A very interesting article in the New York Times highlighted PayScale’s survey of 1.2 million college graduates to find out what they made right out of school, and 10 years after graduation. If you look at the picture, it’s interesting to note that the majority of schools are: 1) Private Schools, and 2) Highly Ranked in US News & World Report and other popular college rankings.
The average SAT and GPA scores of these 20 schools are roughly 1,300 and 3.7, respectively. Hence, one could argue that the key to making a six figure income 10 years out of school is simply high test scores and good grades! As such, it behooves all incoming 9th graders to recognize their grades accumulate from 9th to 12th grade, and not to mess their chances up of getting into Dartmouth, UPenn, and Yale.
IN THE LONG RUN
I really used to think education was not very useful since we forget much of what we learn. But, as I grow older, it becomes apparent that many of the most successful people we know have been very well educated. Barack Obama went to Columbia for his BA, and Harvard Law School. George Bush Senior went to Yale, and even Bush Junior went to Harvard. Say what you will, but anybody who becomes the President of the Free World is successful in my eyes. In the long run, the cream rises to the top, be it whip cream or sour cream.
For the sake of argument, let’s say elite schooling is the only way to a healthy six figure income. The trick is to manipulate little Johnny and Emily to recognize during middle school or earlier they can goof up all they want, but once the 9th grade hits, they’ve got to buckle down. I remember when I was in 7th grade, my buddy’s older brother told me exactly this. He said, “RB, you squirt, you can be a goofball all you want and annoy me on our bus ride to school, but you better not mess things up in high school or else you’re going to be a loser.” His words are still quite clear in my mind 20+ years later. He scared the hell out of me, and I stopped trying to be cool and sit in the back of the bus with him. I also stopped shooting spitballs through straws which was a nice milestone.
Any parents out there, I would just tell it to your kids straight. There’s only one chance at life so they might as well work as hard as possible to get the best perceived education one can afford. The reason why private education costs so much is simply because parents are willing to pay for it. College tuition is essentially inelastic. The preceived value of a Harvard degree is tremendous. Whether you learn something more or not is not the debate. All the text books are generally the same. It’s all about perception, and the admission into a club which will open doors for you or your children. The perpetual motion of education has already been set, you just have to play the game.
With tuition at these schools hitting $30,000+/year, there is often an unfair advantage for already well to do families. The good thing is that many of these schools have hefty endowments with need base scholarships, and more often than not, rewards will be given to bring this cost down. Hence, don’t be deterred from applying to schools out of your price range. You never know what type of aid you will receive and if you don’t apply, you’ll never know whether you’ll get in. When I was in HS, I felt so guilty for my parents that I just applied to the local state schools. They were government employees, and didn’t make a lot of money. I sometimes wonder whether I would have been able to get in.
The article also goes on to highlight that the degrees with the highest salaries include: Aerospace Engineering, Chemical Engineering, Computer Engineering, Electrical Engineering, Economics, and Physics. Coincidence these majors don’t sound easy, probably not. It really is too bad that Social Work, Music, and Education are at the bottom of the list for salaries. If I were President, I’d pay these professions the most!
NOTHING IS A GUARANTEE
There will be countless examples of people who didn’t go to any of these schools in the survey, who’ve done well for themselves. Heck, I went to public school for High School and College and turned out ok… I think. But, when people from these schools continue to dominate the senior management positions at many of America’s leading firms, we may be at a disadvantage if we want to reach the very upper levels of the firm. Look around at your managers. It’s not a coincidence that if Boss X went to Cornell, Boss Y right under Boss X also went to Cornell. You can take this analogy further to people in terms of sex and race. People like to be around people who are most similar to them. Just look around, and you’ll notice the “coincidences.” It’s just human nature, and it is what it is.
Many of us who are already working and didn’t got to a top school may ask, “I can’t rewind my life and go back to 9th grade, RB, so what now?” The good thing is that once you enter the work force, your success is largely up to your own performance (see “Rich People Try Harder: True or False?”) If you feel that performance alone isn’t good enough, look into part-time graduate programs (see “To MBA or Not To MBA“) or full time graduate programs. No question that many of us have had different economic upbringings and different maturity profiles while growing up. The way I view grad school is that it’s a second chance to try again if you’re unsatisfied with the first go around. You’ve got your entire life to work, contrary to the title of this blog!
Another thing to note is that going to a local grad school may often yield better dividends than a higher ranked school e.g. going to UCLA if you work in LA may carry more weight than going to Columbia, same thing goes for going to University of Wisconsin if you live in Madison and so forth.
Nobody really knows how successful one will be in their careers. All we can do is work hard, work towards harmonious relationships, and arm ourselves with as many weapons possible to combat in the work jungle.
Readers, what are your thoughts on the relationship between expensive elite private schools and your ultimate success in your career? I especially would like to hear stories of triumph proving all these survey’s wrong.
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Updated for 2018 and beyond