Is Lower Student Debt More Important than a Big Name School for Thriving After College?

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal (no subscription required) proclaims “Elite Colleges Don’t Buy Happiness for Graduates.”  The thesis of the article is that empirical data shows that a college’s reputation does not guarantee success in the workplace.

Gallup surveyed more than 30,000 college graduates drawn from colleges and universities across the selectivity spectrum.  The raw report can be obtained here.  Their findings were that students from elite schools were no more satisfied or engaged in their job than those from second-tier schools.  Their findings suggest that the graduates who thrived most were ones who found the most purpose in their work and had the least amount of student debt.


Source 2014 Gallup-Purdue Index Report


The implications of this survey are profound and uplifting for many students that cannot, either for academic or financial reasons, attend an elite university.  We started MyCollegePrice to help students and families make better informed decisions about secondary education.  MyCollegePrice is primarily intended for the family of a student who knows what they want to study and wants to determine which schools will provide them the best possible financial aid package.

Example of net price and debt estimates for a student

Example of net price and debt estimates for a student

Selecting a college is the first major life decision most young adults will make in their life.  Assuming the student graduates, they will forever be associated university’s brand and reputation.  For example, no matter where you go in the Army (and even leaving the service) West Point graduates look out for each other like fraternity brothers and sisters.  Similarly, graduates of schools with major athletic programs like Auburn or Florida State nearly always retain an affiliation with their school’s sports program.  Finally, there is a pedigree associated with graduates from Ivy League and top engineering schools like Stanford and MIT.  Many employers will assume that an applicant from one of these schools has off-the-charts intelligence.

This survey confirms that you do not need to attend a top tier school to be successful.  Indeed there are likely many graduates from top schools who are struggling either to find a job.  Some of the most successful people in business, politics, and sports have all attended what would be considered non-elite schools.  Warren Buffett attended the University of Nebraska, Secretary of State Colin attended City College of New York, and Larry Bird attended Indiana State University.  Each of these individuals would no doubt say that their college experiences shaped who they would become as adults.  The key is finding the right match for you – academically, socially, and financially.  That is what MyCollegePrice is all about.

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