Avoiding Namebranditis In The College Search

Harvard, Princeton, Stanford, Yale… if these are the only colleges you follow or hope to attend, you might have namebranditis. Look beyond the perceived level of prestige to find a college that is right for you.


Trying to convince some people that Harvard isn’t necessarily better than a less famous school is like trying to convince the guy sleeping in line outside the Apple Store that the iPhone isn’t a better product than a Blackberry. No matter how much evidence you show them to the contrary, some people just won’t be convinced.

But at Collegewise, the students we work with who get into Ivy Leagues or other prestigious schools tend to be, paradoxically, less enamored of a school’s name and more enamored of its opportunities for learning. A student who says, “I want to go to an Ivy League school,” is almost certainly in love with the image, not with the learning. He’s suffering from namebranditis, an affliction causing sufferers to fall overly in love with prestigious colleges. And those students are much less likely to be admitted.

All colleges — even prestigious ones — want to admit students who are genuinely interested in the school for the right reasons. That’s why applicants need a good answer to the question, “Why have you decided to apply here?” You’ll need to show evidence of a thoughtful college search, not just an attachment to the name or a recitation of facts you found on the website.

Here’s a quick way to tell if you’re suffering from namebranditis: if a school changed its name to one which most people wouldn’t recognize, would you be less inclined to apply, or to accept an offer of admission?

  • Imagine Dartmouth became “The College of New Hampshire.”
  • What if Caltech became “Southern California University of Math and Science?”
  • What if Duke became “Durham College?”

If the name change caused the school to lose its luster, you’ve got namebranditis. The good news is, there’s a cure — find the right schools for you, whether or not they’re prestigious.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to attend a school that happens to be renowned. But a school’s fame (or lack thereof) shouldn’t drive your college selection. There are at least 100 other colleges whose offerings are indistinguishable from those at the most selective schools, and you deserve to find colleges and programs that are genuinely good fits for you.

To find those schools, start by testing yourself for namebranditis. And if you’ve caught the bug, cure yourself by really thinking about what you hope or expect to gain from your college experience. Then, go find those schools that can give it to you.