By MIRA ZASLOVE
August 30, 2017
“Going to a top college can open some doors, but it won’t keep them open. Similarly, not going to a top college can close some doors, but it won’t keep them closed.“
It’s been nearly two decades since I applied to colleges, and I can still remember and identify with your angst. AP courses, SAT prep, essay editing, and college applications are immensely stressful and all consuming. I vividly remember filling out those applications, and how much work went into it. The stress you are feeling is understandable.
And sure, where you go to college can matter. All things being equal, going to a top school will help you in life. If only to boost your confidence and get your resume past the screeners. Also, top schools generally have grade inflation, and at these elite. It can be easier to get a perfect GPA at some of the top schools than it is at the larger State schools.
However, it’s not so simple. Or easy. Luck, skill, and resiliency will also matter, and ultimately they will play a far greater role in your success than which college you went to. It is unlikely graduating from a top school alone will get you hired, promoted, or funded. Sure, the stamp of approval can help, but it is doubtful to be the main factor.
At this point in my life, it rarely, if ever, matters. A lot of people have never even heard of Brown, or most of the other fancy schools your peers are bragging about.
Once you are in the working world, most people don’t care much at all. Each job you get after college, what school you went to will matter less and less. I went to Brown University, and I graduated around 15 years ago. So it’s been awhile. In my last 2 job interviews nobody asked what college I went to. I have no idea what college the Director, or VP of my group went to.
At this point in my life, it rarely, if ever, matters. A lot of people have never even heard of Brown, or most of the other fancy schools your peers are bragging about. A handful of schools have strong universal recognition, but prestige tends to be more local and based on your field. For instance, the Iowa writing program, and the Santa Barbara physics program are both top in their respective fields.
If you want to go into something like Investment Banking or Management Consulting straight out of college, it will probably matter what college you went to. These industries recruit heavily at the top colleges and tend to be more focused on collegial pedigree. Yet, the richest and most successful person in finance today, went to University of Nebraska–Lincoln.
Similarly, if you want to go into a field that will require an advanced degree, your grad school will probably matter a lot more than your undergrad degree.
Also, for me there is power in being underestimated. I worked for years in Sales & Trading in a fiercely competitive highly adversarial environment. Being a woman, I was always underestimated and people never really saw me coming. You may find the same thing coming from a State School in Florida. People may not know how fierce you really are. Flying under the radar can be a good thing in highly competitive environments.
Similarly, not having debt is a powerful and often under-appreciated thing. Without debt you will be able to take more chance and risks. Being shackled by debt is a scary and limiting. You may end up taking and staying at jobs you don’t like simply to pay off debt.
If graduating from a top college really matters to you, then go for it. Apply to as many schools as you can. It’s a numbers and luck game. I got rejected from one of my “safety” schools, and many people I know got into schools they never thought they would, and rejected from others they assumed were sure bets. Diversify. Apply to as many top schools as you can (preferably in all geographies), and if you don’t get in the first time, apply again as a transfer student. Keep applying until you get in.
Finally, I haven’t really seen any strong correlation with how smart and successful people are, with which colleges they went to. If anything, underdogs tend to fight harder.