A few years ago, had a wonderful lunch with a former intern. He had been student who graduated from Daniel Hand High School about twelve years ago. I met “Dan” through our SAT class and, as such, I know a half-dozen of his friends since they all played lacrosse and were a vibrant bunch of students. I helped him through college counseling and I made a remark about the value of the “good school head nod” (those who attend top colleges are more readily accepted as competent when they are interviewed).
Dan filled me in on our common acquaintances and then concluded made those who attended – what he called – “good” colleges have progressed with their lives and those that did not have failed to launch.
Of course, there is correlation versus causation issues. Those who attended highly ranked colleges likely had the drive and abilities to succeed. It is not clear that the college caused their success. But as my young friend pointed out: “once you are in an environment where most of the kids are motivated, you can’t help but get more motivated.”
He noted, sadly, that many of his twentysomething classmates who attended mediocre colleges are living at home and working dead end jobs.
I recall reading Daniel Pink’s book When. Among other observations, Pink emphasizes how important good starts are to anything we do. Malcolm Gladwell makes the same point when he relays how the month of birth is a determinant for who makes professional hockey from Canada. The stunning conclusion is that those who are born in January succeed at a disproportionate rate compared to those born later in the year. The reason: they start well because “a few months older” makes a difference at age 5-8 and that start gives them an advantage throughout youth hockey which leads to advantages throughout their hockey playing days.
The same is true with careers. I’ve noticed this through my work career counseling.
Dan then reflected further: “it’s really weird. We all grew up in Madison and basically had the same experience from kindergarten through high school. Our families were more or less the same [I believe he meant economically] Then ‘poof’ 4 years later, some of us are working in Boston and New York and some of us are working in jobs that we had in high school.”