Part of my work involves calming anxious parents and students about the college process. More than a few parents have noted that our meetings were worth the price of a therapist simply because the family’s collective blood pressure was lowered. In providing a college counseling strategy for our education oriented Connecticut clients, I take pains to illustrate the various ways that students and parents can be happy at the end of the process.
But I also do not mislead parents with silly, feel good, cliches like “it doesn’t matter where you go to college.” It does. Those who tell you otherwise are sometimes desperately but furtively trying to get their kids into top colleges! Those who tell you otherwise to be helpful are trying to tell you (and often themselves if they are a fellow parent) a story to make themselves feel less anxious. I get it. I really do. Having just gone through the process with my oldest son and having counseled a couple thousand anxious parents through the last couple decades, I understand the stress related to the college process. To reiterate, I normally provide a college counseling strategy for our clients designed to dramatically lower stress. However, when I hear someone say “it doesn’t matter”, I cringe.
Life factors – unrelated to post college employment – vary dramatically based on college to college. Who your child becomes based on who he meets, where he lives, and what type of cultural environment he belongs to will shape him tremendously.
I have a great example related to one of my close friends. His son was admitted to the Air Force Academy and U-Cal Berkeley. In terms of prestige, the military academies are pretty close to on par with the elite U-Cal Berkeley and, of course, the free tuition balances out whatever edge Berkeley might have in the rankings game. That’s why this example provides a great way to examine the “it doesn’t matter” issue. Does anyone really think that it wouldn’t matter if someone attended a military academy versus free spirited Berkeley? The cultures are so radically different that one’s entire young adulthood – at the very least – would be shaped by the experience.
As for post-employment, my work in career counseling has sky-rocketed over the last five years. See Career Counseling Connecticut. In simple terms, my twentysomething clients who attended elite universities are choosing which career paths to take and which opportunities will help get them on their paths optimally. My twentysomething clients who attended the lowest tier schools are living at home and looking for work. Those in the middle are somewhere in between.
Exceptions abound, of course, and those who are gainfully employed in career paths of interest are presumably not coming to me for career counseling. Nonetheless, I am only pointing out what used to be obvious: one’s college is an asset that can be leveraged for one’s career. That your Uncle went to Three Rivers Community College and is a millionaire and you know someone’s kid who went to Harvard and is now a barista provides faulty inductive reasoning (singular examples that don’t prove a general point).
Also, to calm everyone down, there are plenty of twentysomethings who have chosen career paths where attending top ranked colleges mattered little for employment and thus are doing more than fine.
Here’s a good article to review on the subject: It does matter where you go to college.