Need evidence that Americans take college admissions way too seriously? Look no further than all the current headlines about “Operation Varsity Blues.”
Earlier in March, prosecutors charged dozens of parents (including celebrities like Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin) of bribing admissions officers at high-profile universities into fraudulently accepting their kids into the schools.
These included inflated grades and phony athletic credentials. Eight well-respected universities are embroiled in the scandal, including Stanford and Yale.
Specifically in the case of Loughlin, the U.S. District Attorney for the District of Massachusetts charges that she and her husband allegedly paid “brides totaling $500,000 in exchange for having their two daughters designated as recruits to the [University of Southern California] crew team—despite the fact that they did not participate in the crew.”
Understandably, middle-class parents are up in arms over the fiasco. This scandal raises an important question: In a day and age obsessed with getting into the best college, does the decision really matter in the wider scheme of life?
Overall, the answer is no.
What about better jobs and income?
First, let’s tackle the earnings question. Depending on your area of study, a degree from a more selective college has no bearing on your student’s future earnings.
For students majoring in science-related fields, there’s no statistically significant difference in earnings between graduates of elite colleges and those from less-selective schools, according to research from Michael Hilmer, an economist at San Diego State University, and Eric Eide and Mark Showalter, economists at Brigham Young University.
The biggest difference in earnings comes for business majors. But even here, students who graduate from elite schools earn, on average, just 12 percent more than their peers at mid-tier schools.
As Elissa Nadworny and Anya Kamenetz write for National Public Radio, “An individual’s choice of major, such as engineering, is a far more powerful factor in her eventual earnings than her choice of college.” One poll found that attending an elite college doesn’t make you happier later in life, either.
And don’t forget that many of the world’s most financially success people—think Steve Jobs and Bill Gates—dropped out of college.
Remember, going to an elite university is more about prestige and social connections than anything else
For wealthy people, college is more about social connections than acquiring knowledge. Granted, those social connections are often the key to getting the right high-paying, influential job after graduation. And many of them do. (The U.S. Supreme Court, for example, is exclusively represented by graduates of the Ivies.)
But if your ultimate goal is to acquire knowledge—and more importantly, to continue to learn how to learn—headed toward a well-paying job in your field, then your choice of college begins to matter less and less.
What’s more, surveys show that hiring managers don’t really care where you went to college—just that you have the hard and soft skills to actually get the job done. Having an Ivy listed on your LinkedIn profile is a definite mental boost (and it can’t hurt during a job hunt), but the cost of getting in and completing a degree isn’t always worth it.
Focus on the main thing
In the vast majority of cases, the name of your college doesn’t matter. What matters is earning the credential. It doesn’t have to be a bachelor’s degree, either. Don’t give in to our culture’s obsession with getting into “the best” college, a preoccupation that needlessly stresses out young people.