Chill Out: It Really Doesn’t Matter Where Your Kids Go to College

Kris Dunn Career Advice, Career Paths, College Recruiting

I’ve got a junior in High School, and you know what that means – time for admission envy, parental handwringing and everything that goes with along with that.

Sarah’s going to Vanderbilt/Harvard/Stanford. Man, I wish my kid would have worked harder…

I get it – we all want more for our kids. To the extent they’ve worked hard, we want them to go to the best school.  When that doesn’t happen, we start worrying, because not being admitted to a top school is a classic 1st world problem. The volume gets amped up when your kid is a high performer and can’t even get a sniff to a top school with a 4.4 GPA and a 32 ACT. 

It’s easy to understand your paranoia.  If the school your kid is going to isn’t up to par in your mind, or if you think he/she has been wronged by an admissions process, it’s easy to wish for more.

Until you figure out the following 2 things:

1–Comparison is the thief of joy, and more importantly;

2–By the time your kid has his second job and/or 5 years into the world of work, it’s not going to matter where he/she went to school.

Couple of things to offer up. First, consider this study that estimates the economic return of attending an elite college, a summary of which appears below:

Stacy Dale, a mathematician, and Alan Krueger, an economist, collaborated in two large-scale research studies (Dale & Kruger, 2002 & 2014) in which they effectively controlled for the background characteristics of students attending colleges that varied in selectivity (based on average SAT scores of the entering class). The first study was of students entering college in 1976, and the second was of those entering in 1989. Essentially, their question in both studies was this: If people are matched in socioeconomic background and pre-existing indices of their academic ability and motivation, will those who go to an elite college make more money later in life than those who go to a less elite one? The overall result was that the college attended made no difference. Other things being equal, attending an elite school resulted in no income advantage over attending a less elite school, neither in the short term nor in the long term. 

The key, of course, is students matched in socioeconomic background, academic ability and motivation.  Match kids up by those factors, and there’s no outcome difference in attending Kennesaw State vs Georgia Tech (Atlanta example, plug your own in for your area of the US).

And when it comes to the factors considered, give me motivation over the other factors once a decent level of academic ability is present.  The average GPA of millionaires is said to be 2.9 – I’ll be back with more on that later this week.

I see it all the time as a recruiter – people from elite universities with average careers, and people from schools I’ve never heard of killing it and running the world.

I was blessed to have my first son coast at a really good high school to get a 3.7 GPA and mail in a high 20’s GPA.  So my expectations were managed, that’s easy when your kid knows not to apply to elite schools.  But he was an absolute grinder in other things in his HS years, so I know he has a shot via transferred motivation to do great things and outperform a 34 or higher ACT.

I’m a recruiter by trade. If you’re still recovering from your son or daughter going to the state school, chill out. He or she has a 50/50 shot to outperform the kid of the mom who stuck the Stanford admission in your face.  But only if they grind and the motivation is greater than their peer group.

BONUS – Video below shows a kid wanting Ivy and coming to the realization it’s University of Illinois (from Risky Business, click through if you don’t see the video player).