In his most recent essay, After the credentials, Paul Graham tells us that in South Korea where “college entrance exams determine 70 to 80 percent of a person’s future.” Fortunately, the Americans know better: “Where you go to college still matters, but not like it used to.”
Paul writes good essays, but they are thin on research. How much is your alma matter a predictor of your success? The research is available. For example, in Regression and Matching Estimates of the Effects of Elite College Attendance on Career Outcomes, Brand and Halaby write:
Our results suggest that in terms of college quality, there is not only no direct effect on mid- and late-career attainment, but no significant effect at all. This study questions the consequential belief that an elite college education necessarily translates into privileged socioeconomic status throughout the life course.
To sum it up: If you are a privileged kid, you will do well even if you go to a local college.
Because my research budget for this blog is $0, I will do my own survey about a special job: the presidency in the USA and the office of prime minister in Canada. Do state leaders attend a small set of colleges?
Let us review where the American presidents got their first degree:
- John F. Kennedy earned his degree from Harvard University.
- Lyndon B. Johnson earned his degree from Southwest Texas State Teachers’ College.
- Richard Nixon earned his degree from Whittier College.
- Gerald R. Ford earned his degree from the University of Michigan.
- Jimmy Carter earned his degree from the United States Naval Academy.
- Ronald Reagan earned his degree from Eureka College.
- George H. W. Bush earned his degree from Yale University.
- Bill Clinton earned his degree from Georgetown University.
- George W. Bush earned his degree from Yale University.
- Barak Obama earned his degree from Columbia University.
What about Canadian prime ministers?
- Pierre-Elliot Trudeau earned his degree from Université de Montréal.
- Joe Clark earned his degree from the University of Alberta.
- John Turney earned his degree from the University of British Columbia.
- Brian Mulroney earned his degree from St. Francis Xavier University.
- Kim Campbell earned her degree from the University of British Columbia.
- Jean Chrétien earned his degree from Université Laval.
- Paul Martin earned his degree from the University of Toronto.
- Stephen Harper earned his degree from the the University of Calgary.
Based on this evidence alone, if I were to coach a kid for a political career, I would ignore where he gets his degree. This makes sense. You become president or prime minister several years after earning your degree. By the time you have the experience required for the job, any college premium is gone.
See also my post The 2 myths getting students into ivy-league schools.
Note: I am a graduate of the University of Toronto, maybe the most prestigious university in Canada.