Going to a prestigious college does not necessarily lead to a more fulfilling life or career, according to a recent Gallup poll.
Using data gathered by Purdue University researchers, the survey asked respondents to indicate their fulfillment in five distinct categories: sense of purpose, financial security, physical health, close relationships and community pride.
The percentage of respondents who said they were satisfied in all five areas did not vary among those who graduated from the most prestigious universities and those who attended regional or state schools.
The survey defined a prestigious university as one ranked in the top 100 in the U.S. News and World Report Ranking, a list where the University of La Verne ranks 161.
Some attribute this result to the qualities certain universities choose to emphasize.
“A lot of what is valued by the elite institutions doesn’t necessarily translate to what’s most rewarding for an undergraduate,” said Jason Neidleman, a professor of political science at the University of La Verne.
Neidleman was an undergraduate student in UCLA’s Honors Program, and then went on to earn his master’s degree and doctorate at Harvard.
“Prestigious institutions prize faculty-driven research, which may involve some students or no students at all,” Neidleman said.
“I do think it’s critically important that all faculty have an engaged research agenda, because that translates into the class and into the interaction with students.
“But the time and attention devoted to developing a research agenda, I don’t know how much of that reverberates down to especially undergraduates.”
As part of the honors program at UCLA, Neidleman received more specialized attention and was able to form strong mentor relationships with professors.
One relationship in particular inspired Neidleman to pursue graduate school in the first place.
“Most people don’t get that,” he said. “That was the kind of relationship you get at a place like La Verne and don’t generally get at a place like UCLA.”
Senior speech communication and journalism major Lauren Creiman was accepted to both UCLA and La Verne and chose to attend La Verne.
“I always thought I’d end up going to UCLA even before I was accepted, because I thought it was the right place for me,” Creiman said.
“But at some point during my senior year, I realized it wasn’t the dream college I thought it was.”
Creiman’s reasons for choosing La Verne over UCLA are all reflected by the Gallup poll’s results, ranging from financial aid to class sizes. But part of her rationale went beyond logic.
“La Verne felt like home, and UCLA didn’t,” she said.
Junior speech communication and political science major Brittany Boiko transferred to La Verne during the 2012-13 school year.
Before that, Boiko attended Arizona State University, College of the Desert community college and San Diego Mesa Community College, giving her a well-developed perspective on how certain colleges are more conducive to strong relationships.
ASU’s class sizes ranged from 15 students to 200, making it harder to form those important mentor relationships.
“You definitely had to go more out of your way in those big classes at ASU to have a relationship with your teacher, as opposed to La Verne where you almost have to avoid having a relationship with your teacher,” Boiko said.
From Boiko’s point of view, the college experience hinges more on what students do outside of classes, an opinion reflected in the recent Gallup poll.
“I don’t think it has to do anything with the school, necessarily,” Boiko said. “It’s just kind of how you immerse yourself in the college experience. It’s just what you make of it.”
Des Delgadillo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.