We are here to tell you that this is simply not true. Success in college and beyond is not solely based on where you “get in," but much more on what you do when you get there. As so well described by Malcolm Gladwell in Outliers: The Story of Success, being in the top third of your class at whatever school you are at is the best indicator of future success. How well you perform in college, the connections you make with other students and professors, and the experiences you gain are the crucial factors in predicting high achievement later in life.
Remember that the Ivy League and other highly selective schools attract students who are already high achieving. Therefore, it is not the “magic” of the selective school, but the talent, hard work and drive with which the student arrives at the school that creates success. Some research indicates that many colleges have built myths of excellence not by adding value to students’ college experience but simply by recruiting numbers of students with strong characters developed prior to attending college.
Even after taking into account the self-selected sample of students attending elite universities, if you look at the total number of top executives, most did NOT go to Ivy League or highly selective colleges. The same is true for the majority of governors. Examining the current list of acting governors reveals that only 9 out of 50 obtained their undergraduate degrees from Ivy League institutions, and over one-third graduated from public universities. Furthermore, many graduated from lesser-known schools such as Husson University in Maine, Mercer University in Georgia, Catawba College in North Carolina, and Trinity University in San Antonia, Texas.
To further illustrate the point that an elite college education is not the exclusive channel by which to achieve success, check out the alma maters of these influential leaders. The results may surprise you.
President Barak Obama – Occidental College, CA
Vice President Joe Biden - University of Delaware, DE
Senator Elizabeth Warren - University of Houston, TX
Governor Chris Christie - University of Delaware, DE
Senator Marco Rubio - University of Florida, FL
Governor Mario Cuomo - Fordham University, NY
Governor Terry McAuliffe - Catholic University, D.C.
Oprah Winfrey - Tennessee State University, TN
Al Roker - State University of New York, Oswego, NY
Jon Stewart - College of William and Mary, VA
Bill O’Reilly - Marist College, NY
Spike Lee - Morehouse College, GA
Lorne Michaels - University of Toronto, ON
Amy Schumer - Towson College, MD
Amy Poehler - Boston College, MA
Tim Cook (Apple CEO) - Auburn University, AL
Danny Meyer (Owner of Shake Shack) - Trinity College, CT
Doug McMillon (Wal-Mart Stores CEO) - University of Arkansas, AR
Rex Tillerson (Exxon Mobil CEO) - University of Texas at Austin, TX
John S. Watson (Chevron CEO) - University of California, Davis, CA
Warren E. Buffett (Berkshire Hathaway CEO) - University of Nebraska, NE
Joe Gorder (Valero Energy CEO) - University of Missouri-St. Louis, MO
Mark Fields (Ford Motor CEO) - Rutgers University, NJ
Mary Barra (General Motors CEO) - Kettering University, MI
The bottom line is, where you go to college will not be the determining factor of success in your life. Certainly, attending an elite college is not going to hurt you, if it provides the educational environment in which you thrive. But ultimately your future success is going to depend on you, not your college. To quote Frank Bruni: “Education happens across a spectrum of settings and in infinite ways, and college has no monopoly on the ingredients for professional achievement or a life well lived.”