What If You Go To Harvard And End Up A Nobody?

Harvard University consistently is ranked one of the top universities in the world. But what if you go to Harvard University and still end up a nobody?

When I say nobody, I'm just talking about being an average person working an average job. Not someone still living in mom's garage playing video games all day at age 40. OK, a little harsh, but you get the idea.

A happy life is all about managing expectations. If you matriculate at Harvard, whether for undergrad or graduate school, great things are expected of you. And if you don't do great things, are you a disappointment? Many would say so. More importantly, you might even think so.

Education has been on my mind a lot lately after my son got into preschool. If he likes the school, it goes through the 8th grade. However, Is it worth spending tens of thousands a year in private grade school tuition for the next nine years? I'm not so sure!

In addition, I was a private high school tennis coach for three years observing how the kids went through the pressure of trying to get into a good university. I sometimes wondered whether their grind was all worth it.

Supposedly my high school is one of the best in the city, yet not every graduate goes to a university like Harvard. In fact, most attend regular schools any high schooler could have gotten into.

Why Harvard University?

What if you go to Harvard University and end up a nobody?

I pick on Harvard because it's the most well known university in the world and also costs $57,000+ annually in tuition alone if you receive no aid.

You can replace Harvard University with any expensive private university in the Top 20. Schools like Duke, Brown, Stanford, Columbia, Yale, Cornell, Dartmouth, all count.

I'm assuming if you went to Harvard or another Ivy League School, you won't be offended by this article. The golden carpet was rolled out for you compared to a field littered with land mines for the rest of us commoners.

Using the word “nobody” is admittedly harsh, but I say I'm a nobody all the time and think it's great!

I went to public high school, The College of William & Mary, got my MBA from UC Berkeley and worked in finance for 13 years. Who cares. I've operated Financial Samurai since 2009. Ho hum. I have two kids and live in a house. Boring! Being a nobody is just fine with me, partially because I went to public schools.

Being a nobody is par fo the course. Most of us are not curing cancer or coming up with a new vaccine for COVID-19. We just go about doing our business so we can make enough to provide for our family. Truly, how may of us really love what we're doing and are also helping improve world?

The Pressure To Do Something With Your Degree

On the other hand, if you attend a school like Harvard, you must go on to do great things. Otherwise, what’s the point? With an acceptance rate of only ~5%, you aren't allowed to retire early and waste your potential either. You better hurry up and fix at least one of the world’s great problems!

Forget about being a stay-at-home parent and spending valuable time during your child's first five years of life. Go out there and make a career for yourself! You don't need a Harvard degree, let alone a college degree to raise children.

Don't you dare work at the same job as someone who went to State U. either. Now that you can learn everything online for free, the stakes for achieving greatness have never been higher!

And if you write a book, it had better be a national bestseller, or else! What's the point of going to Harvard if you can't be in the top 1% of book authors?

The purpose of this article is to:

1) Challenge our unhealthy desire for prestige and money

2) Reassess the pressure cooker environment we put our kids through

3) Discover what actual Harvard graduates do for a living

4) Encourage our smartest people to do more productive things with their lives

5) Give folks who've been rejected from elite universities and coveted jobs hope that anything is possible

6) Go beyond the act of giving money by spending more time helping people directly

7) Encourage schools to encourage their graduates to broaden their career prospects beyond just banking, consulting, big law, or tech

8) Decrease the obsession with making a top 1% or a top 0.1% income

9) Not stress so much as parents about the future of our children and how to pay for college

10) Open up your consideration for Community College and four-year public universities

Status Matters More Than We'd Like To Think

Let's be frank. In today's world, having a certain level of status matters. After trying to avoid playing the status game since I left finance in 2012, I was rudely awakened starting in 2019 when my son got rejected from six out of seven preschools.

Ever since this rejection experience, I decided to become more relevant again for the sake of my children. During the pandemic, I decided to take the #1 worldwide publisher, Portfolio Penguin, up on their offer and publish a new book.

In the end, Buy This, Not That, became an instant Wall Street Journal bestseller. And I gained back some status as a bestselling author. Status matters, whether we like to think so or not.

Hence, if you went to an elite university, the expectation is that you will go on to do great things. Let's look at the career profiles of those who went to Harvard and other elite schools.

What Do Harvard Graduates Do?

Harvard graduates first apply to school talking about saving the world and starting non-profits. However, almost 60% of Harvard graduates from 2022 ended up working in Consulting, Finance, and Technology. What happened to curing cancer and eradicating malaria?

Based on the data, it sure seems like MONEY is the most important factor for Harvard graduates and other Ivy League graduates. After money is status. The Crimson has a great article called, How Harvard Careerism Killed The Classroom.

post-graduate employment by Industry for Harvard graduates 20222

How Much Do Harvard Graduates Make?

Despite the majority of Harvard and other Ivy League graduates going into Consulting, Finance, and Technology the median income earned by Ivy League graduates is not that impressive.

Harvard University graduates have a median earnings 10 years after attendance of $84,918. That's not even close to a top one percent income for a 32-34-year-old. In other words, if you don't going to an elite private university, you can still make a lot more money than those who did.

how much do Ivy League graduates make

Profiles Of Those Who Went To An Elite School

Ivy League Admissions Selectivity Chart By School - What if you go to Harvard University and end up a nobody

We only hear about famous people who went to Harvard. You know, people like the 43rd POTUS George W. Bush, the “inventor” of the internet Al Gore, Chairman of the Fed Ben Bernanke, Microsoft founder Bill Gates, Academy Award winner actress Natalie Portman, former First Lady Michelle Obama, the 35th POTUS John F Kennedy, unabomber Ted Kacznski, Claudine Gay, and NBA basketball player Jeremy Lin.

But what about the thousands of graduating alumni Harvard spits out every year? What do they do? Let's find out through a semi-random sampling of LinkedIn profiles online. To get my search started, I chose one person I know who went to Harvard and then clicked forward to see what her fellow classmates ended up doing.

My sample set is admittedly biased as someone with a finance background who therefore knows more finance people than average. But let's see where the rabbit hole goes. I've changed some of the dates and tidbits to protect the identity of these random folks. If you think I'm talking about you, I'm not!

Harvard Alum Profile #1

Harvard College

Stanford Graduate School of Business

Occupation: Investment banking and private equity before b-school, private equity tech investor at TPG after b-school

Thoughts: She mentioned to me during a summer associate internship that she was not going to b-school for the main purpose of making money after I asked whether she's going back to private equity after graduation. With an air of nobility she said, “Sam, life is not just about making money you know?”

She then decided to go back into private equity and is now a VP making even more money. This career profile is the quintessential and stereotypical pedigree of an elite private school graduate.

Harvard Alum Profile #2

Tufts University

Harvard MBA

Occupation: Clorox marketing manager, Twitter marketing manager, self-employed, brand strategy at a Willamette Valley vineyard

Thoughts: Not many people think about working at an old-school consumer products company after getting a Harvard MBA, but Clorox has one of the best management training programs. But if you think about it, how excited can you really be marketing a toilet bowl cleaning wand as your career?

She joined Twitter soon after IPO, but the stock did poorly soon after. The company went through several rounds of layoffs and I suspect she was a casualty given her year of self-employment afterward. But now, she has a pretty cool job marketing wine and living a relaxing life!

Harvard Alum Profile #3

Harvard College

Dartmouth MBA

Occupation: Goldman Sachs, CLSA MD

Thoughts: Another standard career path for those who attend Ivy league universities. He was a great guy who caught an error in my resume when I was interviewing. I got the dates mixed up. I'm just surprised he's still working since he was at GS for years before GS went public in 1999, and has worked for 25+ years now. I wonder whether he went through a divorce or something else is going on. 

Harvard Alum Profile #4

Philips Academy Andover (high school)

Harvard College

Occupation: McKinsey Consulting analyst, VP of Operations at failed e-commerce startup, founder of clothing startup that needs funding

Thoughts: McKinsey is one of the hardest places to get a job after college due to their infamous case study interviews and brainteasers e.g. how many jelly beans can fit inside a Boeing 747 and why? After McKinsey, he spent five years working at one of the biggest flameouts in e-commerce history where the company raised over $300M and was valued at over $1B before getting acquired for less than $30M.

Good for him for utilizing what he learned to start his own e-commerce company. But without another round of funding this year, it's highly likely his business will dissolve and he'll end up burning through lots of his own cash. Running in place for 10 years is tough. 

Harvard Alum Profile #5 

Yale University undergrad

Yale University Masters

Harvard College PhD

Occupation: Analytics for a startup, analyst for a mobile gaming startup, director of growth for a startup, head of growth for another startup, venture capital, self-employed

Thoughts: I'm absolutely blown away by his resume. I was strongly considering getting a PhD after I left the private sector in 2012, but realized I was too dumb and impatient. The weird thing is, after all his education, he went on to join companies that have nothing to do with what he learned.

I can do analytics and growth marketing with the best of them since I run my own site. His path makes me feel that getting a PhD is too costly a career move today. With his resume, I would be seriously disappointed with my career so far. 

Yale Alum Profile #6

Yale University

Occupation: Forbes 30 Under 30, Started a social media advertising company that rebranded after six years because they needed a change in direction (code for things aren't working as planned)

Thoughts: I'm always impressed with the Forbes X Under X crowd. Yale has a 6.3% acceptance rate and is right up there with Harvard in terms of prestige. The advertising technology space is very hard because the margins are so thin and Google and Facebook are the oligopoly players. I tried creating my own online advertising network and did OK for about two years before I got undercut.

It doesn't look like her company will ever get acquired, which stinks b/c for six years, I'm sure she and her co-founders weren't paying themselves a market rate salary. They could have worked in tech, banking or consulting and probably made 3X more in the same time frame. But all the same, props to anybody who starts a company and makes it last for over six years!

Harvard graduate starting expecting salary
Harvard graduates expected starting salary looks similar to all other graduate starting salary expectations

Harvard Alum Profile #7

Undergraduate at Harvard University: Math major, Phi Beta Kapa

Occupation: Co-founder of the social media ad startup with the Yale main founder, but left to start his own fintech company providing cheaper retirement plans for companies. Y Combinator backed.

Thoughts: After he realized the adtech startup wasn't going to flourish, he applied to the famous startup incubator, Y Combinator, got in and launched his own fintech company that serves to reduce 401k administration fees. He raised a $3.5M seed round in 2016. In 2024, his company is still doing well and could be worth $1 billion or more.

I'm completely biased for people who start a company, get into an incubator, raise money, and try and create something out of nothing. The vast majority fail, even with smart backers, but it's still impressive all the same. I just wonder whether it's necessary to go to Harvard or Yale to start a company? 

Here's my conversation with a successful Harvard startup founder.

Harvard Alum Profile #8

Punahou: Hawaii private grade school

Harvard College

Occupation: TV anchor at Bloomberg

Thoughts: Punahou is the school I'd love for my son to attend if we move back to Hawaii. It's K-12, which makes it much more convenient once you get in compared to schools in SF where you've got to reapply for high school after K – 8. The cost is about $23,000 a year, which is 60% cheaper than private schools in SF and NYC.

This Harvard graduate is doing a bang up job as the anchor of Bloomberg West. I like her profile because she always has a cheery disposition, kind of like your Facebook friend's curated pictures. In fact, she ended up blurbing my new personal finance book.

Harvard Alum Profile #9

Harvard College

MBA from Harvard

Occupation: Credit Suisse before b-school, McKinsey after b-school

Thoughts: Most graduates just stick to the finance path or the strategy consulting path. So it's rare to see him try both. It feels like he's still trying to figure out what he really wants to do in life given he's still in his 20s. Understandable, but once again, I'm left wondering how we can encourage the smartest people on Earth to do more to help other people rather than to chase money. 

Harvard Alum Profile #10

Greenwich Academy: Private high school

Harvard College: Majored in Art History

Occupation: Reporter at The NYT, founded a subscription based tech news site

Thoughts: Pretty neat to have worked for The NYT and then do something entrepreneurial in her field of expertise. Subscription based news websites are tough because most of the news you can read for free or can be shared for free. But all you need is 10,000 subscribers paying $100 a year to earn $1,000,000 in revenue, and perhaps $500,000 a year in take home pay.

I've just decided to go the 100% free model because there's only upside when you're at the bottom! I really like people who take what they've learned from their day jobs and try to do something on their own. I wish more people did this because there's so much inefficiency with larger corporations.

Harvard Alum Profile #11

I'olani School – Private high school in Honolulu, main competitor to Punahou

Dartmouth College

Stanford University Graduate School of Business

Occupation: venture capital fundraising, private equity fundraising, account executive for a software company (8 months), consultant for a small CRM company (9 months), business development manager at a food delivery startup.

Thoughts: I'm thoroughly disappointed. After 19 years of private school and $600,000 in tuition, the guy ended up at a company that has already raised a Series D round. Even if the company goes public, he's unlikely going to make a large amount of money joining so late in the game.

Food delivery companies have come under siege lately (Bento Now went under, Sprig went under, Munchery laid off a bunch of workers etc). If his company was figuring out how to deliver food more efficiently and profitably to help feed people at the bottom of the pyramid, that would be amazing. But it's not. 

Cost to attend harvard - Harvard tuition 2021-2022

Harvard Alum Profile #12

Phillips Exeter Academy

Harvard College

Stanford University Masters, Computer Science

Occupation: Goldman Sachs (1.5 years), international gaming company (3 years), Blizzard Entertainment producer (3 years), founder of own game company (3.5 years) before it shut down, founded another game company (4 years) but its game is still in beta.

Thoughts: I went to middle school with him and thought he was a great guy. His parents were wealthy and he was super smart. He had a great gig at Blizzard, the producer of the mega hit game World of Warcraft. He could have stayed and got paid extremely well. But he decided to go the entrepreneurial route, which is always admirable.

Because his family is wealthy, he can afford to go for seven years without making much money. This is one of the key competitive advantages of the wealthy, being able to take risks without financial ruin. But frankly, it's a disappointment that after almost four years, his game is a bust. Being an entrepreneur is not for the faint of heart. 

Harvard admissions by race
Harvard admissions by race

Harvard Alum Profile #13

Georgetown Preparatory School

Yale University

Yale Law School

Occupation: United States Court Of Appeals for the District Of Columbia Judge 2006 – present. Now incredibly famous for sniffling, ranting, and talking about beer during his job interview in front of a bunch of Senators. OK, this Supreme Court Justice is not in my LinkedIn network. I just thought it was interested to highlight.

Thoughts: With his mom as a judge and his father as the CEO of a company, this person grew up with an extraordinary amount of privilege. Despite having a relatively low salary for most of his career, he was able to pay off $200,000 in credit card debt, join a country club that had a $90,000 initiation fee, and take out a $1.1M+ mortgage due to the help of his parents.

Harvard Alum Profile #14

San Francisco University High School

University of Pennsylvania (B.A.)

Harvard Business School (MBA)

Occupation: Created a subscription newsletter about life hacks after spending a couple years at a large consumer internet startup (post MBA), a couple years as a VC associate (post MBA), product manager at another internet startup (pre MBA), and two years as a strategy consultant after undergrad.

Thoughts: This Harvard MBA and U. Penn grad has done literally every job that such graduates would love to land e.g. strategy consulting, VC, internet startup.

However, despite working at all the go-to industries and companies and attending all the prestigious schools a go-getter would want, at 35-years-old, she left it all behind to try and build something of her own. I get it because it is much more rewarding to build something of your own than build someone else's dream.

The thing is, you don't need all that education and experience to start a newsletter or your own website. You can start both for free. Yes, you will need something to write about and experience certainly helps. However, regardless of the road you take after high school, you will ultimately learn fascinating things about yourself and life.

Here are more career and income profiles of Ivy League graduates if you're curious. Surprisingly, the median income earned by Ivy League graduates isn't much greater the first ten years after college.

Harvard Alumni Profile #15

My favorite Harvard University alumni profile is one by Charlie Albright because he is a long-time Financial Samurai reader and concert pianist. I saw him play and was blown away. Instead of pursuing banking or consulting to earn maximum money, he chose music, who pays much less.

I always admire people who nurture a talent and pursue their interests over money. Much respect. You can listen to my interview with Charlie below.

Overall Harvard Alumni Snapshot

Now that you've read my not so arbitrary profiles of Harvard and other Ivy League alumni, let me share with you the Harvard graduate data provided by LinkedIn. It's a good idea to type in your school of choice and read their snapshot before attending. Let's take a look.

Where do Harvard graduates live, work, and do
LinkedIn profile of 201,507 Harvard Alumni

There's a lot of misinformation in the graphs due to mislabeling, but we learn the following:

* The Boston Area is ranked first in terms of where most Harvard alum end up working. So you've got to wonder why Boston isn't more of an economic powerhouse like New York City, London, or the San Francisco Bay Area. Boston is relatively cheap compared to other major international cities.

* New York City, San Francisco, Washington D.C., and Los Angeles are the main cities of employment for Harvard alum.

* Google, McKinsey, Goldman Sachs, Microsoft, IBM, BCG, Morgan Stanley, Amazon, and Bain are the most common employers. All the others listed in the employers column have to do with education.

* Business Development is the most common role. Business Development basically is a catchall phrase for those who try to build new business partnerships with other companies to grow revenue, profits, and exposure.

For example, the Business Development role at Financial Samurai may entail building new advertising relationships with products in the retirement space. Biz Dev requires financial acumen, social skills, negotiating skills, and product knowledge. It's a good role to be in before you start your own company. I'm surprised Education is higher than Entrepreneurship, since everybody wants to be their own boss.

William & Mary Alumni Profile

In contrast, take a look at the graduate profile on LinkedIn of my alma mater, William & Mary in Virginia. Again, William & Mary is a public college. There's a definite geographic bias towards the East Coast and it looks like consulting companies are the main employers.

I'm proud to see Education and Community and Social Services right up there in the What they do column. Check out your school's profile as well.

William and Mary graduate profiles

An Ivy League Education Is No Longer The Golden Ticket

One of the most peculiar situations I found myself in was rejecting Harvard University and other Ivy League applicants for summer internships or financial analyst jobs at Goldman Sachs between 1999 – 2001. Goldman made all employees, regardless of their seniority, actively participate in the interview process in order to maintain our tight culture.

Here I was, a guy who absolutely would not have gotten into Harvard if I had applied, rejecting guys and gals who would run circles around me in school. Although, to be fair, we learn from the Supreme Court trial that Harvard assigns lower personality scores to Asian applicants to justify their rejections, despite objectively higher grades and test score. That's BS.

Google, McKinsey, Microsoft, Goldman, Amazon and the likes are all amazing companies with plenty of elite university graduates. But at the end of the day, what exactly are you doing with all that education and your top 0.1% brain?

Is your life's purpose to figure out how to best optimize an online ad? Is your calling to provide senior management reasons why they should fire 25% of their work force to optimize profits? Do you really want to make pitch books or woo wealthy entrepreneurs all your life?

Are you seriously pumped to wake up each morning to figure out how to best improve on-demand food delivery times? Come on. There's got to be more to work than making lots of money.

Be Somebody Instead

The most fulfilling work directly helps someone in need. Compared to someone who works mainly for money and prestige, you will feel less burned out if you are making a difference in someone else's life.

Haben Girma

For example, helping people in need is what Haben Girm, a legally blind (best corrected visual acuity with glasses or contacts is 20/200 or worse) and deaf Harvard Law graduate is doing.

She has dedicated her life to making the workplace, technology, and life in general more accessible to the roughly 49 million disabled people in America (~15% of the population). Respect!

Perhaps being a somebody is being a doctor, a scientist, a NICU nurse, a professor, a social worker, or a firefighter is as well.

The joy I observe from my fellow teachers is next-level compared to the joy and excitement I witness from my finance, consulting, law, and techie friends. I wasn't lucky enough to realize this truth until I was in my 30s. Better late than never.

Although it's nice to donate money once you've made enough money, the people who are most inspiring are those people deep in the trenches doing good work. They are the ones who often help the most, but curiously get paid the least, e.g. educator.

Still Be Proud If You Went To Harvard

If you didn't get into a school like Harvard, its OK! Once you're in the vortex, it's almost impossible to break free given massive expectations.

And if you did attend Harvard or the like, major props to you! Be proud of your accomplishment and don't let this article diminish your achievement. Instead, utilize your intellectual gift by doing something the rest of us could never imagine.

What university did you go to? (undergrad or graduate)

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240 thoughts on “What If You Go To Harvard And End Up A Nobody?”

  1. Just bought your book for my son, as is he going to listen to Mom & Dad who accumulated a very comfortable retirement, brick by brick, over 40 years? But, your article caught my eye, as I dated a guy who jumped out of a building a couple of years after graduating from Harvard because doors didn’t open. My husband (and later me), worked for Big Oil, but bailed after the mind numbing crunch. He turned down McKinsey, too. We both were academic superstars, but Ivies were out of the question. In his case, he had to support his widowed mother, and in mine, my middle class parents had too much $ for me to qualify for aid, and they refused to help “a girl” go to college. So it was State U for us both. My snobby Ivy friends, as a rule, did VERY well, but had a very nice boost from their parents all along the way. But, life is NOT dependent on credentials.. just your attitude.

  2. I am a Cornell graduate and have an MA in Finance from a state school and an MBA from a no name private school. I am 41 and have been working for the Federal Govt as a Financial Analyst for the past one year.

    I basically took a 10 year break to live abroad and get married. I definitely see value in going to the highest ranked school you can get into.

    The problem with the real world is that others have unique skills that you don’t. For example I know nothing about cars or home construction.

    I’m proud that I went to Cornell but it doesn’t help in getting a job unless you already have 2 years of work experience.

    Going to any college will teach you some about life, but it is hard to get a job even if you go to Harvard.

    In the end you have to master stress and fear in your mind. Colleges are just businesses, and they won’t hire you even if you went to school there.

    So yeah if you did the internships, you would probably get a good job from a good school.

    If you’re good in school, you’re bad at something else.

    So aim to work for a University or Government and you’ll be fine no matter where you go to college.

  3. Finance Ronin

    This is the third time I’ve read this article. Love it. It’s a question I ponder for my kids who’ve just entered high school. We’re not shooting for Ivy, but it’s certainly a possibility. The people who I know attended Ivy’s are just as likely to be stay at home parents, public school teachers or judges as anyone else. Maybe not judges–Ivy probably helps.

    And that’s the problem. Anybody can be a nobody. But if you want to be a somebody, it does help to have that Ivy education.

    I had an education similar to yours. I was on my way to being somebody, then I became a nobody by retiring yearly. I don’t even have a blog so by comparison you’re a rock star. Maybe I’ll donate enough money to my alma mater one day to have a classroom named after me.

    BTW what happened to the feature that notifies me should someone respond?

  4. “Is your life’s purpose to figure out how to best optimize an online ad?…”

    This is just it: the type of brain that can succeed in these highly competitive academic spaces has not been trained to think altruistically generally speaking. They are trained to win, very often at the expense of their Selves. Innovation and people capable of thinking out side of the box will likely have come from a wilder frontier then the highly structured world of elite academia. People like yourself. Successful enough to be free to think independently and creatively.

  5. I mean, this is absolutely hilarious. “Somebodies” are people who have failed to recognize the futility of comparison, so they jump through ever-hotter burning hoops to impress those of us smart enough to reject the notion. High-octane comparison, that’s the game they are all playing without noticing they are spending their precious awakening on fruitless endeavors. Prestige and wealth feel good, but only when comparison is at play which is why those ideas become chains to ego. The endless list of humans you and I will never know or hear of that have participated in it before we existed? Dead or forgotten. The people they compared/compare themselves to? Meaningless names and numbers attributed to endless human progression. The businesses that turn remarkable profits in exchange for “prestige” which only exists in the minds of people who buy into it? Those are the universities capitalizing on the grandios stupidity. Everyone who wastes their life on this foolishness eventually comes to realize that they ended up tired and no better than anyone else, because the game of life is relative and joy can be had from any perspective other than comparison/envy. Comparison and envy are a living hell that can’t be achieved away, it only gets worse the deeper you dive into the habit. We are all star dust, and we all return to star dust, and the minutiae of your “ivy league” (marketing scheme) education or your “relevance” (personality dis-order) won’t even register as a blip on the screen of the greater perspective of time, human history, or universal existence. But, these types of humans would not know anything about existential yet. The “elite” are all clamoring over an illusion, and all it really is is an addiction to very bizarre fantasies. Bizarre to those of us who are too intelligent to participate, at least. To them, this learned behavior for waste of existence is a lifestyle. Que Sera Sera.

  6. I’m 50 years old and have an Ivy League degree, but it’s now about 25 years ago so by now I find myself unable to get a job at all. That and I’m “black” looking, not any part African or African-American but nevertheless that’s the race I get treated like when people look at me; I find I get the “guess who’s coming to the interview” scenario meaning job search time in my house is also known as “Passover.” By now I can’t tell whether it’s my age or the colour of my skin that does that. People don’t believe that I’m Yale class of 1996 because I’m “black” or because I don’t look that old, one or the other, or maybe both.

  7. I just stumbled on your article via Google. I have 2 ivy league degrees and have been working in non-profit for awhile now. Many of my peers are a lot more “successful” than I am and I often struggle with whether I wasted my ivy league education. It was easy to get into nonprofit causes when I was younger and didn’t have any responsibilities. Now with a mortgage and kids, it’s hard not to compare myself with others who seem to not only be a lot more financially stable, but who are have important titles, working at big name companies. Do I get satisfaction thinking that I’m helping the world in some way? I do, but I’m also a lot less idealistic now and I see that many of the people at large NGO’s and in government who are calling the shots are mostly those who accumulated wealth and experience in the private sector before transitioning to public service.

    1. Thank you for your perspective. And I do want to thank you for the good work you are doing!

      Yes, as we get older, we get jaded. And you talking about those people at the top usually already got their money.

      I don’t think you wasted your time because you got into the best school you could (max potential) and are doing something meaningful. More people need to do what you do.

      Personally, I enjoy writing about personal finance to help people improve their financial situation so they can do more of what they want.

      If you’re looking to improve your finances, I think you’ll enjoy reading my new book, Buy This, Not That: How To Spend Your Way To Wealth And Freedom.

      Thanks again for your good work!

    2. @H
      Oh boy I feel you. Have you ever seen one of my favorite Ted Talks on this very topic? I’ve shared with so many people because it is brilliant and pretty obvious but the speaker Dan Pallota really clarifies it in under 20 mins:

      The way we think about charity is dead wrong | Dan Pallotta

  8. Once you get some real world experience under your belt I doubt if the school you went to really matters that much. In all of the companies I have worked at, once you get your foot in the door showing success in real world projects is what really matters.

    1. I’m a law school graduate and I have to disagree. Almost 20 years out I still see job postings that ask about law review and other things you did in law school. It’s honestly mind-boggling

  9. Flavius Aetius

    I have a hard time thinking that any of the alums profiled are nobodies, but admittedly I’m not an American and my perspective may be skewed. They all seem to be doing things that it would be a bit more of a rarity for graduates of run-of-the-mill institutions to be doing, and consequently not quite “average jobs”, which is the criterion adopted by the author. Even those who became entrepreneurs – if you think about it – might have found their feet within their field more easily thanks to connections made at Harvard or at earlier stages of a not quite average career. It would be interesting to know how many of these people are doing better than their parents were at the same age. Also, how many settled in places, shall we say, more bustling or cosmopolitan than their hometowns?

    I say this as someone who probably amounts to an actual nobody. I went to Oxford as an undergrad. That was the best life ever got. Now I practice small-town law in a pretty wretched part of the world serving whackjob clients that come in via the internet. My standard of living is easily behind where my parents’ was at the same age. So if you accept the premise that, given the right material, an elite university is meant to put its graduates at least a leg or two above where they began, and certainly to give them access to a broad choice of ways to accomplish this, then you’d have to conclude that something went seriously wrong somewhere in my case. That is not, I think, a conclusion which one could fairly draw of the profiles in the article. There’s a difference between lacking a wikipedia page and being a nobody. I wonder too if the author does not equivocate between “average jobs” writ large and and “average jobs [among Harvard grads]”. The latter would be a somewhat surprising discriminant of nobodies. All of which is to say, if these profiles are representative of the average Harvard or Ivy League grad, then Americans can rest easy knowing that their elite universities do what they say on the tin.

    1. Must you be in that ‘wretched part of the world’? Could you move as an investment in the remainder of your life? There are so many other small towns more wholesome and engaging, as small towns go.

  10. Elite schools should require their students to continue to commit to the community services they were engaged in during their high school years, and/or do another year of community service after graduating college. We’ll see how many of the applicants will change their minds quickly, and go apply to other schools.

  11. I know kids that went to UVA despite being admitted to Duke, Cornell, MIT, Harvard. Also some were wait listed at the ivies. Had they chosen a different major then prob. would have gotten accepted. Not sure all the reasons but for some it was cost as they did not qualify for aide and received in state for UVA or full ride. Did not want huge school loan. Only one turned down full ride UVA for an ivy league school (and he did nothing impressive for years after attending the ivy. ) Not sure where everyone ended up, but know a few have good jobs and work for companies that are tough to get into (tech sector and space sector). Some of their co-workers went to the ivies or other high level elite . They all went to public HS. Would they be anywhere different now had they gone to a more elite school? No (though only out of college 5-7 yrs). Would it make a difference on their resume for their next jobs or career advancement? Prob not because they are all high achievers and probably proved their worth and will continue to achieve. The students were all happy with the decisions to go state college (though some parents were not as happy). Some of their parents friends/coworkers felt these kids made a terrible decision where as other parents felt the student was very mature choosing the school they felt was the better fit vs being caught up in the name or for bragging rights. (everyone has an opinion despite being asked). OF the people I know that are 10+ out of college, two are teachers (MIT and Univ Chicago grads) and another worked a short time before deciding to stay home with kids (william & mary/Harvard). No one went to an elite k-12 private school.

    1. There are obviously many reasons to choose one school over another, but many of the Ivy League schools (including Harvard) allow their students to choose any major they want. When I applied to Dartmouth, I never had to state a department or field I would go into, and when I arrived at school, nobody had me take any classes that were required (other than an expository writing course). Most of the ivy league including my Dartmouth also had generous financial aid for students in need.

      On your point that whether or not it has an impact on career after 5-7 years, I disagree. One thing that really helps you is that when you graduate from a “prestigious” school is the alumni network and friends you make. This is for three main reasons:

      1. For certain fields, your pedigree is important. Despite what the internet says, having a strong undergrad helps in grad school admissions for medicine, law, etc. Also helps with job placement regardless because it looks good to clients, etc.
      2. The network you make is with you for life. I have friends in almost every professional field I can think of who I can rely on for help.
      3. The environment you are in determines your influences. At more selective institutions, you’re surrounded by people who are motivated and that attitude rubs off on you, and stays with you.

  12. George W Bush went to Yale undergrad/Harvard MBA and Michelle Obama is Princeton undergrad/Harvard law

  13. Interesting how the Harvard mystique perpetuates.

    Twenty years ago, when I was a professional journalist (newspaper and magazines) in NYC, so many of the editors came from the big three Ivies. Standard convention–and I still see this today–is when writing about individuals to add Harvard, Yale or Princeton. I.e. “Sam Dogen, 42, a corporate lawyer and a Princeton graduate….” This, even though their education was not the focus. Alas, it was NOT applicable for other “elite” schools, say, Amherst, or Cal Tech, etc. — no need to add.

    There’s also the wedding announcements of the NYT Sunday Styles section (which I’ve written for), which was parodied when someone published a numeric coding system that gave “points” that counted towards inclusion. According to The Knot, which tracked the couples featured, reported that Harvard was the number one college attended by grooms.

    With status comes expectations, and or judgments. Hence, people I know refrain from “dropping the H-bomb” out there.

    1. “Princeton graduate,” I gotta admit, I like the sound of that! Hah. But you can’t dog Amherst and Cal Tech. Such hard schools to get into!

      The NYT wedding snippets are quite entertaining.

      It’s funny, but here in the SF Bay Area, I will always know when someone went to Stanford when we first meet because they will tell me within their first three sentences!

      1. That’s my point! This plug doesn’t extend to other super elite schools. Amherst and Caltech are excellent schools and same pool of talent as the Ivies and probably turned some down to attend them. I remember the first time when my editor added that into “XXX, a Princeton graduate,” my copy, I was like, why?? Of course he himself was a Princeton alum. After that I noticed it over and over again when I ready articles everywhere else in the media…always Harvard, Yale, Princeton. I hadn’t even realized because I unconsciously internalized all this until I was forced to include these things in my copy. It also goes both ways when media writes about people who have failed/ended up homeless, etc and they trot out their pedigree as some sort of betrayal of early promise/potential destiny for success.

        Regarding Stanford…funny. I guess being coy (“back in college in Palo Alto…”) doesn’t have the same ring to it like when people on the East Coast want to name drop their Ivy background without being seen as bragging.

        All in all though, most people I know who went to elite schools never talk bring them up, but other people mention it because they find it more impressive since they didn’t attend.

  14. I’m Harvard College class of 2007 and a few years ago I attended my reunion wondering, like you, what sorts of amazing careers my classmates had achieved. Truthfully, I couldn’t help but quietly compare my own achievements against theirs (which just goes to show how deeply the pressure and competition of years ago is ingrained).

    While a few stars in the class of ~1500 had reached peak entrepreneurial heights – ie exiting 9 figure companies and reaching 0.1% wealth – most were just steady high level professionals – plenty of corporate lawyers, orthopedic surgeons, and tech managers, in addition of course to the wall street guys. These are people who at that point I would guess had accumulated 3-5m net worths and were chugging along to 15-25m after 25-30 year careers. In other words, they will comfortably settle out at top 1% to 0.5%. A surprising fraction of them were married to other high achievers so the combined family assets project to be significant. For every three of these people there would be one professor or government/non-profit worker, even some folks in the arts. Their stories would be far more interesting. Overall it was actually quite a mix of professions, far less homogenous than the preceding 2 centuries of grads surely were.

      1. I am now 2 years retired from a career at a proprietary trading firm. I more or less burnt out at the end but by that point had financially achieved more than I ever imagined for myself (middle class roots). In retrospect the results were probably owed to something like 75% luck / 25% talent + effort, though I am comforted by the fact that the 25% was indeed every bit that I could give. The pandemic threw off whatever nonspecific retirement plans I had, so now hoping for an enjoyable journey ahead.

        I’ve been checking in on your blog for several years now, cheers for all the good work.

  15. Good for you for thinking about high school and college now! Our kids are now in college, but although when my kids were in elementary, I started to realize how crazy high school would be, I didn’t know how hard it would be to resist getting caught up in the crazy. I did a lot of research, and have come to the conclusion that the current college admission practice are destroying our children’s mental health. Guess what? Harvard and Stanford agree!

    BUT even though their esteemed, elite, professors have warned both Harvard and Stanford of the danger, neither is brave enough to change their applications in response.

  16. Harvard alum here. Wife is as well. Not everyone who gets into Harvard wants to change the world. The majority of people will not and cannot. They may have a positive effect on it though. Why would you fault someone for wanting to earn a lot of money? I recall many people in undergrad saying they would go into a money making endeavor so they could become rich and then impact the world when they were wealthy. They understand that money makes the world go round and if you have a lot of it, you can use it for great things.

    Personally, I just wanted to earn a good living with a relaxed lifestyle, which I have been able to achieve. My wife and I both came from poverty stricken backgrounds, so even getting to a 1% income felt like an amazing achievement. I don’t believe you need to go to an Ivy league to achieve this though. Most of my colleagues did not go to an ivy league. Most of my wife’s did, but she is in biotech.

    I think the worst part of this article is calling someone who is out there working a nobody. That is pushing the stereotype that you need we all need to be flashy and be millionaires to be somebody. If we all felt better about our role in the world, we would be happier.

    1. Thanks for pointing out the worst part of the article. I was hoping a Harvard alum would!

      May I ask you, as a Harvard alum who earns a top 1% income, are you offended by the title despite all your good fortune? Do you not feel like you could have or should do more than others who graduated from lower-ranked schools?

      As I wrote in the beginning paragraph, “When I say nobody, I’m just talking about being an average person working an average job. Not someone still living in mom’s garage playing video games all day at age 40.”

      And I continue..

      “I’m assuming if you went to Harvard or another Ivy League School, you won’t be offended by this article. The golden carpet was rolled out for you compared to a field littered with land mines for the rest of us commoners.”

      I believe I am a nobody and say I’m a nobody all the time. See: The Joy Of Being A Nobody

      What is it that you do to earn a top 1% income? You mentioned your wife is in biotech. Further, does coming from poverty-stricken backgrounds make you want to lift others who are currently in your safe boat?

      My point is to question what’s the point of working so hard to get into an elite university to just earn a good living with a relaxed lifestyle. Kids can go to lots of other schools and take it easy after. My goal is to also encourage all of us, including myself, to keep on fighting to help other people any way we can.


      1. I’ll be curious to know what V does too!

        It’s sometimes easy to forget where we came from. Once we got ours, we sometimes forget about others.

        It’s just human nature. But that results in societal unrest.

        Great you brought up this topic. It’s something I think many of us have thought of before, but are too afraid to say.

        Risking offending rich and smart people is worth the risk!

      2. I’m a physician. I help people everyday. Many of my friends went into law or medicine, not just finance. Some are public prosecutors.

        Harvard is just one school that people happen to get into. I probably would have gone into the same field, despite the college. I guess I am unsure what is it that you want Harvard grads to do, specifically?

        We only have one life to live; if we want to relax after working so hard, why is that a bad thing? After all, you yourself were all about FIRE at one point. Why does going to a prestigious college mean you should automatically be saving the world?

        1. That is a great profession! Be proud! It is one of the professions I included in my conclusion.

          I think physicians and doctors and nurses are all underpaid. For the amount of education and training that you guys do, I think you guys should get paid at least 100% more on average.

    2. The biggest supporters of Ivy League education are alumni of Ivy League education. There are doors you’ve saw open to you as a grad of Harvard that others who went to State U. didn’t see and couldn’t attest to.

  17. Success Triangles

    I recently watched a Netflix documentary on the recent college admissions scandal that put some famous people behind bars for a few months. I think it all boiled down to this:

    Most rich people want to brag to their rich friends that their kid goes to Harvard or some other prestigious school. It makes them feel better when comparing themselves to others.

    When their kids don’t have the grades to get in, they figure they’ll just write a check and buy admission. After all, money solves most problems in other areas of their lives.

    Personally, I think outside of the Ivy league – which have fabulous alumni networks – other prestigious schools aren’t worth the costs. A few years after you graduate, it doesn’t really matter anymore where you went to school – your career will be defined by how much you learn, your ability to get along well with others, and hard work.

    1. Other prestigious non-Ivy schools have fabulous alumni connections as well. Example: MIT, Stanford, caltech, uchicago, Duke

  18. Excellent post. I’ve been lurking for a while. I graduated 2 years ago from a solidly ranked public engineering college. I landed a job as a project engineer in a medium sized municipal infrastructure consulting firm that has a nice mix of backgrounds at the firm. For a while I was feeling like a dumbass for taking this job because it was only paying 55k and It didn’t feel like it would let me quickly become ‘somebody’. But what I’ve realized is that the work life balance piece is just so ridiculously important. I’m a young single man and I value the shit out of my freedom, so being able to work 45-50 hours a week instead of 60+ gives me lots of time for myself, my family, and my girlfriend. Am I a nobody? Absolutely. But do I directly contribute to cleaning up water and wastewater in my local community? Yup. And it feels good. Money will never make you feel like that, at least I don’t think.

    Thanks for the good articles and keep it up.

    I think there’s a fine line between

    1. Money comes with experience in Engineering and Water/Waste Water is a great focus allowing job security for sure. You will surely triple your salary and then some in the coming years so for now enjoy your life work balance. I would just focus on learning all that you can and work on your brand in the industry. The more involved you are in professional organization outside of your work hours, the more doors you will see open. Always separate yourself from the company, you want people to want to work with you regardless of your company logo.

  19. Mike from NH


    I recommend 4 years in the military after high school. Gain a military bearing and life skills which can’t be taught anywhere else.

    1. The whole going to College to have a career thing is getting outdated. There are so many technical routes that save time and earn more than college degrees. There are federal and state jobs that offer pensions, job stability, and early start to your career. So college is overated and outdated in my humble opinion. I know a 19 year old making 200k after taking some techincal IT course he is really good at. Should he quit his job and waste 4 years in college so he can have a degree? I know another 40 year old soon to retire because he took a union job with solid pension at 19. That being said, my kids will go to Public schools and encoraged to pick practical Majors. I am.not saving any money for their colleges. If they are smart and driven enough, they will be fine going to CUNY or SUNY here in NY.

  20. Judgement Samurai

    Chasing status or massive wealth is a race very few actually win. Many people from these backgrounds are constantly comparing themselves. We had a term for this among my peer set “compare and despair’” this article definitely feeds the anxiety.

    Better to find a job you like that pays well but also has really good hours and gives you time to be with friends and family. If you can do this, you won and time to celebrate being a nobody!

    1. Disgruntled employee

      Some of the most petty, vicious and shallow people I know went to ivy leagues because their daddies found a loophole to get them in. Without the label of going to that school, you wouldn’t have been able to pick them out from the average person in terms of intelligence. To contradict myself, there are also people I have met who come from fabulously wealthy backgrounds that went to these schools. They have shown intelligence and kindness that your average person who needs to make a living can’t afford to have. At the end of the day, the schools themselves are profiting off of a false dream that they can produce tomorrow’s leaders. Regardless of educational background, many who made it to the top have done extremely unethical things so if an Ivy League alumni decides to being a normal person making a decent living and not partake in the rat race; it is not an insult by any means and I don’t think it’s a sign of bad return on investment for the education they put themselves through.

  21. A college degree is the quintessential logical fallacy as outlined in the book “crimes against logic”. I didn’t realize college was just a way to get more authority and be more marketable. I can attest that anything I did in college, I could have easily done in high school.

    School was all the same. Read the textbook, understand the concepts, memorize a few things (and be honest with yourself that you did memorize it), and you’ll at least get a B in the class.

    Yet, I get paid more than a high schooler me who could’ve easily finished out the degree just as well. That’s the epitome of using authority to emotionally but not logically convince someone to do something. Whether I get a degree from Harvard or whether I get a degree from a good state school, the last time I checked, 2 + 2 is still 4. Can only teach that in so many different ways between colleges.

  22. I’ve met dumb MD, PhD, MBAs from Harvard. I’ve met really smart people without a single degree. The difference is that the prestige and degrees get your foot in the door to jobs, networking, and other opportunities. It doesn’t mean you are smart or competent. I have also found a strong overlap between trust funds / intergenerational wealth and Ivy League school acceptance. If you think we live in a meritocracy, I have an oceanfront property in Idaho to sell to you. There is a fire inside the self-made that I have not seen in trust funders.

    Time is important to this discussion. Here in the Bay Area, anyone could get into Berkeley in the 1970s. It is far more prestigious to get into such a school in 2021 and beyond. Unlike some of my older peers, I am cognizant of and humbled by the challenges and pressures faced by the younger generations. It’s harder to get into schools and get promoted due to the simple fact our population is growing and making everything far more competitive – not to mention the skyrocketing cost of education that is not addressed by either side’s pandering.

    1. There definitely is a high high correlation with wealth and going to Ivy League schools etc no doubt. Hence, at the margin, hiring people from public schools like Berkeley may be a more sure fire way of guaranteeing merit was the predominant factor in getting in. That hunger and tenacity is very desirable!

    2. Same! I’ve met people who I thought only had a high school diploma based on their own merits, only to find out they graduated from Stanford with a masters. I’ve also met people who graduated from Chicago University with an MBA, were extremely book smart, but could not look me in the eye to say hello in hallway (no social skills). I’ve met people who had an MBA and CPA, but also know they will never succeed due to a lack of EQ.

      My favorite story is when I was at a table of new hires for orientation and discovered we were all from the local Bay Area. Somehow we started discussing which high school we attended, and everyone had gone to either a private or a highly ranked public high school, except for me. I was from the “East Side”, aka the ghetto. I realized we all ended up at the same place even though my parents didn’t have the money to send me to a private high school or live in a rich area. Having a great education will definitely open up doors but it doesn’t define or limit who you really are and what you’re capable of achieving.

  23. I’m with you all the way on this – except I would phrase the conclusion differently. During my MBA, I saw too many of my classmates drank the cool-aid that they had to be somebody. What is the use of your life if no one ever writes a case that features You, the CEO of Corp Inc, staring pensively out of the window?

    The pressure to ‘be somebody’ will make you chase the straightforward goals: career, title, social validation, fame.

    Instead, I wish we coached each other to Do Something! – regardless of whether that something will make you impressive in someone else’s eyes.

    1. Thanks for sharing. But didn’t everybody in your graduating close do something? I only know a couple people in my network who decided to get married and quit work after 2-3 years post MBA.

      What did you end up doing?

      1. I guess I should specify that with “Do something that you’re proud of. Take actions that move the ball in a better direction than it would otherwise have gone.”

        If you’re talented, you can get a job that lots of people want, by keeping your head down and working to please others. You’ll be somebody that people look up to, and even are jealous of. But you are not necessarily using your skills and education to have an impact.

        I graduated 2 years ago and joined a growth-stage startup in a field I’m passionate about. But I don’t think I’ve met my own bar yet. :)

        1. Gotcha. I would say the first three years doesn’t really count. People are just thrilled to get a good job that pays good money. They dream about climbing the ladder.

          After about three years, you should know whether you’re doing something meaningful or not.

          Are you proud enough to say what your startup does right here? That could be the real test!

          1. That’s interesting context.

            My startup is in the fintech space, getting consumers access to better financial products with less hassle. I’d rather not be more specific because at that point it could be searchable and I’m shy.

  24. As a Harvard Law grad with three kids with multiple Ivy degrees (Harvard, BS &MD, Yale BA, UCSF Med.MD, UC Berkeley PhD, MIT Ph.D). the hardest thing after graduation is to follow your passion and turn down the temptation for so-called “security” (its not secure at all) working for a “name brand”. Barrack Obama, number 1 Harvard Law review, turned down wall street to become a community organizer in Chicago because he followed his dream. Gates and Zukerberg never finished because they followed their dreams. The Ivy’s don’t make people do great things, they take people who are going to do great things no matter what. Go to the best school reputation wise you can, get your ticket punched, and then do your own thing afterwards. The degree prevents people discounting you, but it doesn’t really make you who you are.

    1. Impressive! How much do you think genetics versus nurture/grade schooling had to do with all the kids going to these schools? Is there another factor too, like alumni, alumni donations etc?

      What are your kids doing now with their degrees?

      1. Mark Thierman

        don’t know the root cause of kids success, but stable family with emphasis on higher education didn’t hurt. mom was a U of P / Wharton Mass wiz as well. They are all doing well today, upper middle class, kids of their own, etc. Happy, for the most part, as best i can tell.

        1. Thank you for your responses, Mark. I would agree that a stable family with an emphasis on education makes all the difference.

          I dropped out of high school, but finally wound up at Emory, then Stanford and Harvard (paid for mostly through loans and scholarships). While I had a lot of catching up to do, my family’s lifelong emphasis on the value of education for its own sake made all the difference.

          Another reason for going to a competitive school: We learn a great deal from our fellow students, not just professors. When most all students around you are smart and well-trained, it ups your game for life. It certainly did mine.

          1. How long was the time. Before you dropped out of high school and then went to university? What was the reason why you dropped out and what did you end up doing during that time? Thanks

            1. I dropped out the day I turned 16 (the minimum age to leave school). I just felt like there was a big world out there to experience, but not in my town. Spent two years hitchhiking around the country, panhandling and doing odd jobs. I finally decided to finish high school, and completed two years of school in a year by going day and night.

              Then spent a year working on an assembly line making doors. That mind-numbing and dead-end job convinced me to go to college–four years after I dropped out. It was in college that I finally learned to love learning.

              Graduate school at Stanford (Latin American literature and history) then medical school at Harvard were years later. Finally finished residency at age 40, and have enjoyed years of very satisfying work with underserved communities (including working in prison–a great learning experience).

              Many of these schools offer excellent financial aid, and provide a supportive environment for obtaining a high quality education. Are they necessary or sufficient to get a good job? No, of course not. Do they serve an important function in our society for research and broad and deep academic study? I believe they do.

    2. Barack Obama did community organizing before he went to Harvard Law. After Harvard he went into teaching at U Chicago, legal practice and running to become a state senator. He also interned at BigLaw where he met his wife.

      So it’s not like he turned it all down – he had a comfortable middle class life after law school.

    3. Actually, elite schools sell those stories too.

      How many times did I hear follow your dreams while doing an MBA ? This is just the generation Y/millenial version of a shallow prestige. Before it was working for banks or management consulting.

      They won’t highlight that Mark stole an idea, Gates was a prick but from a family that were wealthy and highly involved in their community, not that Barack was soul searching for his position as a mixed person in Black America before going back to law.

      Luckily, most people will define their own success criteria over time and they will end up being decent people. Having a nation of Mark/Gates & Co would be an horrible place to live

  25. A Millioner Teacher

    Thank you for your support in education.  I have been teaching at a public school in the LA area for the last 22 years.  I love teaching, and I think it is the best profession in the world.  I have seen so many tired students who do not sleep, and study until 4AM trying to get straight A’s, and only to find out that they don’t get accepted into the elite schools.   Many public high school students don’t have any clues about the legacy kids, how they already have their foot in the door at Harvard.  Also the private elite high schools are well connected to those elite universities such as Harvard.  At our school, we have maybe 1 or 2 out of 1,700 students that get accepted into Harvard or Stanford.  

    I was never an “A”student when I was in high school.  I tell my students that  I only went up to Geometry in high school, and I had to take it 3 times because I didn’t get it.  I didn’t even take any AP classes.  After high school, I went to Jr. college and managed to transfer to UCLA, and earned my BA, and MA from a local state university.  I make almost $X00,000 a year, + 3 months summer off, and 2 weeks in winter, and 1 week in spring. My husband who went to a public engineering university in Canada makes about $X00,000 a year with 4 weeks paid vacation, but it is difficult  for him to take a chuck of vacation time, but we squeeze in a few vacations a year.  So our combined income belongs to the top 5% of the highest earner bracket in the United States.  We live in an affluent neighborhood of LA, and our neighbors are Stanford and Harvard graduates.  We don’t feel any better off or worse off compared to those people who went to Harvard.  I feel that we make just as much money as they do.  I have a  teacher’s pension, and have a great 403 portfolio.  My husband’s 401K has done well, so we can retire today if we want to.  But, I like teaching, so I will continue to work for awhile.  

    My husband’s older brother has a MBA from Harvard, but he was laid off, and started his own business for a while and failed.  He managed to find a job again, but went through divorce, and now he is a financial advisor in his hometown. His other brother skipped a MS degree in chemical engineering, and without a MS degree, he earned his PhD.  This brother’s wife won $XX0 million dollars in lottery, so he retired at age 55.  Should you go to Harvard?  No, because I am just as happy or happier than my husband’s older brother who went to Harvard MBA.  Should you win $X00 million?  No, because they are the same people, and their lives haven’t changed that much.  I took her out for lunch, and I paid for her because I wanted to, and  it made her happy since everyone expects her to pay for everything.  Should your children go to Harvard?  If your kid wants to go, and you have the money, sure.  Do I encourage my kids to go to Harvard?  No, because you can study pretty much anything at any schools, and you will be OK.  Why go to a place where all the arrogant people hang out?   I would want my kids to go to a college because it gives them an aura of confidence.  I see my students killing themselves to get into a good college, but they really don’t know why they want to go there.  The elite class in our society created a few exclusive schools, so most people think that going to Harvard can help you open the door to an elite circle, and you will be happy forever.   

    I tried to teach my high school students about personal finance because they have no idea how to pay for their school.  They can get an “A” in Calculus AP,   but they have no idea how much they will be spending in the next 4 years.  One student had a full ride to UCSD, or pays $9000 a year tuition at UCLA, I advised him to go to UCSD, and he picked UCLA.  I said, why not free education?  My husband and I didn’t have any student loans, so at age 28, we were maxing  out our 401K and 403B contributions.  When our children were born, we started their 509 plan.  Now, each child has over $X00,000 in their 529 plan, so they can pick any university of their choice.  

    The problem stems from our obsessions with being rich which leads to the ultimate happiness.  A teacher doesn’t make you happy because teachers don’t make enough money, and you will never be rich.  It is unfortunate that our society doesn’t value the teachers.   Many parents want their kid to go to Harvard to become rich and happy.  It is not about Harvard, but it is the illusion of Harvard education equals a happier life.  I don’t need my children to go to Harvard because I know they will be happy with their career choice, and they will be financially comfortable. If you think about it, why would you want to go to the same school as Jared Kushner, Ted Cruz (Princeton/Harvard), or Alan Dershowitz.  Wow, they make a great contribution to our society. The good book to read is Frank Bruni’s- “Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be: An Antidote to the College Admissions Mania”


    1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts! As a parent, I think we just went our kids to be happy. Given the odds are against them of getting into tough schools, we should explain that there are many wonderful opportunities that provide even more opportunities.

      1. A Millioner Teacher

        Sam, Thank you for taking your time to reply to my post.  Susan Adams from Forbes magazine wrote in her article;

        “The growing criticism of admissions tests is part of a larger debate about access to higher education in America. “College has become the capstone in an inequality machine that raises and perpetuates class and race hierarchies and sinks the lower classes,” writes Anthony Carnevale, director of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce in his 2020 book, The Merit Myth, which lays out the ways that America’s most selective colleges foster and perpetuate wealth disparity. Carnevale, an economist who served on commissions for Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, says the College Board deserves some of the blame.”

        Susan Adam’s article:


        Anthony Carnevale’s book- The Merit Myth: How Our Colleges Favor the Rich and Divide America


        You can advocate the change in our education system by helping the general public understand that Harvard helps perpetuate wealth disparity.  Your blog can really spark an interest that Harvard is not the best in the America, but Harvard is a tool to maintain the America’s status quo.  Please do more research on the College Board, elite universities, young people’s mental health problems. When
        they don’t get enough extrinsic rewards such as not getting into Harvard or working at Goldman Sachs, or not making a ton of money, they are nobody. Although your blog supports that even you go to Harvard, you become nobody. Please write more blogs like this one. Thank you again for your time!

        1. Dear The Service Guy,

          I’ve been a project manager for multimillion dollar projects (80M+) for the last 5 years. I started in the construction industry building resorts and transferred into the software industry managing deployment and production teams. I got my undergraduate from a private university in Dominican Republic (no name in the US) and came to the US after marrying my wife, and had a seamless transition to the US market.. I’m making way more money in the tech sector than I was in civil engineering.

          The best advice I can give you is to NEVER rely solely on the experience gained from your full-time role. It’s competitive out there, so make sure you’re positioning yourself for success. Remember, “The squeaky wheel gets the grease”.

          Here’s multiple ways you can get into Project Management or any other business orientation you’re shooting for.

          1) Obtain relevant education/credentials. There’s many credentials that could get your foot in the door.. PMI certifications (Golden standard credentials), Scrum Master, Project Management Post-grad/certificate ($2k-$4k), etc.. Remember, luck favors the prepared.

          2) Proactively develop relevant experience. You can always shadow a project manager at work or try to volunteer to do unpaid Assistant Project Management/ Project coordination work. There’s hundreds of volunteering opportunities to get into PM on weekends/part-time. If your employer doesn’t have these opportunities, you can always help various non-profits managing their projects. Aim for quality experience.

          3) Create a professional network. Once you have some credibility (see #1), it’s time to do some networking at local meetups. It’s a numbers game. You only need someone to grant you the opportunity to become a project coordinator (entry level) or assistant project manager role. With you having enough technical knowledge, who’s better suit to manage teams if not someone who has been in the trenches and that experience under his belt?

          I Hope this can be of help!

    2. 6 figures as a teacher and yet your union still doesn’t want to go back into in person learning well knowing that it is leaving a negative impact on the most vulnerable students

  26. Your assertion that if you go to an Ivy, you’d be wasting your potential to work the same job as someone who attended a state university is egregious. There are multitudes of high school students with the same qualifications who either get denied entry simply because the stack of applications is too tall or don’t apply because they don’t believe that the prestige outweighs the price tag. There are also vast swathes of the population who don’t have access to the kinds of resources that set one up for admittance to the top private schools. Most families don’t – I went to an extremely rigorous and high-pressure high school and I matriculated from not one but two state universities. And then I was recruited by one of the most prestigious organizations in my field paying twice the median household income before I even finished my second degree. My second degree was from a no-name school with an acceptance rate of over 50%, by the way. I went there because it was a mile away from my house. Don’t tell anyone that I went to *gasp* community college for the first two years of my first degree! THE SHAME!

    I agree that it’s the student and the choices that the student makes while in school and afterward that make the person, but this REEKS of elitism. Good on the kids who choose to work hard for that Ivy League acceptance – it takes enormous discipline and Herculean effort. Good on the kids who don’t go that route and end up in the same jobs as those who have the flashiest degrees.

  27. The Service Guy

    Nice work, dude! I definitely think this is one of the best articles on the topic. It’s surprisingly difficult to find good articles that even sort of brush on “Good College but Bad After-College Experience”

    My story: Graduated from Duke, decent grades (~3.4 gpa in Biomedical Engineering) , but didn’t really know what I wanted. Thought I wanted academia (so no company internships in college), but realized I’d like private sector better. Academia just seemed like a publish or perish bubble where teaching was secondary, and teaching was my favorite part. Unfortunately, I realized this senior year (2013) so I didn’t have any internships. No internship = no work experience, so I couldn’t get a good job out of college.

    All I could seem to get was a Field Service ‘Engineer’ (FSE, read: Technician) role out of school. I was making okay money and had a job, but the technical service work experience I was getting only set me up for (You guessed it!) more tech service.

    Three years of hustle (and 150k+ MILES of driving) passed. I eventually landed a product support ‘engineer’ (read: slightly more boutique service technician) role. It gave me more free time and higher pay, which is nice. On paper, I help FSEs and customers keep their ultrasound equipment running. In practice, I work for a for-profit corporation and service is a business. I got my master’s in Engineering (online, but good program), but I am still consistently shot down for any non-service role. I’d love to be a project manager or test engineer, or anything that really uses my brain but no dice… for SEVEN. YEARS.


    It’s clear that I’m a nobody.

    How can I tell? Well that’s easy:

    1.) In college, I was treated like I had so much potential and would undoubtedly be a future leader or do great things. When I was a FSE, I had no less than 5 different people ask me “If you went to Duke, how’d you end up in this job?” I even had a client directly ask me what his college-attending son could do to not end up like me (on our first meeting!). I’ll admit I stopped telling people where I went to school for this very reason. Let’s be real, no kid wants to be in service when they grow up. Nobody in service WANTS to be in service. They are just … there.
    2.) Our company is clearly run by R&D, marketing, and sales. ALL service employees are treated like second class citizens. The world around me treats me like I’m a nobody, and we all know how credible the argument “I’m not crazy, everyone else is!” is. Why else would service roles all have such obscene turnover?
    2b.) This problem in 2.) isn’t better at other companies. When there are job openings for higher roles other than customer service (e.g. project/program manager, key accounts something or other, business dev, etc.), NONE of them ask for service experience. Only sales or development (business or technical) experience.

    3.) Your article tacitly appeals that for the top percent, their options are a.) the Harvard funnel of consulting/banking/stuff that has money and prestige but doesn’t help society, or b.) the big help to society (see: inspiration blind woman in your article) but forgoing the easy wealth. I am clearly neither of these things. I could see myself being the latter, but the people offering these good-for-society roles want the former group of people, not guys like me who ‘ended up in service’ despite ‘having every advantage’ (white, male, straight, good schooling) on paper.

    Even in your case, your blog carries authority BECAUSE you were in finance for 13 years first. You get to make a difference now because you did things that people cared about and looked up to. People care what you think because of your background. In my case, no one cares about my background, so all I get to do is yet more tech service…and I don’t make enough to retire substantially early. I can’t teach, because what would I teach that people want to learn? Tech service? Please.

    I think your working definition of a ‘nobody’ needs work, in the sense that it’s perfectly possible to have nothing worth talking about. No high pay, respect, prestige, career advancement opportunities, the option of ‘doing something more rewarding’ later on one hand AND not really be doing society a favor (which again, I’d rather have than the pile of money) on the other. I should know, that’s me right now and there’s no clear way for me to change it. I’m stuck rationalizing deep and profound personal failure with gems like ‘work is just a means to live’ and ‘be happy on different terms.’ There isn’t a more fulfilling thing to do later, and the work right now is a bad joke … and it’s all I have experience in.

    In other words: I went to great school and ended up a nobody.

    [Disclaimer: Overall, I really like this article. I just think it still (on a different level) buys into the Harvard bubble and a tacit understanding of who/what a somebody or nobody is]

    1. Thanks! How did you find this article?

      maybe things will get better once you have a little bit more experience? Surely, you are not going to be stuck forever doing what you don’t want to do. Keep on applying to do new things. Eventually, something will open up.

      And congratulations for getting into Duke! I know I surely would not of been able to get in. That said, I’m proud of being a William & Mary alum!

      1. The Service Guy

        Thank you for taking the time to reply to my comment! I found this article by chance on a google search. I used the terms “went to great school but didn’t get good job” and found you near the bottom of the first page. On that note, nice work getting on the first page of a search that wasn’t specifically for you.

        [The original purpose of my search was to see if I could find anybody who started in a job like mine and moved to better things & (more importantly) HOW they did it. I can’t find anyone in my current employer that started in service and moved to another department I’m interested in. I don’t know anyone from Duke who got stuck in service. All of my alum friends more or less got the job (or at least type of job) they went for, so I’m alone on this one for now.]

        The ‘more experience’ thing is kind of a double-edged sword. On one hand, yeah a few years of experience (vs fresh grad) can convince employers that you’re generally capable of sticking to a job with understood/set hours. It implies many positive traits that college on its own doesn’t necessarily imply. The downside is that it can typecast you as your degree collects dust and your current work experience becomes the thing you’re offering the market right now. This is a bigger problem if:

        1.) Your degree (Duke) implied far more potential/talent/prestige/etc than your job (service) and
        2.) There are no better job openings that desire your work experience (i.e. you’re getting ‘bad’ work experience).

        I appreciate your optimism. It’s hard to believe it since I’m 7 years into a flatlined career, but the alternative (giving up) is much worse. I’m hoping that post-Covid and post-Election will get companies hiring again. I’m also hoping that more roles with transferrable skills (test engineer, service PM of some sort) will open up and companies will actually want my experience.

        Nothing at all wrong with William and Mary. It’s a solid school. Honestly, if I could do it all again I’d save the Duke tuition money and get in-state tuition / whoever had a full-ride scholarship. I’d probably end up with the same job so my ROI would be way better and the college fund would’ve made a great house down payment, investment account, or hell probably both haha

        1. William & Mary cost us $2,800 a year in tuition in 1995-1999. I knew that if I graduated college and only got a minimum wage job, I could still pay my parents back. I didn’t bother to apply to Duke b/c I knew I wouldn’t get any scholarships and I probably wouldn’t get in. My parents were middle class government workers. Duke back then was about $23K a year. It was just too much for us.

          Did you come from a wealthy family or get grants/scholarships? How much was Duke when you attended?


          Private Or Public School? Depends On Your Guilt, Fear, And Sense OF Awareness

          Would You Accept $1 Million To Go To Public School Instead of Private School?

        2. Your comment is awaiting moderation.

          Dear The Service Guy,

          You’ve probably already thought of this, but are you not able to contact someone from Duke’s alumni services or careers office to find jobs and opportunities specifically intended for Duke graduates?

          I would have thought that they would have a fairly long list of potential employers that are specifically seeking individuals like you who have obtained a degree from Duke. Perhaps you can use these resources to find entry level positions with more room for growth and advancement.

          I hope this helps.

          Best of luck!


          1. The Service Guy

            Thanks for weighing in!

            I had left this part out since my post/diatribe was already massive, but yes I did visit the career center senior year. They basically sat down with me and let me know what online job portals and alumni cold-emails are available to me as a Duke student (and what will be there once I’m a recent alum). I asked about things like specific people/employers I could talk to, and was given nothing. [I’m NOT alone on this one, many alums and students have a dim view of Duke’s Career Services]. I did try these cold-emails out, but never got an alum to respond (which makes sense because how would/could someone I don’t know vouch for me. also they were likely being bombarded by requests from people with better records). The jobs on the portal were unrelated to engineering and frankly just…didn’t look good. Surely, I could do better?…

            I went to the Duke student career fair in spring 2013 and the only role I got ANY traction for was a technical support role at Cisco. I didn’t go further with it because I hadn’t given up yet (remember this is pre-graduation).

            Another thing Duke did was split up the Student Career Fair and the Alumni Career Fair. The student one had all of the big name employers (Microsoft, Amazon, Cisco, Deloitte, Accenture, so on and so forth). Once I graduated, I no longer had access to this. The Alumni one had a bunch of companies I had never heard of hiring for … service, sales (not the good/promising sales roles, the bad ones). It was very obvious from the air of the place that they weren’t looking for high-potential people / didn’t see potential in you as a candidate. Completely different from the student fair’s tone. Rather, they were looking for the desperate who needed a job. They needed to fill a seat for a little while during a recession/’recovery.’ Call it a gut feeling, but I did not feel that these guys were good employers.

            I ended up in service anyway…, but the employer is at least a major medical device manufacturer with a positive corporate mission. I thought I could pivot within the company, but service experience means I’m never the best candidate for a non-service role. It’s always gonna be better to hire the intern with 3 months of test experience because that’s 3 more months of test experience than I have and they’re younger (more optimized, basically). I eventually kinda did pivot. I’m now a service project manager but for a Duke alum at 30 this is pretty bad.

    2. someone from somewhere

      make a deal with an employer:
      if the salary he’s offering for a position is 90k per year, tell the employer that you will work for 60k per year! a financial tradeoff for experience.
      tell him that you will even work extra hours for free as long as he gives a written recommendation so that the next employer will be more than glad to hire you.

      1. The Service Guy

        “Make a deal” implies the employer was willing to talk/negotiate directly in the first place. If you aren’t what the req calls for (ie you’re Service and 30 and your resume clearly shows you blew it in college because you went from Duke to service somehow) and there are plenty of people who are what the req wants (22ish new grad with 3 months of test eng experience via internship and no clear mistakes …market is absolutely SATURATED with engineering grads), you won’t even get past the ATS system much less any initial physical review of the resume.

        Even internally, the only conversation I got from my employer was the recruiter giving me an unequivocal ‘NO.’ Salary hadn’t been discussed, and I was already lower salary than the roles (so they could have just kept my salary as-is, effectively doing what you describe). I eventually got promoted to a service PM recently, which is better but I’m so far behind where a Duke alum should be…

        I’m hoping finally having a decent title (PM) will give me access to roles where good pay and treatment are on the table. Catching up with my fellow alums is unlikely but I can at least do better than I was.

    3. Hey! If you don’t mind me asking, why didn’t you apply for some interships or whatever you missed out bc you only found out abt your passion in your senior yr in college, after college? I would think that even after graduating college you would still be able to score a good intership role given your alma mater and other credentials (from your comment the only thing that seemed to be stopping you was a time discrepency?), even though its not exactly a job ppl expect to have after graduating, if you’re in it for the experience of the role, why did you opt for a job you didn’t really like instead? Really curious. Thanks!

      1. The Service Guy

        Great question, and I have a few thoughts/responses to it:

        1.) It was less that I ‘found my passion’ and more that I had a broad idea of what I wanted to do. I was aware academia wasn’t for me but I didn’t have that one role that I would give anything to do (which may have been part of the problem). To this day, I still don’t really have any one thing that’s best described as my passion or something that I’m REALLY good at. I like a lot of things (and am decent at a lot of things), but being a generalist in today’s economy is a death sentence.

        2.) Many (I’d argue most) internships do explicitly require that you are still in school. If you aren’t, you get auto-selected out by ATS when you apply.

        3.) Those internships that don’t explicitly require you to still be in school still de facto prefer active students. I was in the back of the line behind the rising seniors during a post-recession recovery, hence the lack of traction.

        I applied for jobs that looked good from mid senior year of college to almost a year after graduation, using various methods. I got a couple interviews, but no offer. Student loan payments were becoming due, and at some point you just have to get a job because if you don’t it’s an employment gap (which is also a huge disadvantage vs other job seekers). Also, I have to pay bills and generally…live at some point.

        4.) The alma mater is nice, but most employers really want experience. I was competing against applicants with internships. Alma mater and no exp vs alma mater with exp is an uphill fight…and I wasn’t able to get uphill.

        5.) College is just one of those things you have to get right AT THE TIME or else its a snowball effect into your future.

    4. Flavius Aetius

      Man, your story really hit me. Details aside, mine is eerily similar. I can’t even count the number of times I’ve heard, “You went to XXXXXX??”, meaning “What are you doing here?” And you’re spot on about getting everything right in college (the internships above all) or else derailing the rest of your career. I even tried kicking the can down the road with more school, but recruiters aren’t stupid – they can smell a failure to launch and don’t take a chance on it.

      I’m about the same age as you. We would have been right in the path of the great recession tsunami. Don’t know about you, but I can empathize a lot more with what normal people of our generation go through in life, because educational prestige hasn’t succeeded in insulating me from it the way people think it’s meant to.

      As to what to do about rationalising personal failure, you already know it’s not susceptible to sugar-coating. You mentioned having more free time since your promotion. Try and use that to do things that you find worthwhile (easier said than done, I admit). In this context, worthwhile just means something like this: “Here’s what I can realistically be/achieve (professionally, intellectually, personally, etc) by the time I’m 50; this is what I need to do now to get there.” At the end of the day, when you come from a good school, being a nobody is a pretty lonely place to be, so it helps to remind yourself that there are others out there in the same boat.

  28. Your examples of these Harvard and other top school grads are still very impressive, even the ones that you thought were “nobodys.” That’s your social circle? They’re mostly startup or other company founders! I knew you went to William & Mary, but I guess I didn’t remember you got an MBA from UC Berkeley. That would explain your social circle more.

    I went to a very underrated Public Ivy – prestigious among people who know universities, but generally thought of as much less than it is.

    There’s a lot of reasons why people succeed or don’t succeed on varying levels. What people generally don’t realize is all that holds some people back due to undeserved stigmas and stereotypes.

    One guy with a PhD in an impressive science has always been very unemployed in low-level research or tech/analyst roles, far below what people with his fields of study should be getting. And he often went through difficult periods of unemployment because employers refused to hire him after they saw him in person at the interview. He’d go to interview after interview without getting hired because employers looked down on him due to his awkwardness that he could’t control, no matter what. And he didn’t have a network because he came off odd and awkward, and seemed to have a disability. He’s extremely kind, gentle, well-read, and smart, but people just refuse to interact with him, hire him, or promote him due to his outward awkwardness.

    So in all your posts, you’re forgetting (or not knowing) about severe societal stigmas against hard-working, smart, and talented people who don’t deserve to be on the bottom rungs of society.

      1. In my previous comment, I described some of them in the PhD guy example in my 2nd to last paragraph. Employers and all people are extremely stigmatizing towards people who come off odd or awkward due to shyness, social anxiety, Aspergers, or other disabilities. And it’s even much worse if the person is Asian or maybe other POC – multiple stigmas. It continues to be an extremely unjust society, even in SF.

        Some of us are very underemployed, and our employment history doesn’t reflect our talents, skills, knowledge, character, and education. It’s people’s stigmas against us that hold us back, so we don’t have a network and people refuse to hire us for jobs we deserve.

        I knew of an awkward, shy Asian American who went to an Ivy but struggled getting any job at all because employers and others looked down on him for coming off weird and awkward. And he was a totally decent, smart, hard-working person who deserved as much as the rest.

          1. Life varies for different Asian Americans, depending on the individual. Awkward, shy Asians are penalized much more than awkward, shy people of other ethnicities because that fits into the stereotype of Asians, and no one likes stereotypical Asians.

            If you go online to Asian sites on Reddit, Quora, or Plan A mag, you’ll see the everyday and complex stigmas, stereotyping, hostility, and injustice many Asian Americans suffer from.

            Maybe your life is very good because you come off very confident, decent, and respectable, so people treat you well, and you’re able to get the jobs and life you deserve. But Asians who come off more shy or awkward are treated much worse and stigmatized much more than non-Asians who come off even worse.

            Yes, Asians have the highest income, but that’s misleading – Asians are most likely to live in multi-generational and larger households, so that’s household income with often multiple earners. Asians probably don’t make that much per capita. And any Asian still needs to try much harder than a white or other person, all else being equal. Asians getting into any school are of much better quality than other ethnicities because they’re much more stringent in letting Asians in, whether officially through affirmative action, or just through subconscious biases.

            Asians are actually the poorest in many areas of the US, with the highest income equality. Just Google. Even in SF, if a study were done, it would show a significant percentage of poor Asians, and Asians would definitely have the highest income inequality of all ethnicities in SF.

            1. Got it. Are you Asian? If not, did you major in Asian studies or work in a capacity that studies Asians in American society? If not, what exactly do you do and where are you on your financial journey? I’m trying to understand more about where you are coming from.

              I didn’t realize there is so much generalization about Asians. But I’m glad you recognize that life varies. I’d be careful stereotyping Asian people after knowing one awkward Asian guy who went to an Ivy League school.

              Let me more about yourself.


              1. Yes, of course I’m Asian American. I thought anyone could read that based on what I’ve said in my last few comments.

                I’m an observer of life. Through all my experiences as well as what I’ve heard/read from others, including from studies – I’ve come to a lot of realizations. And yes, I’ve read/watched many Asian American/Asian Studies stuff in my life. But most of this stuff are my own insights that are correct – just from my own experiences, observations, and the experiences of others. I’d consider myself pretty academic, so just because people don’t read or hear about everything I say doesn’t make it fake or invalid.

                I haven’t had the good jobs that you’ve mentioned in various posts based on your circle and the people you know. I’ve been underemployed in various positions that I don’t wish to state. But I grew up in an education-oriented household, so my siblings and cousins are more along the lines of your social circle. I’ve been penalized unfairly in life due to being shy and awkward (social anxiety), so I never got anywhere near what I deserved.

                I relate to a lot of what you write in your posts that people of other ethnicities would not say or think quite in the same way. There seems to be a lot of nuances and insights in your posts that I’ll never read in other financial blogs or other content in general. But we do still have great variation in our worldview due to our experiences, the lives we’ve lived, our own family’s values, and the fact you grew up as higher-class TCK in Asia, while I was born and raised in the US.

                1. Gotcha. Thanks for clarifying.

                  I also have never heard of TCK and had to look it up. Seems like there is some negative connotations wrt identities?

                  I identify as American and appreciate Taiwanese, Japanese, and Chinese culture.

                  Sorry things have been hard for you. Is there anything you think your parents could have done differently to help you with social anxiety?

  29. Lou Cole Burn

    My son went to Harvard. He dropped out without graduating. Perhaps he disillusioned out. He survived.
    High school was more like college with 14 AP classes, and all the pressure trimmings. I’m a public school teacher—I didn’t take AP classes in high school; I worked part time at Sears. I learned a lot about people.
    So my son is 25; what is he doing? Well, he skied a lot last winter. He worked briefly in real estate & landscaping. He worked at a grocery store part time.
    Thoreau, a Harvard graduate, is one of his role models. Thoreau, as you may remember, was a bit of a handyman for Emerson who wrote some essays his buddies helped get published.
    Don’t make more out of glitter than it deserves. Don’t make more out of gold than it deserves. Shine is not all sunshine & life can be very short as the high suicide rates at many of those top schools will testify to. Pray your sons and daughters grow up happy, ethical and grounded in solid values—kind and thoughtful—real people—caring people. The rest of it are just shallow trimmings.

  30. Forkidsfuture

    I know someone who was a Harvard graduate. He works as a Learning Specialist at a Middle School, running Advisory classes. His class is useless — he basically wastes a ton of kids’ time, year after year; and if kids don’t pay attention, he demands respect by marking Kids down for his class. Nasty! How pathetic!! This guy is very narrow-minded and stupid. What a disgrace to Harvard’s name!! The Principal really likes him though because he gets a Harvard guy to work under him! Both are disgusting and pathetic — I say that because they try their hardest to damage good kids and great minds just so they can abuse their little power!

    1. I know the type. They bully students to comply with their stupid and arbitrary rules and their likings, and they demand respect while showing no respect to students, and to their rights. I can understand why this type of “advisor” is dangerous because they are very damaging to children and society. This could be a very serious problem, and it is indeed a shame.

  31. Mark Fuckerburg Zucks

    I glad I’m in the medical field where we give 2 shits where you went to school. Your skill set will reveal itself as well as create your reputation. Each new hospital is another opportunity to grow and create yourself.

    1. oh summer child…

      ‘we give 2 shits where you went to school’. It isn’t because your field lacks elitism, it is because your field does not respect your labor and hard work- or anyone else’s.

      1. Mark Fuckerburg Zucks

        I don’t think you understand what that means…winter child?
        I could go into a lot of comparative differences because it really is green apples to red oranges. For example, I’m not a doctor but make more money than many doctors by a big margin. I am rewarded this because of my skill set and work ethic. It has almost nothing to do with where I went to school. Although, I went to an excellent school that set me up with this work set of skills and work ethic that was honed to a student that had the prerequisites to benefit but my employer didn’t know that by school name or reputation. The doctors I work with also respect me as do patients. I arm rewarded trifecta.

        1. What do you do? What did you study? I live in a small time where most kids go to Community College or to a factory. I’m always interested in hearing about other careers besides doctor, lawyer, teacher, nurse to share with these very sheltered kids. I’m trying to get more to look at trades.
          The better students go to the local commuter school. I find full ride scholarships for any if they have 3.5 and a 30+ ACT score. I’ve only had three in 8 years apply to a school with a full ride because they don’t believe it’s real.

          One kid is accepted to Harvard for free due to being poor. He’s the son of an evangelical preacher. They are very conservative. I’m worried this kid won’t fit in with kids who have everything, including excellent private educations. And Harvard is no hot bed of conservatism. The other choice is a full ride at an out of state decent flagship with a record of getting kids into med schools which is what he wants at this point. The whole town is pushing Harvard because, you know, it’s Harvard. Money, worldview, education are all so different.

  32. It’s a great article, however I disagree when you describe yourself as a nobody, but then mention you held a banking job for 13 years. You weren’t a nobody, you had a JOB. Some of us (like myself) went to Ivy League institutions, but don’t have jobs. Granted, I’m only a year out of college, but still you shouldn’t look down upon yourself when some people do have it worse.

    1. John, what do you want to do for a living and what has this past year taught you?

      Yes, I had a job, but I still think I was and am a nobody. No biggie. 13 years in the business only to burn out is not impressive. Many people work for decades.

      But I’m trying to be a somebody by helping other people with their finances and their lives with this site.

      1. Thank You, Sam!
        You helped me to understand that I am not poor immigrant anymore.
        I found your blog because of my research on our financial standing. Yes, top 10%.
        By income and savings(by age also, if include PENSION in to account) .

        22 years ago we came to US with two suitcases per person( 6 total, one of them was with different books and my son was holding a globe for a 4th grade) and 2 month rent money. We suspected, that educated people earn more money then blue collar worker in US, compare to USSR, were any blue collar worker can say to the doctor “u r nothing”, because of wage disparity.
        We did not go to any college in US.
        Over 15 years we work for the state in IT.

        We payed for our son’s in-state public education(UVA) with no savings in 529 “Pay as you go”out of pocket. He took a loan for a law school. He is 4 generation went to college from both side.

        We knew words Harvard and Princeton, but not Ivy League or William and Mary.
        Our educated opinion- Harvard is overrated. Bragging point for the parents.(especially immigrants) Consider Harvard as a breeding ground for the blue-blooded girls and white-boned boys.

  33. too high standards?

    Sam, interesting post and definitely thought-provoking. Whether we like to admit it or not, we are all guilty of this type of social comparison. Two thoughts:

    I sensed a strong expectation for immediate career success. In my mind, a career is a marathon. I am impressed by those who achieve success fast, but they aren’t the norm, even for folks from this high-performance pool. Most people (even from solid backgrounds) have some false starts and horizontal movements before they find that trajectory

    It’s all the data you had, but Linkedin profiles can be deceiving. My b-school has informal polls with comp benchmarks. From a comp standpoint, I know that I out-perform my friends in finance or consulting, but you wouldn’t know it if you decided to profile me.

  34. Great 2018 update. I’m sure you were as bummed as I was when the Senate Judiciary Committee didn’t care to question the anonymous now-justice’s household Debt to Washington Nationals tickets ratio (D/WNTicks). Not that it would play as anything other than immaculately and paradigmatically American. Right up there with “I got into to Yale” as a character defense.

    Side note- I’m now on my 19th year of government and scholarship-funded school. Earning a terminal degree without having spent a dime of my own or my parent’s money on education (except, for I think, a single laptop that lasted me nine of those years) will be extra-satisfying, even if I’ll probably never get to tout my love of beer to the Senate.

  35. Montessori Parent


    Thank you for all your posts, first of all. I enjoy reading them. It’s always food for thought.
    Regarding this topic, I saw many comments containing the phrase “it doesn’t matter where you go to school.” Well, there is a book called “Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be” by Frank Bruni that I would highly recommend. As far as my humble opinions are concerned, I think prestige does matter to an extent for graduate schools, but undergraduate education is more about finding a good fit for the student and the family (academically, financially, culturally, etc). For some, Ivy League/consensus elite schools work just fine, but they are neither the be-all-end-all nor paths to some guaranteed success in life.

  36. I’m 64 years old and retired. I graduated from an elite, private university (little Ivy) with a degree in general engineering. I didn’t do well there academically, but I got heavily involved in the college radio station and spent my entire career on the technical side of the television broadcast industry. I spent about half my working years as a technician/drone in union-represented positions. Due to a high savings rate, I am now comfortably retired. I left full-time work at age 60 and worked a few years part-time before calling it quits completely about eight months ago. When I see the alumni magazine from my college it makes me wonder if I didn’t spend my entire career under-employed.

  37. I read something about a guy who went to an Ivy League school and had friends who did also that were very unhappy in their finance, law and other prestigious professions. He got out and started doing work that helped others. He said he is happier and more fulfilled while his friends are miserable. He said do not chase money but focus on being useful and helping others. I agree with him. The reason I started a finance blog was to help others. There are no guarantees in life. Even if you get an excellent education. But doing the right thing and helping others is its own reward. Putting the smile on a child’s face: priceless.

  38. Fascinating post. I graduated from UVA a couple years ago and have since been working at Treasury. I would have to agree with the old saying “its not where you go, its what you do when you are there that matters.” My high school is one of those boys prep schools in the DC area. One of my best friends was our valedictorian and he went to Princeton. College didn’t go so well for him because while he was naturally/book smart, he was not ready for the independence and necessary discipline of college. He coasted through high school but hit the wall in college. He struggled through and graduated late. He managed to get a typical web development job at a company in DC.

    The Ivy League is no guarantee.

  39. It’s definitely disappointing on a human scale that so many of the supposed brightest go into the finance field. There are so many human problems that deserve smart, innovative attention. I went to one of those small liberal arts colleges you mentioned. I now own a business that is for the public good. I don’t have the weight of expectations on me that an Ivy League may have offered. I want to do good and I do.

  40. Hi Sam,

    As always, great writing. Been a reader for years now. I am one of those elite college graduates you mentioned, having gone to Duke. My first few jobs out of college were marketing internships, before I ultimately landed a full-time job at a fin tech startup (which failed) and then spent the next 2.5 years at a family office.

    The finance track is hard to move out of for elite graduates. I’ve definitely felt the pressure to accomplish a lot in my career because of where I went to school. And I still do, but I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing. It is a privilege and it opens up a lot of doors for me.

    That being said, I want to use that privilege to help people.

    Last year I quit working for someone else and started working for myself (not the best financial decision, but my happiness is paramount), and am freelance consulting (finance, sales & marketing) while I also build a career as a musician and writer. A big goal of mine is to create a holding company that allows me to focus on my own interests and make change in the world.

    I am learning that finance can be an effective tool for social change. One of the more interesting projects financial modeling projects I’ve worked on recently involved a juicing enterprise in Africa that proposed providing benefits to smallholder farmers. I hope to do more projects like this, as well as to inspire through my music and my writing.

    This was a post I needed to read. Cheers!

    1. Congratulations for taking a risk and pursuing something more than just money and prestige! If it doesn’t work out, you can always fall back on the money. But at least you’ll know you will never wonder what if.

  41. Interesting perspective. I thought this was going to go in a different direction. One more focused on (1) the hedonic treadmill these universities place you on, and (2) why you should have to do anything with your degree (why not just be lazy?).

    I went to one of the military academies for undergrad, and a top 3 MBA for grad school.

    #1. From my perspective, each time you place yourself in a cohort (e.g. an undergrad class), you are by default placed onto that group’s hedonic treadmill. Some treadmills are better than others. The military guys spend time being ‘manly’, discussing leadership, focusing on physical prowess, and being interested in being a bad ass. The MBA class placed me squarely into a group of people pretty obsessed with power and money (oversimplification for brevity.).

    Now you can step off these treadmills, but it’s HARD. It’s a much better idea to do your research, and either avoid treadmills you don’t want to be on or have a plan to get back off of them.

    #2. Why can’t you just do whatever you want? This post kind of implies that “with great power comes great responsibility” to do something meaningful. Maybe. But this position is part of the hedonic treadmill. Because I chose to strive, and get into this select cohort, I now have pressure to either be wildly successful (in something) and/or ensure that I continue to work as hard as possible to make a meaningful impact.

    What you lose is the ability to choose all options. What if you no longer want to be a ‘striver’? What if you want to do something that doesn’t have a large impact or make a lot of money? Is it inherently wrong or “disappointing”, or should less type-A decisions be an option, even if you’ve been through Harvard?

      1. My timeline:

        – seven years military
        – two year b-school (trying to get IM/HF, which didn’t happen. Interned in ER at BB bank)
        – After a long search, pivot to RE – 1.5 yrs in commercial RE at a REIT
        – ~6 months in an ER firm.
        – Finally accepted finance was not a personal fit, and asset management is a shrinking industry.
        – Vendor Mgmt /Biz dev at a top tech firm.
        – Now product management at same firm.

        Enough false starts post-MBA to warrant a lot of reflection. And plenty of lessons learned. No idea on long-term trajectory. I’m trying to rebuild my self confidence by holding down a job for a few years.

        Leaving NYC helped (a little) with the hedonic pressure, but it’s there. Especially when I’m around MBA types.

        Living in lower cost areas makes it easier to not jump to jobs your hate so you can make rent (Equity research is the worst.).

  42. Enjoyed the article – I went the Ivy League way (Exeter, Penn, Wharton Grad) but no way could I get in today – You don’t mention the herd effect, where the people at great schools head into businesses that have worked for the last five or ten years – but where the future prospects are diminished. I spent the last 19 years as a Private Equity investor. The returns on a go forward basis are at best high single digits if everything goes right, which inevitability they don’t. On the other hand, I’m an active investor right now in public equities because I really enjoy it. If one does for the money, it is a miserable existence. I also know plenty of Ivy League graduates who got great places on the starting track but didn’t finish because they were check the box types or arrogant or both

    1. I’ve never read the book or the article, but it’s pretty funny that we’ve come up to the same conclusions and have even use the same institutions Eh Google and Goldman Sachs.

      I think my article is better because I provide 12 real life profiles with some thoughts and analysis, as well as overall data. But then again, his book is probably better because it’s a book!

      It’s true, if you go to an elite institution, you’re always going to compare yourself to your peers. And there’s a high chance that some of your peers are just gonna really crush it out of the ballpark, making you feel miserable in comparison.

      1. Paper Tiger

        I agree with you. I loved your real world examples. I’d also make another point that once you get to college you need to really think about your activities outside of the classroom. I went to a school that is listed among the Top 25 Public Universities but I was a C+ student, not because I was an average student but because I spent a lot of time outside of the classroom involved in a multitude of clubs and student government, including VP of the Student Body my senior year. When asked by recruiters about my grades, I pointed to my extracurricular accomplishments and discussed all of the activities and lessons learned outside of the classroom and how those better prepared me for the real world than an accounting or econ class ever could. According to our placement office, I was offered one of the best starting salaries of all business majors my senior year and even better than several of the other higher profile colleges like engineering and architecture.

        Just to also prove my point about my academic capabilities, 25 years later I went back for my MBA at a decent school in Chicago and finished at the top of my class, just to prove I did have it in me when I was so inclined to make academics a priority ;)

  43. I am not in the same league as any of you, Ivy or not. But it is quite an interesting post as are the comments. I would love to sit down and talk a while with many of the commenters here–fascinating stories and views. It is worth noting the plethora of perspectives from which people view this post.
    Sam, some people’s goal really is to make money, hang the “helping people” idea. I agree with you, that the most fulfilling work is directly helping people. But many certainly do not see it that way. (Btw, it’s easy for people to say “It’s not all about money” if they don’t have to be concerned with how they will manage to pay the electric bill this month.)
    Some comments here reflect an angst about education and/or careers that have been chosen. I am a great one for getting lost because all I usually see are individual trees around me rather than the forest as a whole, but it’s helpful to step back and look at the big picture.

    What are your goals? How will you reach them? More important, are the goals worthy goals?
    So if one’s goal is to attend Harvard, why? Is that a worthy goal? What is the goal beyond that makes Harvard essential? Or if it isn’t essential, should one follow a different path to that “beyond goal”?
    My “achievements” will never even be on the same chart as most of the commenters (zero fame, zero community acclaim, and negative income), but my job has been vital–at least to the ten children I have birthed and home educated. As that job winds down (3 years to go after 30+ years behind me), what shall I do for a second career?
    One further comment. I’m puzzled by the comments about schools not mattering much *other* than the alumni network or *once* you get into the job market. The comments greatly minimized the significance of those two factors, whereas others gave the proper credence to their importance. Of course, your employer cares how you do your job and not where you went to school. But how did you get the job? How did you get the interview in the first place? How did connections help you along the way? You cannot say those do not matter.

    1. Did you say you birthed 10 children? If so, that is amazing! Was it an intentional call? I’m struggling with raising just one, seriously. What is your partner do for a living?

      How is the cost of raising 10 children?

      1. Though a college grad (we met in college), my husband worked in manufacturing for 20 years, moving into management the last 2. When the company was sold, he was “laid off” with several others; the next year the new company closed the plant. He’s worked at libraries, for a cable company (tier 3 customer rep), another factory job at manufacturing plant…”Retired” now, working part-time. You can see why I say we’re not in the same league as other readers. (The cashed-in paltry retirement account kept us afloat during the 2-year post-layoff unemployment.)
        Cost of raising 10 children? God always has provided our needs. We can’t provide in the way some of the readers have been provided for or provide for their children, but we’ve never gone hungry because we have no food. We have owned our home for 15 years (no mortgage) and I cannot recall the last time we had a car payment.

        1. I was drawn to comment, maybe as a fellow mom who stayed home with kids (but not nearly as many.) Ten kids is AMAZING. And with the pandemic I bet a lot more parents have a lot more respect for your job. And if you’ve got a house PAID for with no car payments? I bet you are doing better than LOT of college grads. That shows amazing, and practical, money management.

  44. Hi Sam

    My favorite post thus far! Thank you.

    A wise man once said “For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?”

    Unselfish service to others is the greatest freedom.

  45. Good article. My profile:
    – European
    – London school of economics, HEC Paris, MBA Insead
    – Goldman, Macquarie, Boaml, UBS
    — burn out, autoimmune disease
    Currently running my own small asset mgmt firm

    So a complete fail / nobody as I did not monetise opps. Luckily I have a safety net and drive. Am not done yet.

    You describe a linear track, but life seldom works like that. Elite schools taught me that I am competitive. The rest is discipline, risk mgmt and some luck.

    Those qualities are not necessarily a result of an elite school education.

  46. Nice, though provoking post. I noticed that your profiles are heavily biased to business. I’m willing to bet that there are many Harvard grads who go to either medical school or law school. There’s also probably another good portion who are in the sciences. My perspective is that Harvard undergrad may help you if you are average at Harvard, but then want to apply to graduate school. The Harvard name may compensate for an average GPA. However, I really think graduate school is more important than undergrad. Do well at any undergrad and get into the best graduate school you can.

  47. Your post is referring to Harvard University as a whole, but I am (perhaps one of the few) who thinks it should be mentioned that George W. Bush went to Yale and Michelle Obama went to Princeton. I would have to look at the list again for the other names. Typically, if you ask someone where they went to college, they will of course state their undergrad. If they went on to obtain advanced degrees, they will name the other schools.

    This is a technicality but I wanted to mention. In every instance I have seen, people will say, “I went to Michigan State and then HLS” or “UPenn and then HBS.”

    I live in Boston and typically “Harvard” refers to Harvard College. Michelle Obama went to Harvard Law School, which is the same university but technically a different school than Harvard (College). Anyways, perhaps unimportant to some, but when people read this and if they do not know any better, they may not be aware that the two aforementioned went to Yale and Princeton for undergrad. Easy enough to learn with a quick Google/background check, but worth mentioning.

    I went to a very expensive, private university here in the states that currently has about 12K students (combined grad and undergrad). My professors knew my name and actually expressed concern if I missed two classes in a row. I loved it and my parents paid. I am not here to judge anyone’s decisions because I do not know their individual backgrounds or what they may have been going through, but if one has the opportunity, I would say to go to the best school you can, so long as it is what you want and not what everyone else except you wants.

    Money is not the be all end all. Yes, people can learn things online for free – and learning will also come with life experience, travel, etc. – but my school, for instance, strongly emphasized the critical thinking and analytical reasoning skills that were absent in high school. My degree is in philosophy and my professors were not just brilliant, but so wise,l. I still have my books and the memories. Don’t want to ramble, but nice article. I would like to do more to help people and love to tutor and make a positive difference when possible. Thanks Sam.

    1. I can add in parentheses all the institutions each of the Harvard related famous alumni have attended if you would like? I thought I made it clear that I’m referring to Harvard as a whole, and Harvard like universities with the various examples I’ve included in this post.

      But yes, a couple people have brought it up to me that they have a default assumption that when someone is talking about university, they are talking about undergraduate. I guess because I have a masters degree, I treat graduate degrees in a similar regard because they are hard, if not harder to get into then undergraduate programs.

    2. I read your comments and wanted your opinion since you’re from the Boston area you mentioned. My 18 year is going to attend Boston Univ. soon- got in to their study abroad program 2nd semester of their freshman year- they are sending her to London to study, only 300 freshmen were chosen to do this program. Is BU worth the high dollars? We are an upper middle class family that has saved for college since our kids were babies because we wanted a great education for them. But all this talk about Harvard…I wonder if I’m spending too much money on a 2nd tier education?? Thoughts?

      1. david krivan

        BU is NOT a second tier education. Sure, its not an Ivy, but you are splitting hairs here. its a great school right in the middle of a dynamic city. And the kid wants to go there. That matters.

  48. I’m not smart enough for an elite school, because on the intelligence scale I’m fairly average. I can see the stress and pressure one would feel going to an elite school Harvard though. In the Korean community, “Harvard” is a big deal. Koreans don’t know any of the other schools. Maybe UCLA, for some reason, and Harvard. None of the other Ivy League schools though. It’s a badge pretty much. Personally, I feel fortunate to not being caught up in that vortex. I don’t think I have the mental and emotional aptitude, lol.

    1. Tim you need to give yourself more credit just like Sam. I think you’re doing pretty darn well being VP of your company.

      I’m around average intelligence too (for an Asian :p) but my biggest weakness is just a case of lazy and fear. My husband is super smart but lacks emotional intelligence. I know life is a lot more than Harvard or Princeton. Although this post makes me day dream the day I could send my child off to Philips Academy in Andover too…man…the history and alum at that school is ridiculous.

      Bill Gates middle and high school is about 5 blocks from our house. It’s for gifted children and I work for the woman who sends her son there…it’s just impressive I get so green eyed. I wish I could be half as capable as her but I’m just a housewife. I would like to be a fly on that wall to see what they’re learning after growing up in lackluster San Francisco’s public school system :)

  49. Here’s a great article that was just published on 7/20 in The Atlantic after this post was published about cultural dynamics, prestige, and whether you want to be in a small pond (lower tier school) but be a big fish (top performer), or be in a big pond (Harvard type school) and be a mediocre to low performer. It seems as if my article addresses all these issues. Coincidence? Or being finely in tune with the thousands of people I’ve spoken to, or who have written in? You decide!

    “But being in a big pond (top tier school)can be a double-edged sword. Wu’s mission is to better understand the cultural distinctions that help explain these decision-making patterns—insight that is particularly relevant in the age of globalization and might help the growing numbers of Asian students in the U.S. better navigate the country’s higher-education system. In the last decade, the international-student population in the U.S. has grown by 85 percent, with the majority hailing from Asia.

    In vying for big ponds, many become strained by the pressure to succeed, overexerting themselves to the point that they get swallowed by mental illness or resort to cheating. Meanwhile, the percent of senior Fortune 100 executives with Ivy League degrees has declined since 1980, while the percent with public-university degrees has increased. And a Gallup poll from 2014 of nearly 30,000 college graduates found that attending a prestigious college has no bearing on an individual’s happiness in life and work.

    “At the end of the day,” Wu asked, “is it worth choosing the big pond in a cultural context where big frogs in small ponds can also succeed?””

  50. The most important is for the individual to make an impact in a field that he is interested on, regardless of social pressures and demands.

    Unfornutately, our educational system is set up in a way that pushes students to make life changing decisions early on. Very often, they have to make those decisions at an age where they do not have enough life experiences and maturity to know who they are, what really drives them.

    After succumbing to social pressures, you end up in a corporate job, keep chasing the promotions and the money, but you are left empty inside. Again, while this is not true for everyone, it has been my personal experience.

    1. Very true. I agree wholeheartedly and I’ll add this to the post. I don’t want people reading this getting too bent out of shape because at the end of the day were all somebody.

      1. BRIAN: Look. You’ve got it all wrong. You don’t need to follow me. You don’t need to follow anybody! You’ve got to think for yourselves. You’re all individuals!

        FOLLOWERS: Yes, we’re all individuals!

        BRIAN: You’re all different!

        FOLLOWERS: Yes, we are all different!

        DENNIS: I’m not.

        ARTHUR: Shhhh.

        FOLLOWERS: Shh. Shhhh. Shhh

  51. I think going to an Ivy can put too much pressure on you to aim toward a very limited definition of success. An interesting book on this is Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life. It’s about how if you graduate from an elite college, it’s really (as many of the comments say) gearing you up to a lucrative though not necessarily meaningful job.

    I went to an elite magnet high school and then a big state school. I will say I’m incredibly proud to be associated with the kids who went to my high school who were brilliant, kind, curious and passionate about whatever they did whether it was prestigious or not. It was a very formative experience. If going to an Ivy is like that, then I would absolutely support my future kids going.

    1. Excellent Sheep is an excellent book! It really helped when I was struggling to guide my kids through not over-extending themselves in high school. More should read it.

  52. Heya Sam. Good article. I’m not sure where I fall on this because a lot, in my mind, depends on someone’s personal drive for self-actualization. Sorry to use pretentious Ivy-esque vocabulary.

    I grew up working on a farm. I got straight A’s and was valedictorian of my high school class of 300 kids. My parents supported college, but I got ZERO guidance on where to go or what to study. It’s a Midwestern thing for parents to shrug, “Well, none of my business what you do, just do your best.” So I decided to go study theology in a tiny college instead of shooting for the Ivy League or an international scholar program.

    My college and grad school educations were dirt cheap. I ended up taking 4 classes at Harvard during grad school without paying Harvard’s prices, through a Boston-area grad school consortium. I LOVED it. Mostly, I wanted to prove to myself that I could make the grade there. But I also loved the guest speakers and all the interesting extras that go with being on an Ivy League campus.

    So I’m torn on this. I ended up with a career I love and I work alongside plenty of Ivy Leaguers, making the same salary without the school debt. My route was unconventional, and I clearly didn’t need the Ivy League. That said, in terms of self-actualization, I know I didn’t challenge myself in college or grad school nearly enough.

    When I was a kid, I didn’t dream about going to an Ivy League school. I felt it was out of reach. I do wish someone would’ve planted the seed, because to me there’s an aspirational aspect to it, especially for those of us that didn’t grow up on the coasts.

    My last point would be this concept of being a “nobody”. You’re putting it in terms of career outcome, as in what did these people accomplish considering where they went to school. They should be ruling the world, right?

    But to me, this is misleading. From the outside, to strangers or internet observers, almost everybody is a nobody. But from the inside — one’s view of oneself, one’s family and social circle — nobody is a nobody. And even though I may have ended up in the same career, I would have loved to be the first in my family and in my town to go to the Ivy League. I want my kids to know it’s an option even if they decide not to pursue it. –Rich

    1. You make a good point of a parent’s duty to show what’s possible. I didn’t have the “it’s possible” to go to any of these elite private schools myself growing up either. Part of it was because they cost so much, and my parents were not rich as government employees. The other part of it was not believing I was smart enough or good enough. The final part of it was I felt guilty if I did go to private school, and didn’t want the pressure the comes w/ spending $100,000+ at the time.

      As for the term “nobody” in this post, it’s not so much the career progression, but what they do with their careers. Nobody is a social worker, educator, doctor, non-profit organizer. All work in banking, consulting, and tech due to money and fake prestige. Our brightest students are encouraged by our most elite universities to use their brains to focus on wealth. Maybe they can expand their purpose.

  53. SavvyFinancialLatina

    Hi Sam! Interesting article!

    I never went to private school. But I did manage to graduate valedictorian in my high school class. I was in a very rigorous academic program, IB ). There are times where I wonder if I will be a somebody. But that is a whole another topic.

    I want to comment on the ROI perspective…

    I’m 27 and work at a fairly big megacorp. Our interns started this summer. They are all from MIT, Stanford, Duke, Dartmouth (I’m probably missing a few schools). Point is they are all from fairly top schools, surely paying top dollar, and are older than me. All probably in the 28-32 age range. If they get hired, they will come in at a lower paying position than me (still fair compensation)

    Somehow my in-state education (undergrad + grad) got me to the same place as they are currently.

    Nothing against their accomplishments. I would have loved to go to an ivy league school. I didn’t. And now I’m more focused on FI than paying for more degrees.

    So is the money worth it if we ended up in the same place?

    In my mind, from the FI perspective, I’m glad I didn’t go into $ of debt for my graduate degree. Hey maybe, once I’m FI, and the school pays me to get my PHD, I will consider it. After all, my university paid for my undergrad and graduate degrees.

    1. Props to you for being valedictorian! What were the reasons why you didn’t apply to the ivy league or other elite private institutions? With your profile, there’s a high chance you would have got grants. I could never get straight A’s, no matter how hard I tried!

      I’m asking b/c I’m wondering how much parental guidance and encouragement plays a role in a child’s decision to go to school. I also wonder how much family wealth plays a role.

      1. SavvyFinancialLatina

        Just some thoughts…

        I had no guidance. My parents are immigrants who don’t speak english. I had to figure out everything on my own. I was lucky I had some great teachers.

        I did apply to a couple of elite institutions. Actually the valedictorian two years before me ended up at an elite institution. I had a great profile. AP scores of 5’s and 4’s. IB. Varsity cross country, varsity band freshman year. Looking back I missed a few things and it was due to not having enough guidance.
        1) My personal essay. I was not honest and raw enough. I grew up in a family where you never talked about your challenges or problems or anything really. So at the time I didn’t know how to communicate the challenges I had growing up and their effect on my life. Honestly, people knew very little about me, even my best friends. Hell, I still cannot talk about it.
        2) My ACT/SAT scores were shy a couple points. I could have scored higher, since what I needed was to refine my test taking. If I taken a Kaplan SAT class, or received some private tutoring specifically around the test. But my family had no money.
        3) Communication skills – You have to go through an alumni interview process. I did go through it. But at the time I was so shy. My parents are complete introverts and terribly socially awkward. I was afraid of my own shadow. I was so afraid. I was afraid to talk. If I had just shared all the struggles I faced in life and what I had to overcome. I didn’t communicate properly.

        If I had the knowledge I have now, I would have aced it. But can’t regret things in life. I received a full scholarship to a great in state school, which covered my bachelor’s and master’s degree. I had a phenomenal experience in college. I learned so much! Finally broke out my shell. Received great mentorship and pushed myself. It helped I was finally away from my parents. I started taking graduate classes my junior year (which technically was my senior year because I graduated in 3 years) Seriously. AND I did meet the love of my life at my college.

        There’s my essay Sam!

        1. Congrats to you, Savvy. Really enjoyed seeing your input and how you’ve done so well without an “elite” college. Your story also shows how elite schools really cater to the uppermost income bracket and don’t do enough to recruit — and then support — low-income, first generation students to their great universities. Most students at elite schools come from the upper 10% of the income tier. Then the megacorps, as you note, get their interns from the same schools, perpetuating the disparity. You’re an exception who has accomplished much more than most who attend the elite schools.

  54. Another great post, Sam!

    I know two people who by their own accounts fall in this category. They both attended elite Ivy League universities and ended up with over 180k of debt apiece from undergrad alone.

    The first one struggled to get a job for 4 years out of school because he felt that most entry level positions were beneath him.

    The second one still gets paid less than me, and I went to a public university. The ROI is not always there!

    1. Hi Ava – I can totally see how after graduating from a school like Harvard, you become much pickier with what job to choose, and therefore could end up underemployed for 4 years! I also know many, many employers who don’t want to hire folks free these schools b/c they just job hop ASAP for the next opportunity and aren’t willing to put in their dues versus the state school employee.

      You gotta feel good about your public school degree!

  55. “Nobody” is a very subjective term and unfortunately the whole article wreaks of one person sitting at a computer judging everyone’s life choices. It still makes for vicariously good reading but lets not say its an objective or good analysis of anyone’s life choices.

    It still makes for good reading, and I take it for what it is, anecdotal evidence with a hypothesis made by one individual who has already retired! :)

    1. Indeed. Tell us about yourself and whether you have kids and what educational and career path you took. Maybe I am crazy, and I’m the only one who thinks about this stuff so intensely for our children. At the end of the day, this is a happiness blog that can largely be determined by managing expectations.

      Tell us about yourself and whether you have kids and what educational and career path you took.

  56. Catherine Gacad

    What if your kid goes to Punahou and ends up a nobody? Wouldn’t that be even worse than going to Harvard for college since Punahou is $260k all-in (no room and board) compared to a Harvard undergrad degree or MBA?

    What’s your obsession with Punahou and how is that any different than others’ dreams to go to an Ivy League?

    Sam, if you really want to change the world, start with your kid and put him or her in an underprivileged school district, so that both you and your kid can start affecting change in the communities that need it. Teach tennis there. Work to implement rigorous STEM programs. Tell kids who have no concept of higher education that they can dream big.

    1. Thank you for your kind thoughts and suggestions. There’s definitely a chance that my son could turn out to be a nobody after 13 years at Punahou. He probably won’t even be able to get in. He also may or may not have a learning disability as I wrote in this post, but it’s too early to tell. All I know is that I love him so much and I want the best for him, which is why I’m constantly thinking about this topic.

      Being somebody after all that time and education is something I think about a lot, which is why I am undecided on whether to go to private school route. I’m just not that impressed with the alumni. It seems for the most part, they all pretty much end up in the same positions as kids who go to public school.

      I’m thinking it may be better to invest the $20,500 a year for 13 years, and another $50,000 a year for four years that would’ve gone to private school tuition. I have a feeling many of our children would rather have that money and work hard instead at a public school if they had a choice.

      Regarding your comment about my “obsession” with Punahou, why do you feel I am obsessed? All I did was write an article about whether private kindergarten through 12th grade is worth it several months ago using it as an example, and then mentioned it in this article because that’s where the folks profiled went to school. I’m always looking for feedback on myself and my writing. So any specific advice is welcome.

      I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts about child raising, education and the topic of this post.

      Please keep the advice and constructive criticism coming! I really enjoy it. If you could also share your thoughts on the topic of this post that would be great. Oh yeah, and Go Bears!


      1. Hi Sam,

        You and I are very similar which is why I really like your blog. Quick background on me: Catholic elementary and high school, Berkeley undergrad, University of Chicago MBA and (surprise!) I work in financial services as a VP in Investor Relations. I guess you can say I’ve experienced the gamut of education, having done both public and private. As someone who was tiger-parented, I followed the academic path and did the best that I could.

        However, I want more for my son who is 3 years old. I want him to be truly extraordinary and to me, that means taking the road less traveled. Truth: I would rather he not go to college and start his own business, or work for a startup, or do anything other than what the mass population does. I remember Peter Thiel questioning college and why people think they have to go down a certain path to get to where they want. If you know what you want, just do it! Don’t let other people tell you that you need to do this and that first in order to get there. That has really resonated with me. So when my friends talk about sending their kids to college, I am the one rolling my eyes. If that’s what my son wants, that’s fine. But I am not pushing it. I’m also not saving or funding any education past high school. If I could pay for college on my own, back when I was brought up by middle-class parents, then my son who has way more privilege than I will ever have, can suck it up too. I’m not putting money into a 529.

        I plan to inculcate this message into his head: absorb all you can now. I will make sure you get the best education possible, but after 18 years old, you are truly on your own. I have high expectations for you and I know that you can do it because you’re smart and fiercely independent. Now go make me proud.

        As for Punahou, I guess your comment “Punahou is the school I’d love for my son to attend if we move back to Hawaii” made me think that your obsession with Punahou isn’t any different than any tiger parent’s dream of their kid going to Harvard.

        I am fascinated with a 2-year college profiled in the NYTimes that is very small (less than 30 students total), in the middle of nowhere, completely free, where the kids have to work 20+ hours a week on the farm, but get a great education and are expected to prepare for a life of service. Almost all of the kids go on to transfer to the best colleges. https://www.deepsprings.edu/ If I’d known about this place when I was in high school, I would have applied, except I wouldn’t have gotten in as it’s male only.

        Thank you for responding to my comment!!!

        1. Hi Catherine, it’s interesting you’re not pushing for your son to go to college. I kind of feel the same way, because everything can be learned for free nowadays online and four years of college is a lot of time to spend. Hence, another reason for writing this post and thinking about the irony of spending so much time and money on education know when everything is free.

          But college was it an incredible time for fun and learning. I wish I could’ve gone for another year, but after taking Golf and one economics class my last semester, I realized there was no need to stay for a fifth year anymore.

          I’m glad you had a son and he is now three years old! I had read your other post about the difficult times conceiving so I’m really happy for you guys!

          When the time comes, it’s going to be very interesting to see whether you’re willing to take the risk of going to college or not. And the other interesting thing is, if you have the financial means to pay for private school, whether you’ll be willing to let and go to public school or not.

          What I’m finding as a parent now is that many parents are willing to take a risk by not spending on everything possible if they can afford to. There’s just a lot of fear and guilt of not doing the right thing, so I figure I might as well get everybody’s input before I get to that stage.


          1. I find this fascinating and I’m not sure what to think of it. There’s a move among educated, usually successful people to devalue college in favor of independent learning or entrepreneurship or something more hands on (every urbanite wants to farm now). I actually sympathize a bit. I love the idea of forging one’s own path.


            (everything someone says before “but” is bullshit, acc. to Ned Stark)

            I also realize that it’s a luxury to talk about it this way. You don’t find many parents who have struggled for years to move to a better socioeconomic condition saying, “Hey, don’t get into college. Learn all you can online and stay in your community to be connected to all the other people who are struggling.”

            To people who live paycheck to paycheck and know the risk of getting into a situation you can’t get out of, the decision to eschew college on principle seems odd. I guess my question for Catherine would be, is there an implicit safety net for your child if the non-college path doesn’t work out? And what does that say about the path?

            I hope that doesn’t sound snarky, I genuinely want to understand the trend, among some, away from higher ed. I’m in the same situation, with young kids that will have way more opportunities than I did, and wondering how to make sure they have drive and work ethic.

            As for the farm … growing up on a farm I can’t help but chuckle now that farming is idealized on Netflix and Top Chef. The farmers who bring organic squash to high end restaurants are not typical. These are the Peter Thiels of farming. The majority of farmers are undereducated, weather-beaten, and hanging on by a financial thread, doing hard labor until they retire with back problems. My father told me when I was 16 that if I wanted the farm, I could have it and he’d help me. He loves the land. BUT … then he said, “I don’t recommend it. It’s a hard life. You’re smart — you should go to college.”

            1. Here are the reasons I can think of:

              1) Cost. If you go to private school K through college, we are talking $500,000 – $1,000,000. If that money was invested at a 5% compounded rate of return, that might very well be a better trade. If we’re just talking private college, that’s still about $200,000 – $250,000. Yet, when everything is now free online, as opposed to before the internet, this cost is even more egregious.

              2) There is an implied safety net. For me, it’s a real estate property portfolio, my online business, and my savings. I can teach him everything there is to know about real estate and online media without having to go to college for four years.

              3) Value. I had the time of my life in college. So fun to meet new folks, learn, and study abroad. But I only keep in touch with a few people there, and none of them have helped me in my career. They are friends scattered around the country. College was valuable for maturity, and due to the $2,800/year in tuition cost. Now, there are so many great programs i.e. incubator programs, that focus on precisely what someone wants to do. The alternatives for learning are endless.

              I want my son to go to college at this moment. I don’t know what college will look like in 18 years when he finally graduates high school. Could be still an important education milestone. Or the entire system might be turned on its head after a huge student loan crisis. Who knows!

              What I do know is that with proper tutelage, mentorship, and all around nurture, a lot is possible without college today. If he or I are not big on trying to be a banker, consultant, techie or lawyer, maybe college isn’t that great after all.

            2. If the non-college route doesn’t work, then the safety net is to go back to school or simply try another path/career. Or if someone thinks it’s too risky to dismiss college altogether, then go part-time or take night classes.

              I’ll admit that personally, I could not have gotten my job out of college as an environmental consultant if I didn’t have intense biology and chemistry labs. And I got my current job because my employer came to my graduate school to recruit.

              Our children will make their own choices as to what is the best route. I’m just saying that I’m not one of those parents who’s going to force my kid to go to college, which is what most parents do.

              Ahh Ned Stark, a wise soul who got his head chopped off.

        2. You sound amazing and very secure, and I wish more parents were as confident, thoughtful, and well-informed as you seem to be. Keep the power and the strength.

          BTW, Deep Springs is amazing (as is St. John’s), although sadly the former is still single-sex. They truly educate as opposed to train, which pays dividends far beyond medicine or law or ibanking.

    2. I love the last piece of your response, well said Catherine! Self segregation by wealth plays a huge role in education, the rich live in rich communities with ample resources to better their child’s educational experience while lower income and poor communities go through the exact opposite experience. They may either feel discouraged or may just be unaware of potential opportunities to better themselves.

      Although I would never encourage someone to send their child to a school that lacks resources (it’s why many families in San Francisco send their kids to private school for tens of thousands of dollars), it would be highly beneficial to society to encourage children from multiple economic backgrounds be taught together.

      To be a “Harvard Nobody” means you came from a well to do background or had many opportunities presented to you that put you in the right position to succeed, financially speaking. If you came from a family that averages $30k of income, it’s hard to see yourself as a failure for getting into Harvard, regardless of what career path one chooses.

      Not everyone starts the race at the same point, and for that matter the end is different as well.

      1. Thanks Ryan. I’ve always been aggressively focused on hanging out with people of all stripes, which, by the way, is why Burning Man is so awesome. Back when I entered college, I shied away from the Filipino group because I already know about my own culture and had a ton of Filipino friends. I wanted to befriend people who were different from me. Berkeley was a great melting pot for me to do that in, plus the socio-economic range was vast, with a contingent of us complaining about filling out financial aid forms, and at the same time doing roadtrips down to SoCal as we oohed/aahed over some of our friends’ homes. I feel really blessed and want the diversity I cultivated for my son as well.

    3. Sam is too nice to say it, but your comment is so bitter.

      You went to University of Chicago and work in investor relations at Wells Fargo Bank of all the terrible places in the world you could work. How are you guys spinning the scandal where you guys took advantage of millions of customers by signing them up for fake accounts and charging them for it? How do you justify the head of the department receiving tens of millions For poor oversight?

      Here’s the latest if you don’t know what’s going on at your company, and just one of a number of scandals over the past 10 years.


      How can you feel good about this? But do whatever makes you happy. For me, I’d rather spend time with my daughter than work for a bank that tricks their customers for profits. Money is not everything.

      1. It’s funny you should bring up Wells Fargo, b/c I wrote an article about seven years ago why I’d never bank w/ Wells Fargo due to a scandal back then! It’s crazy how egregious this latest scandal is. It pisses me off actually, much like people who put my e-mail on a distribution list and when I click to cancel, it asks me to put in my e-mail to cancel. But what Wells Fargo did is even worse, and I’m shocked nobody has been thrown in jail for it.

        If I’m going to go back to work full-time during my child’s first four years of life (before pre-school), the job better be damn amazing with flexible hours and a purposeful mission of helping others. Otherwise, it’s trading my time away from my baby who will only be 1-4 years old once, for money. That time is too precious.

        1. I’m not blind to the scandal and think it’s horrible. The company is working to rebuild trust and not only reaching out to customers to make it right, but advising customers to come in and speak with us for any reason. Of course, if you think a company is unethical, then steer clear of their services.

          As for me, this isn’t just my employer, but my work family—some of whom are close friends who came to my destination wedding and who supported me through multiple miscarriages. I respect my peers and the current leadership. We are all working to correct our mistakes. Also, I’ve worked for several employers, and no other employer has come close to matching the flexibility I have to volunteer and donate (with school donations 100% matched by the company).

          Corporations aren’t perfect, just as religion and humans aren’t perfect. I reiterate that I feel sick about what happened. Affecting change won’t happen if I quit. Instead I’m sticking around to help solve problems, as I’m passionate about the industry and about helping people (both through my blog and yes, through my employer).

          1. You’re right about Wells Fargo not just being your employer, but your family after spending a long enough time there. And you nor most employees are to be blamed for the scandals.

            Everyone will reach a certain point where they will no longer feel motivated or have that passion to work for their employer. Props to you for sticking it out with Wells Fargo.

            I hope you guys can help affect positive change and improve the banking practices. after the latest news that 800,000 Wells Fargo auto borrowers were improperly charged for auto insurance. It’s just so tough being a financial consumer nowadays. I personally feel like I’m always getting charged hidden and unnecessary fees, which is often why I like to hoard cash or not investing.

  57. I was a high school dropout, then went on to get degrees from Emory, Stanford, and Harvard. In my experience, all were great places to go to school, with interesting, well-rounded students from whom I learned as much or more than my professors. These universities also taught me skills I now use daily in my work, as well as critical thinking (on a good day at least). Well-funded schools like these also have great financial aid, which makes cost comparisons difficult.

    Having said that, plenty of other schools can offer equally good education and experience, and may be more appropriate for a particular child. I certainly understand parents obsessing over where their kids go to school, but I suspect it just sets the kids up to feel like a failure if they don’t go to the “right” school.

    Although, of course, The College of William and Mary is actually the best place to go…

    1. Tell us how you went to those three excellent schools after dropping out of high school. That sounds like a fascinating story. Did you take a break and then finish high school later and then go to college? What degrees did you get?

      1. I dropped out of school the day I turned 16 (the legal minimum in my state). Left home, lived on the streets (voluntarily–a big difference from today’s homelessness). Went back to finish high school a couple years later, then worked in a factory for a year–the most boring thing I have ever done. That convinced me to continue in school, so got a BA at Emory (the only school that accepted me, if I recall), MA at Stanford, and MD at Harvard (finished residency age 40). Lived and worked abroad for a few years in between degrees.

        Definitely not an efficient career path, but worked out fine. I kind of feel I have had some of my retirement earlier in life, doing exactly what I wanted to do, which is good. But keep the finance articles coming–financial savvy is not something that comes easily to me, so I could use the help.

  58. The Green Swan

    Its not so much about what school you went to (or how much it cost for you to attend), but more about what you do with that degree. Working hard and graduating early was my goal. Mission accomplished from a large university, but even more imporatnt was the internship and job right out of college that helped me along my investment path. College is also on my mind a lot with my two young boys. How to save for their school was something readers helped me with tremendously!

  59. Graduated High School at the bottom of my class (bottom 10%). Went on to a local Community College and obtained my Associates degree. Went on to be accepted to a private University in Philadelphia. Graduated with a BS and went on to work at one of the big consulting firms. Now work in management for a leading Pharma with colleagues much more impressive than I in the intelligence area … also went to much better university than me.

    Shawn Achor, during a TED talk, had an interesting perspective that I think applies here (paraphrasing):

    90% of your long-term happiness is predicted not by your external world but by the way your brain processes the world. If you change your formula for happiness and success, you can change the way it affects reality. Only 25% of job success is predicted by IQ …. research shows that 75% of job success is defined by (1) optimism level, (2) social support level, and (3) ability to see stress as a challenge instead of a threat.

      1. Scott Thomas

        By the way, Shawn Achor received both his bachelor’s degree and masters degree from Harvard!

  60. All I got was a measley associates degree from a community college :( And it was in business administration which did absolutely nothing for me. Lucky for me though I think it cost me about $7k to get that degree so I never had any debt.

    How did not going to a major university affect me? Cant say for sure but what I do know is that I make more money then almost all my friends that did go to college. I know money isnt everything nor does it define success but I do think people can make something of themselves and accomplish what they want even without a college degree or education.

  61. So helping people doesn’t burn you out? Tell that to all the burnt out social workers, teachers and nurses out there – I suspect the percentages would be as high as investment banking.

    I was talking to a hippy the other day, about my work history, which I won’t get into for anonymity, but I did mention drawing the line on an offer from a company known for killing villagers in developing countries, so as you can see that bar is set pretty low. The convo did make me think I could have made better choices with what I do for a living, but at the same time I like having a reasonable standard of living and the option of early retirement, which is not an option for most teachers and social workers.

    Helping people is not for everyone and people’s definition of “helping” can also vary dramatically. Some of what Google does is incredibly helpful, and VCs may also be helping shape our technological landscape.

    1. No, not even close relative to careers with the main purpose of making as much money as possible.

      I don’t need to tell, I asked. I spoke to a couple dozen teachers (remember, I work as a teacher now per my first paragraph), and the level of excitement and joy is astoundingly high compared to my friends in finance, consulting, tech. I’m talking different level high.

      How about you? What where did you go to school?

      1. But the teachers in your social circle are (relatively compared to other teachers) highly paid private school teachers. There are many that live off yearly contracts and barely make more than the minimum wage. Poorer areas also mean more violence and behavioural problems from the kids. Many of these teachers who struggle to feed themselves leave the profession. I agree that these teachers may love their jobs, but unfortunately that’s not enough.

        I went to the equivalent a state school – was not my first choice, but I did not try very hard in school, and still don’t really.

  62. It’s like what do you want to do?

    Do you want public or pvt school? Can you afford pvt school? $20-65k annually. But holy did you check out some of their curriculum STATISTICS, SPEAKING MANDARIN. Which public school teaches you those two great subjects. Imagine getting taught MANDARIN and STATISTICS every yr of your life growing up, that is a gift.

    Then do you want elite schooling for business development for a mega corporation, or a startup? Can you even stomach working for under market rate, 80 hrs with a startup you don’t even really believe in or love passionately. Your wife and kids will divorce u lol.

    Next do you want family work balance, or none?

    Each move locks you in on a different course for a decade of your life. And what you want your son might not want the same as you.

  63. No Nonsense Landlord

    I graduated with minimal debt. Retired early. A Harvard degree would have me still working to pay off loans, or to keep using my high cost degree.

    I would take the community college option, followed by a state 4-year school, followed by a graduate degree paid by an employer. Then followed by early retirement.

    1. Sounds like a good plan to me! I love, love the 2-year community college option and then transferring to a 4-year state school to save money, develop maturity, and get a better idea of what you want to do with your life.

    2. I wish I read this comment when I was choosing my college. I jumped straight into a 4 year private university and thought I was set for life as long as I don’t flunk out. $40K and a paper degree later = much regret for years after.

  64. Interesting thoughts but I don’t quite agree. I think you’re conflating your value proposition (most fulfilling work is directly helping someone in need) as universal value proposition. I’d argue that there are a diversity of extrinsic and intrinsic value drivers that orient people towards being your “somebody” versus a “nobody” in say business development.

    For those people who aren’t driven by helping others, I think it’s okay that they be those “nobodies.”

    Also, you mention that Harvard students represent the top .01% in terms of brains and I see that as a slight mischaracterization. Sure, getting into top schools requires plenty of academic chops but admissions also considers a number of other factors. That’s why you’ll see kids with perfect scores getting rejected and s forth. It’s not all about academic ability. Moreover, I think there are a lot of great students, who for whatever reason, don’t attend top schools but have the ability to thrive in them. So some talent is at your local state univeristy, etc.

    I guess my main issue is that the article comes across as a Harvard degree being a sufficient condition to doing amazing things on later in life and that’s not the case. What is more likely true is that being remarkable in some way is a necessary condition to getting into Harvard as well as doing something great later on.

    1. Thoughts on why people bother to spend so much money and work so hard to get into Harvard? Perhaps it’s because I’ve been spending a lot more time with academia, teachers, and parents but I feel that there is this huge obsession to getting into a good school.

      What was your academic path and what do you do now for a living?

      The definition of “nobody” is entirely subjective and purposefully provocative for this post. Everybody somebody. Our definitions will always differ.

  65. Hi Sam,

    There are a lot of intelligent folks on this planet, far far more intelligent than a Harvard graduate. Their circumstances do not let anyone else recognize them. Given the right environment and privileges, mankind is a lot more competitive and intelligent than a Harvard graduate.

    You are one such example.

    And the boy who studied under street lights and got admitted in IIT (harder to get in than Harvard), with no food, is another example.

    College is important. Very important.

    But it is not the end. It is a start.

    It is a start for a kid into the world of adults. The reason why parents emphasize on college. But if the kid is passionate, or talented in a certain field (say, figure skating), then parents pursue that as well. The kid must show signs of their passion, or parents remain clueless.

    Personal Finance, Savings, all these articles, mean a lot different to parents than a non-parent.

    Welcome to the club!

  66. I went to Johns Hopkins undergrad. Sometimes I look around and think I should be “doing more with my life” because of that fact, and the comparison game.

    But if I really think about it, my professional accomplishments actually ARE very impressive to 99.9% population. I also am not super impressed with the fates of my classmates when compared to accomplished people in my social circle who went to a variety of schools, but again, I think the bar is just very high because a lot of money is being spent and expectations get inflated. We have to get out of our bubbles. The profiles you list as disappointing aren’t exactly people working minimum wage.

    I also skipped the PhD after a masters intern experience where I was doing the same R&D work as PhDs. PhDs are for aspiring professors. The value proposition to go into the private sector doesn’t make it worth it (in my field).

    1. The thing is, all the profiles I showed are on LinkedIn, which by definition or people with jobs who are highly motivated to show what they’ve done and network for new business or job opportunities. Another words, they are the top graduates. I’m sure there are plenty more graduates who don’t bother because they are out of the workforce, unemployed, or are just not proud of their achievements.

      Well done going to Johns Hopkins university. That was the school I considered it when I lived in the suburbs of Virginia, but I knew I couldn’t get in and I also knew that paying that type of money was on affordable to us at the time. Were you able to get any scholarships? What is it you do now for a living?

  67. I didn’t go to an Ivy but managed to go to a highly ranked public school for undergrad and a tier 1 b school landing a job in a MBB consulting firm. I personally think it’s one of the most surefire ways to reach FI. It’s not an easy path, but very doable.

    Sam, as you think about your child’s life, are you thinking about relaying your wisdom about career paths? Would you be happy if they followed your steps?

    I think about this a lot, and because I never had such guidance, I teach my kids as much as I can about different schools, career paths, and other things that I think will be helpful.

  68. I was just looking at expected tuition for 529 planning purposes and it turns out with our income, we would get no financial aid from MIT or Harvey Mudd (72k/year!), but Harvard would only be 34k/year for room and board. If we keep saving at the rate we’ve been saving and our oldest wants to go to Harvard, we will have saved too much in the 529s. So… Harvard would be a pretty cheap option for at least 93% of us.

    My DH does use his (ivy) PhD in industry.

  69. I am not a big fan of brand name in anything, whether it’s material possessions or schools. I truly believe that what a person can do comes from that person’s ability. Hence, if you are smart enough to get into Harvard, I think that you are smart enough to be successful in any school. So why not save the money and use it towards something else more meaningful.

    1. Exactly! Kinda tired of the elites telling the elites what’s the Best ‘success’ path in life. I worked super hard in school at a state school. I have been successful at fortune 50 companies because I make smart decisions daily not because of what school I went to. But I did do exceptionally well in college and had a career path vision I was able to articulate to recruiters. So did my friends who Also hold degrees from good schools that aren’t Ivy League. We all ended up ‘rich’ according to all of Sam’s financial success charts. If you are mediocre at school you will be mediocre in life. Basically, People see who you are and how you represent yourself and respond accordingly. Sam: quit worrying about school and investment banking and who did what and the ‘right’ path. It’s frankly nauseating

      1. Unfortunately, a parent’s worry never ends. You might have to stop reading for at least one year so I can get all these questions and concerns out of my system! But before you go, are you a parent? And what are your thoughts about sending your kid to public or private school?

    2. Agreed. The hard part now is trying to find a good (and affordable) public school that’s worth it. When I talk to people I am far more impressed by what they do after graduating college than I am where they went. Too many people try to get a position based on their alm mater’s name and then have nothing to show on their CV.

      If I had known then what I know now I would have never gone to school. At the first university I was heavily discriminated against and other students were trying to sue the joke of university because they were hiring unqualified professors who were either not certified or licensed – and TWO were exposed for stealing student work to pass it off as their own. I trust no college and see no need for many degrees now. If you’re poor you are most likley just getting into debt that will hold you back. At the second college I went hungry, struggled to find work, and slept out of my car. I worked much harder at that college than at any time period previous to getting accepted. I lost weight, got very ill repeatedly, had illegal immigrants employed by the school commit medical fraud in my name, credit card fraud – and the cops didn’t care due to the Recession and the name of the college.

      My own experiences were the stuff of nightmares and if I had to chose again I never would have gone to college because I was too poor and being intelligent gets you nowhere if you still make bad decisions. I had the debt from the first university paid off after working three jobs, seven days a week for just over a year. My life was so miserable and the area where I worked forced people onto welfare due to corruption. If I had just worked those jobs a bit longer I could have moved to a much better area instead of wasting part of my life at another college that just wasn’t worth it. Hindsight may be 20/20, but after a friend told me to “just go to business school” I had to counter “With what?”. Barely making a living and being a U.S. citizen now gets you rejected. I’m going to record the next call with the racist admissions officers and student employees at the University of Texas and send it to him. To me an MBA isn’t worth it at all because you’re stuck in school, getting more debt, and not gaining the experience that people find to be more important.

  70. My oldest son graduated from Yale about 10 years ago. He did well there and works in finance ( of course he does). As one commenter noted, these elite schools attract the big companies to campus. His initial plan was medicine, but he realized he hated blood and needles and switched gears his sophomore year. I am sure he was influenced by the campus culture to go into finance as well. Even many of the engineers wound up on Wall Street. I was upset that he chose money making over contributing to society. He is super smart and could have gone on to do something amazing- but he likes his job and his life so who am I to argue. He did have a few friends who didn’t have any career goals and they did flounder awhile but that Yale degree does open doors .

    1. Thanks for sharing, and congratulations for us and getting into Yale.

      I’m glad he’s enjoying what he does, because many people secretly or openly do not, especially in the banking and strategic consulting fields. Burn out is high. Comparing yourself to a colleague who got a bigger bonus or a faster promotion make people miserable.

      The good thing is that you should be making enough to become financially independent at an early age if he saves and invest wisely. Then he has options to do other things if you so choosers, including something that is more beneficial to society.

      As a parent, what were some of the things you did to help get him into Yale?

      1. He was always very bright, even in nursery school. We chose to live in a good school district, made sure he was in a school that “tracked” kids who were bright, e.g. allowed them to take advanced track classes, that led to AP classes in high school. He had music lessons, and went to some really interesting summer programs. I was always investigating summer programs for “bright” kids.. So he attended summer science camp at the age of 14, went to a Johns Hopkins summer program at 15 (was classmates with Mark Zuckerberg, we still have the program directory !), went to Cornell summer college, then participated in a local summer science research program summer before senior year in high school. So I guess you could say we spent a lot of money on his summer experiences. We did the same for our 2 other children as well. In addition, it was funny, but all of the moms of the “high achievers” kind of stuck together and mentored each other about the ins and outs of high school and applying to college. I also helped him edit his college essays, and my husband schlepped him around to look at colleges from age 16 . Helps to see the prize at the end of the journey. Luckily we had the means to let him go wherever he wanted to, but he did not need much pushing; he was highly motivated.

        1. Got it! So another words, nurture accounts a great deal! That’s good to hear, because as responsible parents, we want to know that our efforts actually make a difference.

          Why didn’t he go to Harvard? :-)

          1. He hated it! Felt that Yale was more focused on the undergraduates. Honestly, he was number 3 in his class, (number 1 if you unweighted for APs), had good, not great, scores (700 math, 760 verbal), tons of leadership positions at school, won a lot of high school awards, 34 on all ACT sections, played clarinet well, etc. etc. He probably could have gone almost anywhere (maybe not MIT or California Inst, of Tech). He applied early decision which helped a lot too. The night he got accepted, I cried, and told him he had the golden ring, and his life would never be the same. He would probably agree. Has many amazing friends he is still close to (one started a magnet school!), and has had success beyond anything we could have imagined. He is a real saver, and probably could retire early, but he really likes his job as of now, so who knows. He is still single also, so if he marries, and starts spending a lot of money on houses, kids, etc. he may keep working. Thanks for the blog, I really enjoy reading it.

            1. Very interesting post and follow up here. Ellen, congrats on getting your kid into Yale and the elite level of USA success. Your story here is a neat summation of why critics attack the US college system as a perpetuation of elite-level success and a near guarantee of rampant income inequality. I was doubtful of that criticism, but your case — sorry to single you out, but your story is so “Exhibit A” — provides such stark evidence to support it. No wonder why students from families outside the richest top tier feel they have little hope competing against students born on third base like your son. In fact, Sam’s article suggests that the privileged smart kids who get into Yale (and the rest of the elite colleges) should feel more of an obligation to help the less fortunate as a way to make our society better for everyone.

  71. Thought-provoking post, Sam. I have a two-sided perspective on this topic as a graduate of one of your named state schools and an Ivy League doctoral program. Many of your observations are spot-on in my experience.

    When considering post-graduation outcomes for graduate schools, it also seems appropriate to assess the type of graduate program as their cash, opportunity costs, and career pathways will differ tremendously. An MBA ($200k cost and 2 years away from full-time work) versus a PhD in a STEM area from a top school (value of $300-400k over 4-5 years between waived tuition, annual stipend, and health care) expectedly have a very different calculus if you’re examining the value of a given education using just cold, hard numbers. Ivy programs have extremely well-worn paths to the top consultancies and investment banks, and observing my colleagues and their placement rates suggests you don’t need to try that hard to get in…one could argue that this speaks as much to an individual’s risk profile as it does to their ambition to have a truly impactful career arc.

    I will say that your point on expectations rings true far more with the Ivy pedigree versus my state school experience. The conversations about prestigious pathways and being a world changer start long before graduation at the Ivy. Interestingly, I’ve found there are many administrators and faculty who are vested in students pursuing specific pathways due to legacy building, which may partially explain some of the outcomes you outlined from your LinkedIn data pull. I chose a path (entrepreneurship) that is a double whammy because that is a non-traditional path for graduates in general from the school and certainly unusual for doctoral graduates, who normally go on to academic careers at an alarming rate.

    If anything, Sam, I think that if you did your PhD, that would quash once and for all your dalliances with going back to the private sector and working for someone else. My PhD experience came with weird hours, but allowed me to spend more time with my family than ever before, thus cementing my desire to have a career that gives me the flexibility to be anywhere I want, anytime I want.

  72. George W. Bush went to Yale for his undergrad and Harvard Business School for his MBA. In my view, the article implies “if you go to Harvard” as in “if you go to Harvard for your undergrad” and not either/or.

    This calls into question the overall Harvard alumni snapshot chart – are those LinkedIn profiles reflecting Harvard undergrad or both that and the Business School.

    Anecdotally, my experience is that HBS is really good at picking students that will be successful regardless of where they did their undergrad.

    Food for thought – thank you to the Financial Samurai for compiling all this.

    1. More food for thought: is going to Harvard undergrad better than going to Harvard for graduate school? It seems that if one is a pedigree snob, one only looks at the latest degree they have achieved.

      1. If given the choice between Harvard undergrad and Harvard grad, it seems obvious Harvard grad is the better option because jobs after grad school pay better (on average, across fields) and undergrad is generally viewed as a first filter of ability and conformism.

  73. RetireOnDividends

    School is important but isn’t everything. I like the stories of high school dropouts who go on to achieve great things (such as Richard Branson). If you stay motivated and focused in your adult life you’ll have a chance no matter what your education was.

    1. Looking back to high school… I was always in the middle camp where I was too dumb to hang with the Honors / AP students, but was smarter than the average student. Instead of always feeling dumb with the smart kids, I dropped all my AP classes and just coasted through the regular curriculum.

      I’m 34 now and feel further ahead than most of my Honors/AP peers. Hard work and drive will always take you farther than an unmotivated, lazy smart ass.

  74. Scott Thomas

    I think one’s degree of success in college is usually more important than the name of the college. I’m a surgeon, and I went to a small liberal arts college and graduated with a high GPA. A few high school buddies of mine went to Harvard and Harvard-equivalent colleges and graduated with significantly lower GPA’s (my friends are probably smarter than me, but Harvard is obviously a harder school and more competitive than where I attended). I was accepted into several medical schools, both state and private, and my friends weren’t accepted into any medical schools out of college … they had to get master degrees, spend years in research labs, etc, just to get into medical school.

    And again, how well you do in medical school is more important than the name of the medical school (medical education is regulated so all med school grads receive basically the same education. Therefore, I chose the more cost efficient state medical school route). Residencies after medical school are very competitive. Graduating from the top of your med school class will greatly increase your odds of getting into a competitive residency program and the name of your medical school really doesn’t matter. So the #1 grad from a state med school will have a better chance at a competitive residency program than a doctor graduating from the middle or bottom of an Ivy League med school.

    1. I’m with you on this, but I feel perhaps it has to do with the medical field? I’m a pharmacist (got my Doctorate at USC) and did well at a public University (UC Riverside) while my peers did mediocre at top schools like UCLA, UCSD, Berkeley, etc. I got into every pharmacy school I applied to while many of my peers didn’t get in or were wait-listed. But I’m also sure it had to do with the fact that I was a more well-rounded candidate than a typical candidate that was a Bio major and worked in a lab as extra curriculars.
      I met a few pharmacists that went to Ivy league schools for their bachelors and I always felt like they wasted a ton of money. IMO, for the medical field… it really doesn’t matter what school you went to. It may only help initially with your alumni network and getting your foot in the door with an employer… but after a few years, experience/skills will matter most.

  75. > The weird thing is, after all his education, he went on to join companies that have nothing to do with what he learned…With his resume, I would be seriously disappointed with my career so far.

    You do not understand the point of a PhD. The point of a PhD is to learn how to independently approach and solve unsolved problems…regardless of one’s specific field.

    Getting a PhD is certainly not cost effective because you can make plenty of money solving someone else’s solvable problems.

    1. Thanks for sharing. I thought that was the point of the MBA.

      I don’t have a PhD, therefore I cannot speak for those with PhDs. I can only read feedback from those with PhDs in my PhD post. Do you have a PhD? If so, in what field? And has your PhD helped you solve problems more efficiently? What type of problems did you solve or are looking to solve?


      1. > Do you have a PhD? What are looking to solve?

        Yes, and I’m now a professor. I choose my own problems to solve.

        > in my PhD post

        You should have a False Benefits category that includes everything in Benefits except for Education and Community.

        Most PhD students will not achieve what they dreamed; they will instead feel as though they struggled and failed. Credibility, Prestige, and Opportunity are all then tinged with that sense of struggle and failure.

        1. Very cool, and props to you for getting your PhD! Truly, it is no easy feat. Given what you say about this appointment, do you recommend people get their PhD’s today? What are some specific ways your PhD has helped you think better than before you got a PhD?

          I know my MBA has given me very critical thinking skills that I’ve always tried to make me take action. Because with no action, what’s the point?

  76. Hey Sam, I really like the approach and insights of this post. Especially the last few paragraphs. Having graduated and been working for the past 7 years, I finally started thinking more about what’s my “life’s purpose”? I work in finance (for a fund to be specific), there’s gotta be more than chasing money and helping fund managers get richer.

    I went to an elite college (Remin University) in Beijing, and was completely disgusted by the competition and lack of passions. I later transferred to a tier 2 college in the US, and more and more I am thankful for that experience.

    My goal is to live a more fulfilling and purposed life. The short-term goal is to focus on my family and relationships. I believe the Asian culture tend to focus a lot less on family and rather being caught up in the rat race. It’s all about the prestigious schools and high-salaries. I am hoping to change that a little starting with myself.

    Thanks for the post and the inspirations.

    1. Who said you need to go to Harvard to come up with such a clever name? Great name!


      1. Haha, thanks Sam.

        人民大學出了名的就是很多可能能進北大或清華的人,因為不敢冒險所以選了人大.結果後悔一輩子,甚至一輩子走不出這個陰影. 其實是很可悲的.

        北京發展的真的很誇張.我很幸運地在2008當北京奧運的志願者,看到很多幕後花絮. 有時候我也會有點後悔沒待在國內發展, 但是我還是覺得很幸運能來到美國. 西方的思想還是跟東方很不一樣. 你自己也很厲害尤其能給我們大家這個多的資訊和新的思維. 我很為你驕傲也跟很多國內的朋友說要跟你多學學.

  77. You can obviously have a very fulfilling life no matter where you go to school. But you won’t have the same amount of debt… I was lucky enough to escape undergrad and law school with pretty minimal debt and a good job, but lots of people weren’t so lucky (and it really was in large degree luck–people who were smarter than me and harder workers just didn’t end up with a job for some reason…). I went to a regional law school, where all the students are competing for a much smaller pool of potential jobs, so even though I gambled with less debt, my chances of getting a job were much lower. For people going into the “normal” prestigious careers, like law, finance, etc., I wonder if most would be better off just starting their own businesses. I doubt many people graduate and feel completely fulfilled with their job as a corporate M/A lawyer… But maybe I just have a jaded view–law has certainly opened a lot of doors for me financially.

    You still face risks of not getting a job, even going to a prestigious school, but you know for sure how much debt you’re going to graduate with. It’s like being massively levered on a piece of real estate. If everything goes well, you’ll have a great return, but if not, things won’t be so pretty. Good luck to all the students graduating with a hugely unfair (in my opinion) weight of debt!

  78. Another part you left out is the career services of schools.

    If I take a look at my school (Villanova) vs where my brother or wife went to school (Small schools in NJ) – the difference in career services was night and day. We had every major investment bank come for on campus interviews, as well as every defense contracting company in the area, and tons of other great companies (J&J, etc).

    For my brother and wife – they had no such opportunities.

    Also – if you are surrounded by high achievers – it makes you become a high achiever ala keeping up with the jones’s affect. When I saw my classmates getting jobs up to 6-8 months before gradutation – it was really pushing me to do the same. I was freaking out by not having an offer 6 months before graduation. Ultimately this pushed me into finding a good job way ahead of time.

    These two things you will get at a ‘better’ school, and Villanova isn’t even a top top school (Top 10 Undergrad engineering atleast)…

  79. I went to a state school mostly because of money but it also had a good track record of placement in the workforce. If you have family money, going to an ivy league school is the obvious choice (if you can get in) and it will pay dividends down the road.

    For most people, I think state schools are the obvious choice. Especially for a Bachelor’s degree you can’t beat the ROI of a state school. Will you have the connections of an ivy league school? No but if your family can’t afford to send you to an ivy college, you will be saddled with an obscene amount of debt that will hold you down for years to come.

  80. I just want to point out that Boston is one of the most expensive cities in the world to live in, and in the top 5 in the US. It’s also the most expensive city in the US to visit. I’m not sure how that changes your analysis but it’s an assumption on which you missed the mark.

    1. The Boston median home price is about $560,000, or 60% cheaper than San Francisco’s median home price and 70% cheaper than Manhattan’s home median price. These are big differences. Do you disagree?

      I do like it when readers focus on very specific details of a post, so let’s get deep on this one! Thx

      1. You said that Boston is relatively cheap compared to other major international cities and that since more Harvard alums end up there, it should be more of an economic powerhouse when compared to those cities. I don’t see where you dispute that Boston is among the top 5 most expensive cities in the US, and wonder if you’d dispute that it’s among the top 5 economic powerhouses in the US. I guess I struggle with what your conclusion is – Boston is not Manhattan, for sure, but are you suggesting that it should be, given how many Harvard alums are here? I’d argue, instead, that Boston punches far above it’s weight class in the characteristics you mention. The fact that Harvard is in the Boston area, and that therefore it’s logical that many settle here as a matter of circumstance, is a confounding variable that you didn’t address. If you agree with this variable, then the smaller subset of Harvard alums are producing a far greater impact than what your conclusion suggests.

          1. Boston is not dirt cheap on a global context. Boston is dirt cheap as compared to a tiny subset of cities for which several variables make them expensive. I’m even more confused by what your conclusion is, now. I thought that you were trying to conclude that Boston hasn’t benefited economically from its higher proportion of Harvard alums than have other international cities and that you’re using metrics like those of an “economic powerhouse” and cost of living as a yard stick. Let me propose a different way of looking at your analysis. If Harvard wasn’t in the Boston area, by what factor do you think it would affect its economy? I’d suggest that it would be far greater than that of other cities. The fact that Boston leads the world in biomedical research and is either 1 or 2 in venture funding in that industry is almost wholly attributed to Harvard. The conclusion I submit to you is that Boston punches far above its weight class by any of your measures and your analysis supports the fact that Harvard has a big role in this.

            I’m not sure what my educational or geographic background provide in terms of context to the discussion, but feel free to let me know how it helps support or refute this data.

            1. Have you never traveled outside of the country? Boston is cheap compared to so many other international cities like London, Paris, Hong Kong, Singapore, Dubai, Mumbai, Beijing, Shanghai, soul, Copenhagen, Stockholm, Oslo, etc. There are at least 100 other international cities that are much more expensive than Boston.

              Try to travel more and you’ll gain a broader perspective. Harping on something where are you are absolutely wrong is stupid, especially given your background.

            2. I’d say the crappy weather and the rise of cities like San Francisco over the past 20 years, (and the west coast in general, I.e. Seattle & Portland), have resulted in Boston being the second or third choice for many. On the east coast New York is…well New York; and if you’re interested in government or public policy, DC is the obvious destination.

  81. I think there may be a slight aversion to people who graduated from Harvard in the Bay Area. I am not sure why but I have seen it a few times. I had a good friend who started a company here and hired a couple of Harvard grads that all turned out to be duds. After that, he was less apt to hire them. I also know a community college grad who has gone on and is building a successful company. Goes to show you schooling isn’t everything, but the connections you make there can definitely help later in life.

    1. I have a feeling it has everything to do with expectations. The hiring manager probably had very high expectations, and when he realized the performance was just like everybody else (fine), then their performance might actually look terrible. After all, they went to Harvard. Surely they must be able to do something more special than everybody else in the workplace.

  82. As someone who goes through applications and hires people now for my job, I don’t care much where people went to school. Granted I’m in a creative field, but college is one of the last things I pay attention to. I went to a very average state school in Michigan that most people never heard of. I never had problems getting a job really because of where I went to school (save for during the recession). Perhaps making something like 400k or higher is not that important to me. Just one person’s thought!

  83. I went to a small liberal arts college for my BS & MS degrees in Education. My doctorate is from a larger private university that is highly regarded in our area. I originally thought my doctorate would take me further along the more “defined” path in education – building level administration to district level administration with maybe some adjunct college teaching along the way. But right after I got my doctorate in 2011, I found the financial independence/early retirement movement and realized that the financial habits we had in place would allow us to retire early in a few years. My focus shifted from using my doctorate in a traditional school setting to allowing me to take professor positions in different universities for a few years – just to try something new and have fun. I can also teach online for universities with the doctorate (which is required by most accredited institutions.) But now I realize that my time and giving back to others are what I want most. I need to take care of myself first to do that though – and I haven’t always been good at putting me first. My hopes for my kids? Attend “good enough” colleges – and to find jobs they enjoy and while enjoying life too, (while keeping focused on not working forever.) As a side note – I’ve interviewed hundreds of teacher candidates. Our committees rarely took into consideration what college they attended…

  84. Wow! This post is really making me second-guess some things… I have an 18-year-old that got excepted and is going to Boston University. That private school is almost as much is Harvard… But for what? Not the same league as the elite schools. My husband and I have saved for years for our kids education, very very important to us as we both have secondary degrees and my husband has his own business. We are in Chicago & my daughter wants to spread her wings elsewhere. She got invited as part of the university to study abroad in London her first year.
    We have 3 kids total. Advice?

    1. Given he’s already decided to go to BU, the only thing you can do is manage her expectations. Maybe don’t tell him it costs and arm and a leg, and have him do research on LinkedIn like I’ve done to see the areas, industries, and companies alumni are in.

      What an opportunity to go to London her first year already! It depends on your family finances. Can you afford all this? If so, might as well give your kids every educational opportunity possible.

      If you feel stretched, please focus next on U Mass instead of Boston U! Because if the Harvard kids are routinely rejected from the top jobs, it’s more the same, and then some for the none Harvard kids.

      1. Thank you!!!!
        You are right about the pressure on kids nowadays. I see it all the time, sports etc.

  85. Mrs. Adventure Rich

    “The most fulfilling work directly helps someone in need.” I love this.

    I went to a very small, liberal arts college where we studied a Great Books program. Four years of no textbooks, only original text great books with Socratic method classes, Euclidean proofs on a chalk board and a Senior Thesis we had to defend in front of a panel of professors.

    I jumped from there into a job in business and have found a fascinating career! My employer took a risk on me by hiring a liberal arts major with no business experience, but they saw the benefits of the critical thinking training and the ability to analyze and communicate well. It was a far cry from an Ivy League pedigree, but it has paid itself back + a lot in my 5 years of working so far!

    1. Has to be Saint John’s College–I went there too!

      Now I work in tech sales and am having a lot of fun.

      A surprising amount of Johnnies from my time have ended up in some pretty prestigious jobs, but — most of them came from old money families who could afford to send them to get a master’s at one of those schools that Sam is talking about. The College is a backdoor into grad programs at those Universities–if you can afford it…

      But wow was that a great education

  86. Grant @ Life Prep Couple

    I know in engineering you have a massive advantage coming out of school if you have a degree from an elite university. If your resume says MIT you are getting an interview. However, I worked with some engineers from MIT and while they were good engineers I never saw them shoot laser beams out of their eyes. Not really fair for me to expect them to but based on everything you hear about kids from these schools you do create unrealistic expectations.

  87. Mr. Freaky Frugal

    “The most fulfilling work directly helps someone in need. You will NEVER feel burnt out and will NEVER burn out as long as you are making a difference in someone else’s life. I wasn’t lucky enough to realize this until I was in my 30s. Better late than never.”

    Mostly true. I think if you make very little money the financial stress can cause you to burn out. I’ve seen this happen to social workers.

    I went to Michigan (BA Psych), Duke (MBA), and Villanova part-time (Masters in Comp Sci). Even before I FIREd, I never felt pressure to be a somebody. I do remember after I graduated from Michigan that I felt I was ENTITLED to be somebody which was a really bad attitude. I learned the hard way that I was entitled to nothing.

  88. Maxwell Linn


    I don’t disagree with your thoughts and opinion, but Ivy League schools wouldn’t be what they are without the track records their graduates have produced over their histories.

    One thing that needs to be included in this analysis is the intangibles that come with any advanced degree. Some of these would be:
    – Alumni network (Apathy Ends mentioned this in a previous post)
    – Carrying weight of that institution on paper. If we look at the available jobs from, a macro standpoint, we have been in an environment where the employed are leaving for higher paying jobs. Career experience and where you received your degree(s) carry weight when it comes to the resume vetting process. Most won’t admit it, but this happens regularly.
    – This is more of a mushy one, but one thing to consider would be parallel universes. If one hadn’t gone to that school, they may not have met their spouse and had the children they have, or the jobs they have, or live where they live. This is a stretch, I know, but I met my wife in college and we have two wonderful girls. Was the $120k education for both of us worth it? Considering our jobs and the parallel universe theory, I would say absolutely.

    Thanks for posting and making FS enjoyable!


    1. Hi Max,

      If I went to an Ivy League university, I would never have met my spouse either, and I would be forever sad because of it. I enjoy my alumni network, but it is my job network (finance, media, entrepreneur) and tennis network that are way way more important than my school network.

      I don’t know anybody who cares for the weight of their institution on paper, except for new grads, current students, or folks who feel lost or have not gotten on a path they want yet. Those are the people who tell you within 7 sentences where they went to school when first meeting. Then I try to slip away.



      1. I don’t mean to sound callous but – if you never meant someone, can one really be sad about that? I can see wondering maybe who else is out there – but sad??

        I love reading your insightful work product – thanks for putting it out there.

  89. Apathy Ends

    I went to a public state university for both my undergrad and MBA – I think the biggest thing coming out of these elite universities is the alumni network, something I don’t feel is as strong coming out of a public school that graduates so many more people.

    Yay for low expectations!

  90. I went to a large public university and at least for me, after you get into a position at work, nobody cares where you went to school. If anything those that lead with where they went to school get made fun of. It’s almost like grow up, nobody cares where you went, I want to know what you can do now. So in my organization we don’t have a ton of tolerance for those that try to play the elite university card.

  91. Wall Street Physician

    I went to one of the “elite” colleges you mentioned and would like to offer my perspective.

    Harvard or other elite colleges is not the be-all and end-all all that some people make it out to be. However in finance, as you know, while Wall Street firms reject plenty of Harvard applicants, they also typically only interview at a few select institutions. Getting onto Wall Street without going to one of those colleges is extraordinarily difficult.

    From the medical school perspective, I would argue that it is no easier to get into medical school from Harvard or other elite colleges then it would be from your state school. Like at all colleges, Harvard and other elite colleges have many graduates who aspired to become physicians as freshman, only to be weeded out by the premed process. I have found that medical schools give little weight to the college you went to.


    1. Hi Wall Street Physician,

      Regarding your second point (paragraph 2 – med school) if I knew I would have done it differently looking back. But, there is a purpose for everything in life.

      Thank you for providing advice to a 25-year-old. I hope you can continue to provide good advice.

  92. Hi Sam –

    Interesting article and approach.

    Taking it down a level further, in addition to what institution one attends, what are your thoughts about what DEGREE level and/or study area one obtains? Do you think similar pressures exist?

    I’ve seen the same pressure mindset also based on:

    1. What level of education is acquired
    (undergrad, masters, PhD, etc.).

    2. What the major or area of study is in (business, technology, liberal arts, etc.).

    Being a “liberal artist” working in financial services (middle / back office functions) from a large public state university, I felt pressured to have to prove myself to business and management majors when I joined the industry 10 years ago. From my perspective, it seems this has been less important as I’ve progressed in my career because experience and work results weigh more heavily the longer I’ve been out of school.


  93. WOW I LOVE this post!! I didn’t even apply to Harvard because I knew I wouldn’t get in. I really admire those who go to top universities and those who don’t but still excel in life. It takes a lot of dedication and willpower to achieve something most people haven’t.

    Ibanking and consulting were the only two career tracks I was obsessed until I was a sophomore. Financial Accounting and Financial Theory put an end to my Finance career path. I’m perfectly happy where I am now, but sometimes I wonder what it would be like if I had stuck it out for longer. It does make me feel like a failure sometimes giving up on something i desperately wanted to do. Maybe I’m just not smart enough. Oh well, life goes on. >_<

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