I write this piece with no small amount of trepidation, because I write from a place of great privilege. I went to Harvard. Easy for me to say, blithely, Oh, college doesn’t matter at all, while I lick caviar that was left over from tea with President Obama from my sterling silver spoon. If only! In reality, I only have two ratty old hair ties I’m embarrassed to wear on my wrist but I do anyway, because I’m currently on a spending freeze for any superfluous or “luxury” item. Not that I’m complaining: I’m a graduate student and a writer, which means I’m doing what I’ve always wanted to do.
I do know, however, that I didn’t need to go to Harvard to do this, and I am particularly aware of that fact because, as a high schooler, I was obsessed with going to an Ivy League school. All of my work, all of my all-nighters, all of the social events I declined—all of it was in service of this larger goal: of getting into Harvard. Needless to say, Rory Gilmore is my spirit animal.
When I say, I didn’t need to go to Harvard, I mean that I believe I would’ve found a way to take this path—toward writing—regardless of where I went to college, because I love writing and I’m ambitious and a hard worker, with an ego big enough to think I can contribute to literature and a strong tolerance to failure. What mattered, and matters, more than my Harvard degree is me. My degree can’t get me anywhere I’m not willing to get myself. Looking at my friends, who went to a range of colleges, from community to Ivy, I see this confirmed: success does not depend on their alma mater, but on their own initiative and sheer stick-to-it-iveness.
Don’t believe me? Let’s look at some numbers. A 1999 study compared the earnings of graduates from elite colleges with those of what they called “moderately selective” schools. They found no disparity in income between the two groups twenty years after graduation day. Another larger and more recent study confirmed the findings. A similar look in job satisfaction—another potential indicator of happiness—again discovered that there was little correlation between attending an elite college and higher job satisfaction. Over and over again, studies show that going to college is what matters; where you go is of little to no significance.
Need some more evidence? Steve Jobs dropped out of Reed; Maya Angelou didn’t go to college; William Faulkner dropped out of the University of Mississippi; two of the three YouTube founders went to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; Flannery O’Connor went to the Georgia State College for Women; the list could go on. (**NOTE: most famous women never even went to college before the late 1800s, which makes writers like Jane Austen and the Brontës and George Sand triply awesome**).
I imagine what you make of your college experience also matters: if you leave school with a couple of professors or an employer who’s willing to advocate for you and a CV full of academic and/or extracurricular achievements, you’re leaving with evidence of your passion and diligence, evidence that future employers or graduate instructors will see, evidence that matters more than a Harvard degree. Your fate, then, is in your hands; not in the hands of a college admissions committee. It’s a revelation that’s both comforting and scary. So, believe in yourself. Don’t let yourself down.
Do you have a dream school? We hope you get in; it’s okay if you don’t.