For all of the talk about whether a high school graduate should go to the "best" college he can get into (it's in quotes because what actually is "best" is highly subjective) or not, consider that the school a person goes to actually makes a lot less difference than what most people think it does. In fact, two other factors make much more of a difference (that is, if you're trying to maximize income).
The first is one that we've talked about here previously: the student himself. As we've seen, if a student has the right qualities, he will be successful whether he goes to Harvard, the University of Oklahoma, or a small school most of us have never heard of.
This has been the case for me. I went to a no-name undergraduate school and a top 30 business school (which is kind of "ok, but not "the best".) And I'm doing fairly well.
Now would I have done better if I went to Harvard? Maybe. But maybe not. And certainly we can see that a driven student with the right skills and personality who goes to an "average" school would be better off than a slacker with no ambition who went to an Ivy League school, right?
The second factor is a subject we've batted around a bit, but I'm not sure we've ever agreed to it outright. But a recent podcast reminded me of its importance. It is the major selected. Here are some thoughts on the subject from an NPR piece:
Many students started college this month, and they will almost immediately begin grappling with a tough question: what to major in. According to some economists, it's the most important decision that a college student makes because there's a lot of money at stake.
How important is your major? It's even more important than the school you go to.
If you go to Harvard and pay all that money and become a schoolteacher, you won't be earning more than other schoolteachers.
The podcast I actually listened to was from Planet Money and went into a bit more detail than the transcript linked above. A couple other points they made:
- One of the podcasters had gone all the way through business school and gotten an MBA. Then she decided she didn't want to go into business and instead she joined NPR. The economist she talked to said she probably lost $3-$4 million over her working lifetime to do so.
- Others interviewed pointed out that "money isn't everything." You need to enjoy what you're doing, right? After all, do you want to spend 40 years doing something you hate just to make more money?
This last point is a false objection in my mind. The people saying things like this are making several inaccurate assumptions like:
- There's only one field that any give person would enjoy working in.
- That there's truly a LOVE for an industry out there for everyone. I don't think there is. Does everyone reading this really LOVE your job (or can think of one you would love)?
- That what's imagined about a career is actually the way it plays out in real life. For instance, many people go into social work because they want to help needy people and work with them face to face to make their lives better. That's a noble cause IMO. It's also a little Pollyanna if you think that's all a social worker does. Ask one who's been working for five years and he'll tell you about the reams of paperwork he has to do, the state and federal red tape he spends hours a week jumping through, and the ungrateful, lazy, looking-for-a-free-handout people he has to deal with all too often (I'm not saying all or even most people are like this, but let's face it, some try to game the system). The imagined reality is much different than the actual reality.
- The more you hate a job, the more it pays. People who make statements like the ones above assume that if it pays well, it's going to be miserable.
The net result is that you don't have to drive nails into your eyes every day to make good money. And there are probably several occupations that any one person would enjoy, so why not pick one that pays well?
Let me reiterate that I think the best balance between picking an enjoyable career and one that pays well is to do something you like. You can give a little on the "love my job" scale and reap a lot in the income scale.
Ok, that's all I have to say for now. What are your thoughts on this subject?