College Advice Blog

Aug 14, 2012

Community College vs. Ivy League: What’s the Difference?

Anyone who has considered attending college in the United States is likely aware of the so-called Ivy League, a group of eight elite colleges--Harvard, Yale, Princeton, the University of Pennsylvania, Brown, Dartmouth, Cornell, and Columbia--that have historically produced a disproportionate number of successful graduates in many fields. There has been, and continues to be, an 'Ivy or bust' mentality among many students who believe that only the schools in the Ivy League can impart the best education and ensure success. In particular, prospective college applicants have tended to look down on community colleges and comparable institutions. However, judged on the criteria of performance, the Ivy League loses some of its legendary luster.

The Benefits of Community College Degrees
It now costs over $200,000 in tuition alone to attend an Ivy League school for four years, not inclusive of living and incidental costs. Most community colleges are either free or charge a very nominal fee for tuition, and also allow students to continue living at home (since there is likely to be a community college close to every college applicant). The vast disparity between the cost of an Ivy League education and a community college education is no longer justifiable by any objective means. In the past, there were many professions for which an undergraduate degree was sufficient. In those days, an Ivy League degree justified itself. However, today, true career success is typically predicated on attending graduate school. Law schools, medical schools, and business schools judge applicants on the basis of their grade point average (GPA), standardized test score performance, admissions essay, and recommendations. The name of the college that conferred a graduate school applicant's degree does not rank highly in admissions decisions. 

Essentially, then, community colleges offer the same basic chances for future career success as Ivy League schools. A student who does well in community college is now at no real disadvantage to an Ivy League graduate when it comes to graduate school and career-building options. Moreover, a community college student can obtain a degree without racking up a quarter of a million dollars in debt.

The Education Argument
Some might argue that, even if graduate school and career-building options are roughly equal for community college degree-holders and Ivy League degree-holders, the Ivy League confers a superior education and ought to be aspired to on that ground. This perception is false. There are thousands upon thousands of PhD-holding professors in the U.S. alone. There is more than enough professorial talent to go around, and oftentimes the professors at a community college will have comparable credentials to their Ivy League peers. In fact, given that professors in community colleges have a focus on teaching and student services while professors in the Ivy League prioritize their own research, it is likely that a community college professor will pay more attention to individuals.

About the Author
George Alexander understands the value of a good education, which is why he writes on behalf of Best in Class Education.  

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