Does Going To The Best Schools Really Matter?

For the past couple years of your high school life, you have been good — maintaining a high GPA, forming strong relations with your teachers, and gaining volunteer hours. Now more than ever, parents–mostly Asian parents–are pushing their kids to the limit, wanting them to get into a good school because they think that all their child needs to succeed is to graduate from a top school; but sometimes, maybe you think, is this much work REALLY worth the effort? It is a good question. The truth is that going to a prestigious university is NOT necessary for success: how does going to Harvard, Stanford, or Cornell magically give you the power to tell whomever your boss is in the future to give you more money than everybody else who has the same degree but graduated from a lower-tier school? Could it not be that you deserve more money simply because you are more talented or have a better work ethic than your peers?

But there are still perks with going to a top university. Let’s say that you want to enroll in business, social science or education, then for you, it might matter where you study. In the article “Does Going to a Selective College Matter?”, author Gillian B. White dissects a study done by Eric Eide and Mark Showalter of Brigham Young University, and Michael Hilmer of San Diego State University, to reveal that people who attended a top business school had 12 percent higher earnings than people who attended lower ranked schools. The studies’ authors believe that business school students attending a top university can build a more robust network, scoring better internships while meeting elite people. Education and social science majors also benefit from attending the top universities because these students are more likely to pursue a higher degree — Masters or PhD — in a more prestigious university, because of the different types of people they surround themselves with, ensuring a huge boost to their annual income later on. On the other hand, what about the people that donot want to go into business, social science or education? Do they have to follow the same path?

According to Michael Bernick, who wrote “It Doesn’t Matter Where You Go To College”, obviously the answer to that question is “no”. In the article, he discusses Alan Krueger and Stacy Berg Dale’s research on the income of students who went to Ivy League schools, and those who were accepted and chose not to go. Surprisingly, 20 years later their “job outcomes were unaffected in terms of earnings.” Maybe 40 years ago, there was a higher level of education offered in elite school, but today, “200 colleges across the U.S. offer a similar level of education and have excellent faculty and facilities.” Kris Stadelman, the director of NOVA Workforce Investment Board in Silicon Valley, says “employers are interested in what skills you bring and how these skills can be used in their business.” NOVA interviewed tech company employers and found out that tech companies focus more on “mastery of current technologies”, rather than the “quality” of an applicant’s college degree. Throughout his article, Bernick uses a lot of research studies done by other people to persuade his audience that school choice is not the most important factor to ensure their future success.

Making connections and meeting people who can inspire you or help you get internship opportunities are the main reasons why people want to attend top schools; but your success after graduation is not guaranteed. Your hard work and talent play a huge roll in this, because if you don’t put in the effort, you will never use the resources at your school to gain an advantage and boost your intellectual and social capital. Finding out what you want to do is the most important goal for university applicants, and if it is something that requires a “elite” university, then so be it; but if you don’t know what you want to do, then choose a university that focuses on nurturing undergraduates rather than a school that emphasizes graduate school research. Keep in mind that your work ethic and talent matters way more than the school you eventually attend. Like Shana Lebowitz said in his article “Where you went to college doesn’t matter. This is why.”, “The reason Ivy-League grads generally do better than state-school grads isn’t because of their Ivy League education; it’s because they’re smarter and more talented than the rest of us — and that’s why they were admitted to the Ivy League in the first place.”

In the article “It’s Time to Tell Your Kids It Doesn’t Matter Where They Go To College”, author William Stixrud discuss how students are misled to believe how important getting into a top university is to set up success. Stixrud tries to persuade by using personal anecdotes mixed with some evidence he has gathered from school administrators. He firmly believes that school grades do not define who you are. Students are led to believe “that the path to success is narrow and [they] better not take one false step,” but he feels this is simply not true. Stixrud was once a “C” student in school, and despite this he “managed to do pretty well in life, and [he] credit[s] [his] failure in graduate school with leading [him] to a career more in line with [his] skill set.” He “asked various school administrators why they don’t just tell kids the truth about college — that where you go makes very little difference later in life.” The administrators told him that even if they did do just that, no one would believe them, and the message may even backfire– parents complain–because students might lose their motive to work hard. Stixrud believes that schools should really be “inspir[ing] [students] by helping them to focus on getting better at something, rather than “inspir[ing] our kids through fear.” The passage is persuasive because it seems common sense, but it lacks evidence.

To put things simply, school is not what defines you, you define yourself. But even after researching about “Does going to the best schools really matter?” and finding tons of articles on the subject that support the idea that where you go to school does not make a difference, some part of me still wants to look up the school ranking, and decide where I am going to apply based mostly on “reputation”. Maybe it is simply because when my parents were my age, school ranking was all that mattered, and I just want them to be proud. So I suspect that regardless of why you might believe school rankings matter, you will not find it easy to change your mind–it is hard to change your mind even when you know for sure something you do or believe is wrong–but at least stop a minute and reflect on the reasons you have chosen the schools you want to apply to, because you owe it to your future self the chance to get this right.


  1. White, Gillian B. “Does Going to a Selective College Matter?” The Atlantic. August 17, 2015. Accessed September 24, 2018.
  2. Bernick, Michael. “Decision Time: It Doesn’t Matter Where You Go to College.” Time. April 10, 2014. Accessed September 24, 2018.
  3. Dale, Stacy Berg, Krueger, and Alan B. “Estimating the Payoff to Attending a More Selective College: An Application of Selection on Observables and Unobservables.” NBER. August 01, 1999. Accessed September 24, 2018.
  4. Lebowitz, Shana. “Where You Went to College Doesn’t Matter. This Is Why.” World Economic Forum. Accessed September 24, 2018.
  5. Stixrud, William. “It’s Time to Tell Your Kids It Doesn’t Matter Where They Go To College” Time. March 22, 2018. Accessed September 24, 2018.