PSA: High Prestige Colleges Are a Waste

It’s summer, so many of you teenagers or parents of teenagers are probably considering all sorts of college options. It can definitely be a tough decision, and there are a lot of misconceptions and mistakes that can cost you a lot of money.

Misconception number one: prestige, name brand colleges give their students a leg up on life.

For a long while I’ve had the sneaking suspicion that top-end colleges don’t really provide students anything more than an impressive resume, and a recent podcast I listened to from NPR’s Planet Money cited some research to back my hunch. Charles Wheelan, in his book Naked Statistics: Stripping the Dread from the Data, describes this experiment. Here’s his explanation on the NPR podcast:

[Two researchers] found a large group of students who had been accepted to a group of schools that they described as the highly selective schools, so it’s the Ivy league and a whole bunch of others you would recognize, and those same students had also been selected or admitted to a group of schools that were less traditionally competitive… less highly selective. So they were good enough to get into Harvard. Some of them subsequently went to the highly selective schools; some of them didn’t. And what that sets up is a nice comparison group where everybody in the sample is smart enough to get into what we describe usually as the very best schools… some went to those schools, some didn’t. So then we can compare their life outcomes 10 or 15 years later. It turns out, there doesn’t appear to be any great advantage, in fact, no statistically significant advantages at all in terms of wages for most students going to the highly selective schools with one notable exception which is for minority students, there does appear to an advantage, but for the vast majority of folks in the sample, there was no real huge advantage to getting into and going to one of these highly selective schools. (emphasis mine)

You can listen to the full podcast here: NPR Planet Money #453. It’s about 18 minutes long, and the part I referenced starts around 11 minutes.

Your wallets and bank accounts can breathe a collective sigh of relief. You or your child will really be okay if they don’t go to Yale. No matter what school you pick, you’ll have to work hard to learn and make the most out of your college years, stay dedicated and focused in order to finish, and then transition into the working world and put as much effort into that as you did to your education.

Even better, if you educated yourself and invested the difference, you could have a fantastic head start on your adult life.

So, be smart, study hard, and remember, it’s not the college that makes the difference, it’s the student. You have been informed. Good luck!