her 21st birthday at the University of Illinois.

For those who have never been to Urbana-Champaign, it’s a bona fide college town. A three-story student union dominates the campus and hundreds of students can be found walking the streets in the center of town. It’s a town full of rundown houses, where five to eight students pack themselves in, and not much else. It’s a town with a lot of bars, where anyone 19 and older can dance on tables and have a good time on a Saturday night. Coming back on the train with my friend Renae, who goes to Marquette University, she mentioned this was probably her most fun college weekend. I concurred. Looking back, it’s kind of sad that my best college experience didn’t take place at my own university.

Here’s the truth: Illinois, and many other colleges, have Northwestern beat when it comes to having a good time. However, during my college applications, U of I or any public state school was far from my mind. I wanted a “brand name” college, a private university that might elicit a few “ooos” or “ahhs” from others.  There’s a reason countless websites are dedicated to getting into an Ivy League school and every year NU boasts about a record number of applicants. People buy into the brand behind colleges, believing the name leads to better jobs after graduation, better professors and better opportunities.

All these things may be true, but what about the value of having an enjoyable college experience? My own aunt admitted NU was a “calling card” when it came to applying for jobs, but she certainly didn’t have “fun” during her four years here. Most students desperately try to squeeze in fun between classes, homework, internship applications and ways to save the world. Needless to say, fun doesn’t receive much of a spotlight.

America isn’t the only country that invests in a school name. In Russia, students who attend Lomonosov Moscow State University scoff at those students attending the lesser-respected International University. Students take nationalized tests, hoping to get into the best “brand name” school just as students all over this country fight to get into schools ranked in U.S. News and World Report’s top 10.

I chose to attend NU but I ask myself, “Was it worth it?” Suppose I had gone to Illinois. Would my future look much different? It’s a perfectly good school, and should I go to law school or any other graduate school, that is the school my future employers will ponder.

We all buy into brands in one way or another, whether we insist on buying the Land O’Lakes butter rather than the generic Jewel-Osco brand or save an extra few hundred dollars to buy the Louis Vuitton purse versus the Coach handbag.

Colleges are no different. But we have to constantly ask ourselves whether a brand really makes a difference. After telling my roommate how much fun I had, she replied, “I break my back and just keep telling myself it will be worth it when my resume says Northwestern and not U of I.” I then asked her if she really believed that was true. Her answer? “Not really.” I guess only time will tell.

Blair Dunbar is a Weinberg junior. She can be reached at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected].