We’ve written extensively over the years why an Ivy League degree matters. In Frank Bruni’s latest book, “Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be,” 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 his piece for “Quartz” entitled “Frank Bruni is wrong about Ivy League schools.” And, to that title, we say…amen! But here’s the point we’d like to echo: Mr. Bruni is a graduate of the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill and he 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 member institutions of the Ivy League. Mr. Bruni, an accomplished author and columnist, is quite successful, we’d argue. Indeed, his life and career is a valid counterexample to his overarching 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 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 — like Caltech, MIT, Duke, Stanford, Amherst, Williams and, yes, even UNC, among several others we don’t have the real estate within this piece to list. But it’s Jonathan Wai who offers up a great counterpunch to this analysis: “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 indeed much more comprehensive than the data analysis that likely took Mr. Bruni a mere few hours to put together (if the list wasn’t already readily available).
And that’s but one example. 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, someone who will challenge the status quo and redefine an industry. And yet so many of these kinds of people do attend — or apply to — Ivy League institutions. They 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. There is a reason so many people whose names we all recognize attended one of a handful of universities. 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, but it ignores the data suggesting otherwise. The data presented above is but a small piece of the puzzle. There is lots more to this puzzle that we’ll be discussing in the days and weeks ahead.