Do Top Colleges Matter for Lifetime Success?

Thousands scramble to get into the Ivy League, Stanford, University of Chicago, and every other school considered elite. Is that the best strategy for picking a college?

In “The Right Way to Choose A College, “ Stanford researcher Denise Pope discusses the overwhelming evidence that student engagement is fundamental to college—and life—success. “Engagement” is the amount of thinking, passion, and action a student puts into his or her education.

Pope’s Challenge Success Stanford research group found 6 key features that made a college program most valuable to students:

  • “Taking a course with a professor who makes learning exciting

  • “Working with professors who care about students personally

  • “Finding a mentor who encourages students to pursue personal goals

  • “Working on a project across several semesters

  • “Participating in an internship that applies classroom learning.

  • “Being active in extracurricular activities”

And where does this best happen? At smaller schools where students can get individual attention.

The selectivity of the school does not matter for lifetime outcome! “When asked if they were motivated and productive in their jobs after college, some 40% of graduates from selective schools said yes—as did the same percentage from non-selective schools.” [emphasis added] Community colleges and highly selective private universities alike.

These findings comport with Loren Pope’s work, Colleges That Change People’s Lives, and the 25+ year Oberlin study of small liberal arts schools.

But it’s no surprise, because the more individual attention and inspiration a student gets, the more motivated he or she is to work hard, and the more able to develop his or her own individual interests and powers. These are all essential to succeeding in life, whatever you decide to do.

Bottom line: Find a school where the teachers are able to give students individual attention—and make sure that students are being taught a full range of ideas, so students can actually compare differing ideas for themselves.