Yes, where you go to college matters enormously for conventional success

By General Education Advice

Every part of our The Learning Consultants’ philosophy embraces happiness. I want our clients to be happy.   And, I know that conventional success is part of the happiness picture for many of our clients.

In a well-meaning effort to alleviate the stress of both students and parents, there seems to be nonsensical advice passed along such as “where someone goes to college doesn’t matter.”  I’d like someone to tell me that eating great pizza and gelato every day won’t affect my health in the long run.  But it is similar nonsense.

I’ve written elsewhere about the fallacy of inductive reasoning – taking a single example and then creating a general rule – so I won’t provide a full scale elaboration on the issue.  But here’s a simple example: Mugsy Bogues was 5 feet three inches and he played in the NBA, proving that height doesn’t matter if you want to play in the NBA.   That he was among the quickest, most coordinated, most skilled and hardest working players of all time should be noted.  Similarly, if you point to your Uncle Charlie and note that he was a huge success despite barely graduating a barely known college, you should also note that Charlie – presumably – had outstanding qualities that led to his success.  Maybe his interpersonal skills are incredibly high or maybe he didn’t do well in school because he was teaching himself how to write computer programs. Or maybe he just worked incredibly hard in his twenties.   But – at least if he was in a field where formal education was relevant (exclude the trades and any area where college really is mostly irrelevant) then he likely would have been an even bigger success or faster success had he gone to a top tier college. To argue otherwise makes no sense.

From The New York Times

“I’ve always been told, and I tell the kids, that your career and salary aren’t really affected by where you wind up at college, and anyway, you can go to a better graduate school,” said Carla Shere, who, in addition to counseling private clients, is director of college planning for a progressive public high school in Manhattan.

Unfortunately, that consoling bit of advice is wrong, according to Joni Hersch, a Vanderbilt University economics and law professor.

It is extremely difficult for students from less competitive colleges to gain admission to top graduate programs, including law and business schools, regardless of how good their grades and scores are. And those who do rarely attain the earnings power of peers who attended elite colleges. “The myth is that there are lots of entry points in the system, ways for people to rise up, to climb the educational ladder, but the numbers tell a different story,” Dr. Hersch said.