Is it worth spending the extra to go to a prestigious school, or will a less selective university be just as good? Can you save some bucks, or will those college savings end up costing you when it comes time to make a living? Is a student at Harvard destined to make a better living than a person at University of Michigan?
There was a study that started in 1976 and was released in 1999 that followed students from both prestigious schools and not-so-prestigious schools. This study showed that students from Yale earned 30% more than students from Tulane. Ok, so it sure seems like the “better” the school the more money you will make over the course of your life. That’s a sound investment, right? Well… not so fast.
The study went a bit further and also followed those students who were accepted into an Ivy league school but didn’t attend. So they were smart and talented enough to get into Yale but for whatever reason went to less a selective school. How did they fare against Ivy league grads? Turns out, they did just fine. The study showed that on average, both sets of students had the same income levels after 20 years.
Huh. So it’s not the fancy school after all. It’s the student that makes the difference, not the school. Researchers estimate that 75% of education comes from the student. From their abilities and work ethic. Only 25% comes from the school itself. One of the advantages of an elite school is the other students. Surrounding a student with the nation’s best and brightest may spur them to reach greater heights. But for another student it may lead to a breakdown from too much pressure to always perform.
The researchers did note that one group in particular benefitted the most from the environment of an elite school, those from poor backgrounds. These kids need exposure to the culture of an elite school to then move on into elite jobs. Kids from well-off families and neighborhoods already have this exposure and therefore don’t benefit from additional socialization in this manner.
Part of their socialization, Lubrano wrote, is learning to act dispassionate and outwardly composed at all times, regardless of how they might feel inside. Students from well-off communities generally arrive at college already trained to masquerade as calm. Students from disadvantaged backgrounds may benefit from exposure to this way of carrying oneself—a trait that may be particularly in evidence at the top colleges.
So back to the question. Is an elite school worth the extra cost? For the average person, it doesn’t look like it. If you have some special circumstances then maybe. I just don’t think you can buy your way into a better life. At the end of the day it’s up to you and you alone. If you have the drive, passion, skills, desire, dreams, and plans to make a wonderful life for yourself, you will do it! The presence, or lack of, a Harvard diploma doesn’t direct your life. You do!