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Does studying at an Ivy League college really matter?

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As I watch my students nervously await their first choice Ivy League university offers, I am reminded that nearly 18 years ago, I too was one of the parents who was keen her children study at an Ivy league college.

And my husband still has the bumper sticker that reads; “My money and my daughter went to Princeton.” 

Why are we so insistent that our children study at an Ivy League college? Back in 1999 it was the notion that they would provide our daughter with an education that gave her opportunities to achieve career and economic success. 

However, by that metric, I should have insisted she seek admission to University of California-Irvine. According to Educate to Career’s (ETC) latest college ranking system that empirically determines the Economic Value Added by each college ranked within their system, Princeton ranks 263 with an aggregate score of 72.4.   ETC defines economic value added as being the improvement in earnings and employability of graduates; measured against the total cost of the education. 

According to Michael Havis, President of ETC, workforce preparedness, maximising earnings and employability are the primary reasons for a person to attend college. “We define ‘quality education' as being the development of a skill set that is marketable, i.e. a real career with stable earnings.”

Fast forward to 2017, how has our daughter Akanksha, who then went to Judge business school at Cambridge, benefitted from her Ivy League education? She has certainly become a statistic and joined the echelons of successful entrepreneurs who went to Ivy League colleges.

So did Princeton  make a winner or simply select one? Can I then conclude, it matters which university a student goes to? Derek Thompson, senior editor of The Atlantic, supports this conclusion.  

“It matters where you go to college, plain and simple. Graduates of the most-select colleges often earn more than graduates of less-select public universities, who are employed at higher rates than those of community colleges, who get more calls from potential employers than graduates of online universities. A world where "44.8% of billionaires, 55.9% of [Forbes's most] powerful women, and 85.2% of [Forbes's most] powerful men" attended elite schools is not a place where college doesn't matter.”

But with an 8.39 per cent admission rate in 2015, of which only 10.3 per cent international students secured admission to Princeton, would Akanksha have been this successful had she not made it there?

Research done by Alan Krueger, a Princeton economics professor (of course!) who served for two years as the chairman of President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers, and Stacy Dale, an analyst with Mathematical Policy Research reassures me.  

Through a longitudinal study, they suggest students in possession of  the intelligence, competence and mindset that made them eligible to apply to an Ivy League college, would most likely have the tools and temperament to achieve a high income, whether admission to the elite institution materialized or not.

However, our son did not even apply to an Ivy League school or a British equivalent, and is still a successful doctor. Endorsing what bestselling author and columnist for the New York Times Frank Bruni writes in his best seller “Where You Go Is Not Who You'll Be” - what matters in the end are a student's efforts in and out of the classroom.

In the final analysis a high income is far from the only indicator of success, and one can get statistics to support whatever answers one is looking for.   

Anjali Hazari

Anjali Hazari teaches IB and IGCSE biology at the French International School

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