Everyone knows you get a foot inside the door of a good job when you come from a top university. It's why a parent will go through great lengths to get their child in one as shown in the recent college admissions cheating scandal in the U.S. But we know better — a university’s prestige doesn't necessarily make kids more successful. At the end of the day, kids themselves determine their destinies, whether they attend a top-ranked or 200th-ranked college.
In a paper entitled "A ‘Fit’ Over Rankings: Why College Engagement Matters More Than Selectivity," researchers at Stanford Graduate School of Educations analyzed studies on personal satisfaction and success. When it came to learning, well-being, job satisfaction, and future income, “the most successful students, both in college and beyond, are the ones who engage in the undergraduate experience regardless of how selective a school may be," according to co-author Denise Pope, a senior lecturer at the GSE and co-founder of Challenge Success in a press release.
A school's ranking is not a driver of career and life success
Jenny Anderson summed it up nicely in Quartz. "Kids who studied the most learned the most; students who put the most effort put into coursework gained a better understanding of their subject and general knowledge; and the more engaged the kids were with coursework, the more curious and creative they became.”
According to the Stanford paper, the driver of success is what kids do in college and how they are experiencing it. And in a 2014 survey of more than 1,500 associate-degree holders and nearly 30,000 bachelor-degree holders found that six college experiences have a significant impact on their happiness and sense of fulfillment later in life. These are:
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Taking a course with a professor who makes learning exciting
Working with professors who care about students professionally
Finding a mentor who encourages students to follow personal goals
Working on a project across several semesters
Participating in an internship that applies classroom learning
Being active in extracurricular activities
High grades or getting into prestigious schools aren’t the only nor the main factor for success. Psychologist Daniel Kahneman's research shows that adult well-being is driven by high-quality relationships, feeling one’s work has meaning and feeling one is becoming more skilled in that work.
Parents may argue that the best colleges and top universities have the best facilities, learning programs, and teachers for their kids to reach their fullest potential. That is true, but only if the child is motivated to learn and study hard. If not, even with a college diploma, the kids also end up as adults who may not have acquired the skills they needed to do what they loved.
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When you push your kids to get good grades, focus on the essential life skills that come with the effort that come with such an accomplishment. Make sure your kids are making meaningful relationships instill a growth mindset to develop their critical thinking skills. Let them work hard and experience failure to nurture resilience and grit. They need to learn and know they made their success.