Psssst… it doesn’t matter where you go to college

Yes, it’s true. Data proves it


NT News File Photo

It’s less about where you go, but what you do when you’re there

It’s the most wonderful time of the year, fellow seniors! Welcome to the game of writing all your college supplemental essays, taking standardized tests, and somehow still managing your first-quarter grades. Only for us, this early application season is extra special as we have a global pandemic and an election year to accompany us on our journey! What fun.

Yes, everything is a mess and we are all going through it. So, come closer and I’ll tell you a secret that’s backed by data, facts, and logic: It doesn’t really matter where we attend college. 

We’ve all heard the familiar, anxiety-inducing “common wisdom:” a screw-up in high school will follow you for the rest of your life. The path to success is narrow, and it starts with where you get your undergraduate degrees, and if you don’t squeeze your way into an Ivy League institution you will be worse off for the rest of your life for it. This unfounded belief system is what some sociologists call a “shared delusion.” 

A Pew Research Center study found in 2014 that graduates from elite private colleges or less selective state universities do equally well in terms of income, job satisfaction, and life satisfaction. In his book Where You Go is Not Who You’ll Be, journalist Frank Bruni cites research showing that the majority of American-born CEO’s of the top 100 Fortune 500 companies did not attend elite universities. Michael Lindsay, president of Gordon College,  studied 550 American leaders and found that over two-thirds graduated from non-elite schools. 

Whether you talk about famous, Pulitzer Prize-winning writers or leaders in STEM, this finding is consistent. Time and time again studies have documented that where you attend college has minuscule predictive value for success. 

So, chill out a little. What matters isn’t the school you go to, but how you’ll take advantage of the resources there and how the learning will change you. We all have to let go of the regimented, narrow path that’s been beat into us since birth and create our own stories. If you’re smart, motivated, focused, and resourceful, you’re going to be okay.