Allison Cheston, Career Connector


Career Connector Blog

In Praise of “Good Enough” Schools


I’ve been interviewing college grads in their 20’s for my upcoming book and career curriculum In the Driver’s Seat: Work-Life Navigation Skills for Young Adults. And one of the things I’m finding is that not everyone who’s “successful” at 28 attended a top college. This is not surprising but definitely merits conversation.

Bay Area career coach Marty Nemko has some interesting statistics on his website. For example,  “A study reported in the American Economic Review concluded that even in terms of earnings, “What matters most is not which college you attend, but what you did while you were there. (That means choosing a strong major, choosing professors carefully, getting involved in leadership activities, getting to know professors)…

This is not a new conversation, yet given the recession of the past two years both parents and teens continue to be occupied with the broader issue of how to reconcile their ideal with what has become an unaffordable education.

The media is listening and families are voting with their feet. A September article from the Wall Street Journal cites Recruiters’ Top 25 Schools —most of them state schools offering a good education at a relatively affordable price.  CBS News reported last year that applications were down at top liberal arts colleges in favor of state schools.

What do you think? Many of those I interviewed were saddled with steep loans in their 20’s, and either had taken jobs that paid better—even if it wasn’t their first choice—or were happy in their jobs but worried about their future ability to remain solvent.

But the broader question of whether it’s “worth it” to attend a top college at top dollar is still on the table, and I suggest that it depends. If you’re a self-starter, as Marty Nemko points out, you can probably succeed anywhere. If not, then you’ll need more hand-holding, which may cost more money.

If you can afford it, there are many arguments for attending a top name school: among them, long-term brand recognition, prestige, connections, alumni network, etc. The most important thing, though, ultimately, is to get the degree. What do you think?