There is a recipe for success. It is top-secret, completely secure … and entirely hidden from prying human eyes. Even those that have made it all the way to the top can’t express in words exactly how they’ve turned straw into gold. How they’ve turned an apartment-based operation into a multi-million dollar company. How they’ve turned a simple idea into an icon. Or even how they’ve gone from secretary to CEO. They can guess. They can assume. They can ponder. But no one knows this recipe, the ingredients involved, or the directions for preparation.

Beyond the super minds of the world like Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg, or the movie stars like Reese Witherspoon and Angelina Jolie, most successful people will tell you their success started from somewhere. In many cases, that somewhere is college. Ah, yes, the institution of higher education that, by nearly all social, logical, and statistical data, leads to a better life. Regardless of the controversy today surrounding student debt, student loans, and high unemployment rate of college grads, for those that pursue worthwhile degrees, what does make success? Why is it that some people end up having their shoes shined and some do the shoe shining?

All the best equations and best success calculators say that it’s you. You’re the one that paves your own way. You’re the one that brands your name into the fecund earth. And while all that may be true, college gives you a head start on that branding. The real question than is which college can give you the most bang for your buck?

Speculation about what college offers you varies far and wide: an opportunity to live and grow; a chance to broaden your horizons; a diploma. But when you get right down to the gritty grime, there are four key benefits to college:

1.) Being a member of an elite population
2.) Networking
3.) Gaining knowledge
4.) Gaining a credential

Member of an elite population. This is the fuel behind why everyone wants to apply to Harvard or Yale or Stanford or any of those top schools. It isn’t necessarily that the school is better than any other; it is simply that it attracts the best of the best. The people who attend the school are the ones that make it great. The warm bodies that fill the hollow halls of a university are the ones that bring home the bacon: the Nobel laureates, the bright entrepreneurs, the future. Just think about it. Where would a college be without the people that attend the school? Nowhere. It’s the past alumni that pay for much of the school and fund the programs. The only reason top schools can charge the way they do is they’ve crafted themselves a name after years and years of famous footsteps treading across their shiny floors. If Harvard were to suddenly have the population of Ohio University in its graduating classes, that spotless name would surely be besmirched.

And it is this very reason that controls the second benefit of college: networking. Besides being in an elite population such as that of Harvard or Stanford, students strive for these universities in the idea that the top employers go here. And for the most part, they are right. This is based on infamous bank-robber Willie Sutton’s most fundamental idea: Go where the money is. And what are the elite but walking money?

Of course, in looking at this second benefit, students have to keep something in mind: the elite do not all attend Harvard or Stanford. Every year, there are hundreds of pupils chosen to attend the Oxfords or MITs of the world but, for whatever reason, they decide not to go in that direction. Would you go to say that those people are going to be any less successful? That, because they aren’t Harvard-bound, their entire life is suddenly in the toilet? The bar for getting into top schools is simple: they want the people who exemplified success in their lives. Success is a product of hard-working, determined, tenacious people. That doesn’t conveniently fade away because you’re heading to Florida University. If you chase success, it will be yours, regardless of where you go. Success is simply a destination. There are a million different ways of getting there. Some are super highways cutting right to the chase; others are wooded trails. Regardless, the final destination is all the same.

So that super highway may get you there faster. And that’s exactly what networking offers – a fast track lane to success. But does that mean only the top schools have prominent employers? Not in the slightest. There are seven billion people in this world and probably only a couple thousand at these quote “top” schools. The rest of the employers have to go somewhere. So here’s the thing about networking: wherever you go, may that be Harvard or Florida University, networking will be available to you. Anyone and everyone you meet could lead somewhere. You’re the one who has to make best of the networking offered to you. For all you know, you won’t even need to network. Maybe you are the next person that everyone will want to meet.

Now for the most blatant and obvious of all the benefits involved with college – knowledge. Without the membership of an elite population and networking, people would have no reason to go to the Dukes of the world. After all, the knowledge is the same everywhere. Mechanical engineering is mechanical engineering. The rules of physics never change. Literature is literature. The words never change. No degree suddenly shifts because it’s taught in the halls of Harvard. Sure, Stanford may boast better facilities or laboratories. But knowledge is knowledge. With this in mind, many prospective students may not hold Ivy League in such high regard. After all, why spend 40,000 dollars a year when you could spend 20,000 for the exact same degree?

A credential merely appears to be a synonym for knowledge. It is basically proof that you have knowledge and competence to complete the job. But there is more than what it seems. After all, if a credential were purely knowledge, everyone would simply write “Electrical Engineering degree” or “Business degree” on their resumes. Rather, they add on “Electrical Engineering degree from MIT” or “Business degree from UCLA.” A credential gives you credibility, as the root implies. In this case, MIT and Harvard and any of those other colleges will stick out. But that doesn’t mean that another college won’t. Or that you won’t. College is just part of the equation. You have to fill in the rest.

Bottom line: I think teens should save their money. These top schools have nothing that another public, lesser university doesn’t have.

After all, college is simply a platform for launch.

You are the rocket.

You are the one who decides the recipe for the fuel in your tank.

So here’s the real question: What’s your recipe?

About Natalie

Teen blogger from Colorado Springs. Hopes to make an impact on this world through advancements in robotics.

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