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Myth: You Must Go to a Big Name College to Be Successful

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Students (and their parents) often feel that they must choose the most prestigious college possible. But data demonstrates that you don’t need to enroll in a big-name college to be successful in life.

Field of Study

A student’s field of study matters more than the college name. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, students who major in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) and healthcare are more likely to be employed full-time and earn higher incomes than students who major in arts and humanities. A third of the CEOs of the S&P 500 majored in engineering. One report discusses annual data by academic major and the other report provides lifetime earnings data. See also The Economic Value of College Majors by the Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University.

Public Colleges vs. Prestigious Colleges

The College ROI Report shows that the most prestigious colleges often have the highest dollar return on investment, but the public colleges aren’t far behind. If you sort the colleges by percentage of rate of return on investment, the public colleges are listed first because they cost half as much. The private colleges don’t even show up among the top 100 colleges when sorted by the rate of return on investment.

Making CEOs

You don’t need to graduate from the Ivy League to become a CEO. The majority of CEOs did not graduate from Ivy League institutions. Many graduated from colleges like Miami University, Texas A&M, the University of Nebraska and the University of Wisconsin-Madison. According to a survey by the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, 48% of the CEOs at Fortune 100 companies in 2001 earned their undergraduate degrees from public colleges, up from 32% in 1980. Only 10% earned their degrees from an Ivy League school.

Billion Dollar Educations

Less than half of billionaires graduated from elite colleges. The odds of an Ivy League college graduate becoming a billionaire are a very, very low fraction of a percent.

The Fame

Most famous people didn’t graduate from an Ivy League college. For example, Oprah Winfrey graduated from Tennessee State University, Ronald Reagan from Eureka College and Bill Nye from Bridgewater State College.

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