Will Going To Harvard Make You Happier (Or Richer?)

happy college grad

High school grads – choose your college carefully. “If you can go to Podunk U debt free vs. Harvard for $100,000, go to Podunk.”

The results are in.

Parents, before your high school graduate decides where to attend college this fall, make sure you both read the information below.

Attending an elite college will not make you happier later in life.

A new nation-wide Gallup survey of 30,000 college graduates of all age groups found that attending an elite college does not result in more engaged or successful workers, or happier, satisfied people.

What does seem to generate happiness and success down the road is an enriching college experience with inspiring professors and a love of learning.

The Gallup research suggests that “the factors that should be guiding college decisions are not selectivity or prestige, but cost of attendance, great teaching and deep learning, in that order,” writes Anya Kamenetz for NPR.

Attending an elite school does not mean you will make more money.

Earlier research by economist Stacy Dale at Mathematica, a New Jersey research firm, found that “students who were accepted to elite schools, but attended less selective schools, went on to earn just as much money as their elite counterparts.”

It seems that smart, ambitious people will be successful regardless of the institution’s name on their diploma.

“Individual traits matter more than where you went,” Ms. Dale said, in a Wall Street Journal interview. “It’s a lot more important what you learn later in life than where you got your undergraduate degree.”

Previous studies have shown no link between expensive private colleges and later salaries for graduates. “Income is much more closely tied to a person’s choice of a major, ” says NPR’s Kamenetz.

Graduating with a lot of debt can sink your overall satisfaction with life.

The Gallup study revealed that students with no college debt are much more likely to report that they are “thriving,” meaning they’re reporting personal satisfaction and success in almost all aspects of their lives.

Graduates with the average debt amount of $30,000 are only one-fifth as likely to report the same degree of satisfaction with their lives.

As we know from working with clients and their college-age children, college debt is a heavy burden that can easily derail your future plans for marriage, home buying, and starting a family. Unless you are destined for an extremely high earning career, anything but minimal debt is probably not worth it.

So think twice (or maybe three times) about attending an expensive school that requires you to take on debt.  (By the way, the rule of thumb is to borrow no more than your first-year expected professional salary.)

The Takeaway:

The message for students is clear, says lead education researcher Brandon Busteed at Gallup.

“If you can go to Podunk U debt free vs. Harvard for $100,000, go to Podunk. And concentrate on what you do when you get there.”


About Mari Adam

Mari Adam, Certified Financial Planner™ has been helping individuals and families chart their financial futures for over twenty-five years. Have a question about your financial situation? Ask Mari!

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