The Ivy Coach Daily

May 15, 2024

How Much Does an Ivy League Degree Matter?

Previously Published on March 20, 2015:

Over the years, we’ve written extensively about why an Ivy League degree matters and backed up our arguments with data. So, when we see an argument that attending an Ivy League school doesn’t matter, our ears perk up, and we’re ready to shine a flashlight on the basis of the author’s claim to see if it holds water.

A Writer Argues Where You Go to College Basically Doesn’t Matter

In Frank Bruni’s book, Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be: An Antidote to the College Admissions Mania, the New York Times columnist argues that going to a great university does not determine your success in life. We, of course, both agree and disagree. But before we even dissect this argument, we’d first like to echo a point made by Jonathan Wai in a piece for Quartz aptly entitled “Frank Bruni is wrong about Ivy League schools.” And, to that title, we say…amen!

Yet the Writer Attended a Top College and Became a Success

But here’s the point we’d like to echo: Mr. Bruni graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and earned his graduate degree from Columbia University. UNC is one of the nation’s most elite public universities, and Columbia is one of the eight institutions that are members of the Ivy League. Mr. Bruni, an accomplished author and columnist, is quite successful, we’d argue. Indeed, his life and career are a valid counterexample to his overarching claim that where you go to college doesn’t matter. After all, it’s not as though Mr. Bruni can play a game of Sliding Doors with his life to see if he’d have been less successful had he not attended UNC and Columbia and instead attended less selective universities.

The Writer Cites the Alma Maters of Fortune 100 CEOs to Attempt to Substantiate His Claim

One of the ways by which Mr. Bruni disputes the notion that an Ivy League degree matters is by citing the alma maters of the American-born CEOs of the top 100 companies in the Fortune 500. Mr. Bruni concludes that at the time of his book’s publication several years ago, about 30 of the 100 chief executives attended an Ivy League school. By the way, Mr. Bruni, there are other highly selective colleges not in the Ivy League as well, including Stanford, Caltech, MIT, Duke, Northwestern, Amherst, Williams, and, yes, even UNC, among several others we don’t have the real estate within this piece to list.

But Where You Go to College Matters

The Alma Maters of Fortune 100 and Fortune 500 CEOs Evidence that Where You Go to College Matters

In his Quartz piece, Mr. Wai offers up a great counterpunch to this analysis, based also on data from the time Mr.Bruni cites: “Why stop at 100? Why not examine the entire Fortune 500? That is, in fact, what I did in my research, published two years ago. And in an extended analysis from 1996 to 2014, I uncovered that roughly 38% of Fortune 500 CEOs attended elite schools (see the paper for the full list) for the last two decades.” Go, Mr. Wai! You’ve done your homework. Your data analysis is much more comprehensive than the one that likely took Mr. Bruni a mere few hours to assemble.

Success in Life Is, Of Course, Not Only About Where You Go to College

Of course, the number of Fortune 500 CEOs who attended an Ivy League school is but one example that demonstrates how attending an Ivy League school matters. The fact is, you don’t need to attend an Ivy League college to be successful in life. An Ivy League degree does not mean you’ll be a go-getter, a hustler, or someone who will challenge the status quo and redefine an industry.

Yet the Ivy League Attracts the Ambitious Change-Makers of Tomorrow

Yet so many of these kinds of people — the kind of people who become Fortune 500 CEOs — do attend (or apply to) Ivy League institutions. After all, overachievers tend to be go-getters from an early age. The fact is that the data doesn’t lie. A huge percentage of the top folks in business, a huge percentage of the top folks in so many fields from science to education and so many other domains, attended elite institutions. It was true when Mr. Bruni collected his data. It’s true now, in 2024.

The Data Tells the Story that Where You Go to College Matters

There is a reason so many people whose names we all recognize attended one of a handful of universities. The United States Supreme Court is a who’s who of Ivy League graduates. Consulting firms like McKinsey hire almost exclusively out of the Ivy League and other highly selective colleges. It is how it is. To assert otherwise may be a popular argument. It might even get a writer a book deal. But it belies the data suggesting that where you go to college matters.

Ivy Coach Will Share More Data that Where You Go to College Matters in the Years to Come

The data of Fortune 500 CEOs presented above is but a small piece of the puzzle. On the pages of Ivy Coach’s college admissions blog, we’ve presented a veritable treasure trove of data over the years on why an Ivy League degree matters, and you bet we’ll be presenting more data in the years to come.

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