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Predicting a Student's College Success: Examining the 6 Factors

Predicting a Student's College Success: Examining the 6 Factors

August 17, 2023

Parents who prioritize getting their children into top-ranked schools, regardless of the cost, can save a significant amount of money by understanding the true factors that lead to positive outcomes for their children. With some schools now charging over $300,000 for a bachelor's degree, it is easy to fall into the trap of thinking such an expenditure is absolutely necessary. However, this is not the case, even for highly esteemed institutions like the Ivy League and renowned universities such as MIT, Stanford, and Duke, which now charge nearly $80,000 per year.

Even schools further down the U.S. News & World Report[1] college rankings, particularly those located in coastal cities, often charge over $70,000 per year due to their favorable geographic position. To illustrate, here are some examples of the cost of attendance at specific universities

  • Fordham University: $80,801
  • New York University: $80,878
  • George Washington University: $79,410
  • Santa Clara University: $76,497
  • Emerson College: $76,754
  • Drexel University: $76,524
  • Loyola Marymount University: $74,309

Consequently, the allure of spending exorbitant amounts of money on a bachelor's degree is not limited to parents of exceptional and ambitious children who hope to attend prestigious universities like Harvard. It can be challenging to convince oneself that overspending is not necessary, especially considering that emotions and ego often drive the college selection process. There is a misconception that higher-ranked schools are the only ticket to a dream job and a high salary. Still, in reality, students from higher-income backgrounds already have advantages due to their upbringing.

However, if you expand your options and look beyond just the most expensive colleges, you can save a significant amount of money. This approach not only positions you for a more stable retirement but also provides the opportunity to leave a greater financial legacy for your heirs.

Fortunately, an invaluable report published by Challenge Success, a reputable nonprofit affiliated with Stanford University's Graduate School of Education, succinctly summarizes the strongest arguments against solely focusing on the net price of the most expensive colleges.[2] This report serves as an excellent resource in challenging the notion that cost alone determines the quality and value of education.

I recommend searching and reading the comprehensive 22-page report on this topic. Other documents may not address the two prevailing myths held by parents and teenagers during their college search process.

The report effectively summarizes well-established research that disproves these two beliefs:

[1] 2022-2023 Best National University Rankings

[2] 2021 College costs are skyrocketing. Here's how to figure out what you can afford

  1. The notion that schools with higher rankings, according to U.S. News, and higher rates of rejection are the sole institutions of value.
  2. The misconception that attending highly selective schools is the only path to obtaining excellent, high-paying careers.


In their own words:

Rankings are problematic.

The College Success Report challenges the reliance on college rankings as a measure of quality. Many individuals base their judgment on the assumption that higher rankings equate to better colleges and vice versa. However, the report highlights that these rankings often employ arbitrary metrics that do not accurately reflect a college's quality or positive outcomes for students.

College selectivity is not a reliable predictor of student learning, job satisfaction, or well-being.

Furthermore, the report explores the notion that college selectivity is not a reliable predictor of important life outcomes such as student learning, job satisfaction, or overall well-being. The research indicates that attending a highly selective college does not significantly correlate with these outcomes. Instead, it suggests that individual student characteristics, such as background, major, and ambition, may hold more influence over post-college success than the institutions themselves.


The report also examines what truly matters in terms of successful college outcomes. It highlights the findings of a well-known survey conducted by Gallup and Purdue in 2014, which demonstrated that the key factor for happiness in graduates' lives and careers is not the specific college they attended but rather their level of engagement during their time at any institution.

The Gallup-Purdue survey identified six factors that measure student engagement, and the results revealed that individuals who were more engaged were more likely to succeed in life. However, it is disheartening to note that only a mere three percent of graduates with a bachelor's degree were able to affirmatively answer all six statements related to engagement.


While I am not proposing that families should entirely steer clear of prestigious schools, I firmly believe that incurring substantial debt or paying full tuition for such institutions may not be justifiable. Many other schools provide excellent opportunities and offer merit scholarships. By not exploring beyond Ivy League schools and highly-ranked institutions, families will never truly grasp the potential financial aid available to their child and the significant savings it could bring.

Registered Representative of Park Avenue Securities LLC (PAS). Securities products offered through PAS, member FINRA, SIPC. Financial Representative of The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America® (Guardian), New York, NY. PAS is a wholly owned subsidiary of Guardian. WestPac Wealth Partners LLC is not an affiliate or subsidiary of PAS or Guardian. Insurance products offered through WestPac Wealth Partners and Insurance Services, LLC, a DBA of WestPac Wealth Partners, LLC. CA Insurance License # 0C63577 | Guardian, its subsidiaries, agents, and employees do not provide tax, legal, or accounting advice.  Consult your tax, legal, or accounting professional regarding your individual situation. | 2023-159032 Exp. 07/25