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The Problem With a Degree From a Top University

Stop regretting you didn't get into an Ivy. A new poll suggests going to a top school might have improved your bank account but probably not your well being.
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Do you look back on your solid and sensible choice of university and think, What if I’d reached for the stars and gotten into an Ivy instead? Or maybe your kid is starting the college admissions marathon, and you’re wondering just how hard you should push her to get into that dream university?

If these are questions that affect you, a new poll from Gallup and Purdue University provides some fascinating insights. The survey asked a huge sample of almost 30,000 respondents to rate their feelings of well being and engagement in their postcollege work, as well as their sense of community and purpose.

It’s been shown that going to a top-ranked school can boost your future earnings, but did going to a more selective school have an impact on any of their markers of a happy and fulfilling life?

A Lesson for Students and Their Parents

Not in the slightest. Whether students went to a top-ranked school. a public university, or a private college had no effect on their reported levels of well being.

What did impact happiness levels after graduation? Non-academic factors seemed to matter much more than a college’s sterling reputation, including such things as students having professors and mentors who cared about them (only 14 percent of grads strongly feel their professors cared about them), engaging in relevant internships, participating in extracurricular activities, completing long-term projects, and students feeling supported by their school.

A Lesson for Employers

Considering the vast gulf in difficulty of gaining acceptance and cost between schools, this information is well worth factoring into your decision making should you be currently considering where to send a college-bound teenager. But the results also offer food for thought for employers.

Though markers of academic prestige like the name atop the diploma, GPA, or transcripts might be seductive, when it comes to finding truly engaged employees, other factors might be far more important.

Rather than look only at where potential employees studied or if they came out with a 4.0, it might benefit employers to learn more about "what students are doing in college and how they are experiencing it," concludes the survey. "Those elements--more than many others measured--have a profound relationship to a graduate’s life and career." 

 

Last updated: May 12, 2014

JESSICA STILLMAN

Jessica Stillman is a freelance writer based in London with interests in unconventional career paths, generational differences, and the future of work. She has blogged for CBS MoneyWatch, GigaOM, and Brazen Careerist.




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