College Marketing: Rankings, Prestige, and Social Media
October 18, 2022
By: Kevin Choi
Regardless of who you are, there is a high likelihood that you’ve heard about or have come in first-hand contact with the American college admissions process. In a job market where even entry-level positions require lengthy experience, attending an accredited university seems more necessary than ever. Additionally, in wanting to obtain the dream job, idyllic lifestyle, or set of curated experiences, society is growing to view colleges as more of a flashy asset than an educational stepping stone. While the belief that attending a top institution will increase the likelihood to obtain stellar internship opportunities and even cultivating a successful career may be true, the belief that it is a requirement is fictitious; success does not lie in one particular route. So why is it that modern society glorifies college education to such an extreme degree?
Courtesy of The Chronicle
When looking through the sizable catalog of universities, it is clear that it has become a saturated market. So the question then becomes, “how do I make the best decision?” When deciding upon any product, consumers tend to prospectively search: “best” followed up with the desired product name. Examples include “best shampoo” or “best comedy for families”. The same goes for colleges. As students everywhere search for the “best university”, this creates a demand for websites that provide statistics and information centered around the topic at hand. US News, Niche, Times Higher Education, and other companies have created websites ranking universities, each having its own list. But does it really make sense to operationalize an experience into numbers and percentages? Seemingly, these rankings are arbitrary and subjective.
Let’s provide an example. At a surface-level glance, let’s say a student is looking to pursue higher education in biology. Therefore, the student researches what the #1 or high-ranked school for biology even entails. Does this mean that the school is highly equipped to provide students with theoretical biology, or that the school provides students with the relevant skills to tackle practical issues through a biological lens? Does the school provide an extensive number of courses pertaining to that subject? Does the school have the highest number of notable, successful alumni? Are there extensive research opportunities? Does attending and obtaining a degree from this said school pretty much guarantee a job after graduation at a BioTech firm? Does a simple “#1 School for Biology” answer all those questions? Maybe, maybe not. So, individuals must pose the question, “what are the metrics that are being used to provide these statistics?”
Many academic institutions highlight the typical average GPA, SAT/ACT, and Class Rank scores that represent their student body. This sets the standards for the following, incoming class. In essence, colleges have become glorified employment firms weeding out students through their high school transcript, relationship to the faculty via recommendations, and extracurricular experience.
Prestige, Reputation, and Varsity Blues
Understanding why individuals want to attend these top universities is more than just credited to the available opportunities that one can access through these institutions. There is also the aspect of ever-alluring prestige. Prestige, in this case, is defined as admiration for an individual’s accomplishments. Prestige affects people’s judgment of your intellect; in other words, it turns into the phrase, “you must have been pretty smart to get into ________.” Therefore, getting into one of these elite universities provides something to brag about. Thus, it makes education a commodity that most strive for. Because who wouldn’t want sharable proof of their intellectual capabilities?
Courtesy of CBS 8
An example of the amount an individual is willing to pay for elite university education was illustrated through the 2019 Varsity Blues Scandal. The gist of the Varsity Blues scandal was that various celebrities paid copious amounts of money to get their children into highly-ranked institutions. For example, actress Lori Loughlin paid $500,000 to admit her daughter, Olivia Jade, to USC (University of Southern California). From a career perspective, Olivia didn't have to attend college to launch her career. She was already quite successful as a social influencer and even voiced that she did not wish to attend college. To Lori, having her daughter attend an elite school was not about education but social status, which was worth to her, the hefty sum she had paid.
Nowadays, most, if not all, teenagers have Instagram. Not only do we put pressure on individuals to have a curated page in which they look stunning, but there is also pressure on being intelligent or hard-working enough to get into a “name brand” school and stick it onto your bio. It’s become another point of competition and an addition to what a teenager needs to accomplish. Education has essentially turned into a “coolness stamp.”
Courtesy of YouTube
In addition, various YouTubers have capitalized on the “elite university experience.” The amount of “Day in my life as a ______ student” and “COLLEGE DECISION REACTION [INSERT YEAR] (Ivies, etc.)” on YouTube has skyrocketed, gaining hundreds of thousands (almost millions) of views every single year. Students are indirectly marketing for these schools, leveraging their institution into an experience that every individual should seek and be envious of. This idealization of a university is modern-day subliminal advertising.
Strangely, colleges and universities have inextricably linked happiness to which school an individual gets into. Meaning that elite institutions have got various stressed-out high school students trying to hop aboard the prestige train. In the future, it will be interesting to see how intensely our fascination with getting into a recognizable college will grow or dissipate (although it is most likely that the former will be true).
Kevin Choi is a Fall 22 Content Committee member and a Sophomore at NYU CAS majoring in Computer Science and Psychology. Stay on the lookout for more of Kevin's content!