Prominent people have top college degrees. There are 20 members of Congress with a bachelor’s degree from Harvard, 14 from Stanford, eight from Yale, seven from Princeton, and six from Dartmouth. All nine Supreme Court justices have law degrees from Harvard or Yale. These prominent leaders in politics and law come from the Ivy League Schools. The Ivy League is a collegiate athletic conference consisting of eight private colleges with high academic standards and highly competitive admissions. These schools are: Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Columbia, Brown, Cornell, Dartmouth, and University of Pennsylvania.

Then there are the Ivy-level universities. And then there are the “mini-ivies.” A number of top universities are more or less on par with Ivy League schools, in terms of academic standards and selectivity. Stanford, Chicago, and MIT would meet the description.

Mini-ivy colleges are small liberal arts colleges that also have reputations for high academic and acceptance standards. You’ll find several of them in NESCAC, the New England Small College Athletic Conference. NESCAC’s members are: Amherst College, Bates College, Bowdoin College, Colby College, Connecticut College, Hamilton College, Middlebury College, Tufts University, Trinity College, Wesleyan University, and Williams College.

So why is it so beneficial to attend one of these schools? Six significant benefits come readily to mind. 

1) Top colleges provide more earning power.  An Ivy League degree will average you about $80,000. That compares to a median salary of about $55,000 for a college graduate. The difference gets larger mid-career. Ivy League graduates tend to go into lucrative careers, such as investment banking. Many of my classmates at Middlebury College did as well. Ivy League schools boast 112 members of the Forbes 400 list.

2) Top colleges provide better employment opportunities. An Ivy League degree means your resume goes right to the top of the pile. You still have to interview well. You still have to present yourself well. But if you got into an Ivy, you probably will. Top companies recruit from the top colleges. McKinsey, Goldman Sachs, and Morgan Stanley are to name a few.

3) Top colleges provide other opportunities. Internships are available to students of elite colleges that just aren’t available to students at other schools. The top colleges are known to hand their students databases of alumni who can offer them unique internships. These schools are more likely to offer international experiences. Research opportunities are possible that aren’t at other schools as well. Brown has more than 500 clubs and organizations its students can join. Small-group seminars are often taught by world-class professors who often are good about making themselves available to their students. 

4) Top colleges provide valuable connections. Nobody networks like alumni of top colleges and universities. In fact, students should examine the strength of the alumni associations of the schools they are considering. CollegeConsensus ranks the top alumni associations, the top five of which are: Princeton, Stanford, Harvard, Amherst, and Brown.

5) Top colleges provide outstanding resources. Prominent speakers and guest lecturers show up at the leading schools. The elite schools endow prestigious chairs and “scholar-in-residence” programs. Schools with large endowments are likely to have top-notch facilities. Harvard’s library system has 17 million volumes and 55 miles of shelving. Some 100,000 works of art can be found in the collections at the Princeton University Art Museum.

6) Top colleges provide superior financial aid. These schools are “need-blind” and meet full demonstrated need. They don’t consider an applicant’s financial need in evaluating the application. This is because of their endowments. Seven of the NESCAC schools have endowments over $1 billion, and all of the ivies do. Harvard’s endowment is close to $42 billion. Unless you make over $110,000, you can expect to pay no more to send your student to Harvard than to your state’s university.

You can get a great education at plenty of places that aren’t “name schools.” But the name schools have names for a reason.