Warren Buffett (Chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway). George Lucas (creator of “Star Wars”). Larry Page (co-founder of Google). Jerry Jones (owner of the Dallas Cowboys). Arnold Schwarzenegger (former Governor of California, movie star). Oprah Winfrey (media executive, former talk show host, actress, etc.).
What do all these people have in common? You might be thinking that they are all extremely successful and some of them are even billionaires. That is correct. But what you might not know is that while they are all extremely successful, another commonality is that none of them earned an undergraduate degree from an Ivy League school.
Insight #1: It’s more important what you do at college, not which college you attend
Warren Buffett graduated from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. George Lucas graduated from USC (but first attended Modesto Junior College). Larry Page graduated from the University of Michigan. Jerry Jones graduated from the University of Arkansas. Arnold Schwarzenegger graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Superior (but first attended a community college, Santa Monica College). Oprah Winfrey graduated from Tennessee State University.
With college decisions being released and high school seniors deciding where they will go to college, it’s important to remember that what matters most is not what college or university you attend, it’s what you do while you’re there. Regardless of what college or university you attend, the most important thing is that you excel at whichever of the thousands of institutions of higher learning you decide to attend—whatever that means to you. It’s important to take advantage of internship or work opportunities, to make connections with your classmates and professors, and to attend your classes and do as well in them as possible. Also, college is an amazing time in life—in addition to building up your resume, remember to have a little fun.
Insight #2: Sometimes it’s better to be a big fish in a small pond
Sometimes it’s better to be a big fish in a small pond, rather than the other way around. In other words, if you attend Harvard, you are going to be one of thousands of students who did extremely well in high school and probably had perfect or near-perfect standardized test scores. You will be surrounded by extremely accomplished people, and therefore, it may be harder for you to get noticed or make yourself stand out from the crowd.
But don’t get me wrong—I’m not saying you shouldn’t go to Harvard. If you are lucky enough to be accepted by Harvard and think you can thrive in a very competitive academic environment, then Harvard may be the place for you. What I am saying, however, is that if you are one of the tens of thousands of students that don’t get admitted to Harvard every year, don’t dismay—that rejection can open new doors for you.
Insight #3: Find your “best fit” college, not simply the most highly ranked college that accepted you
The most important aspect of college admissions is finding the “best fit” college. Maybe the best fit is Harvard. Maybe it’s a large state school. Maybe it’s a small liberal arts school back east. Everyone is different and thus the “best fit” college for your best friend may not be the “best fit” college for you.
And maybe the “best fit” college for you is a place where you can be a big fish in a small pond. There is a lot to be said about attending a school where you can build up your self-confidence by being near the top of your class, having real relationships with your classmates and professors, and not having to worry about being in a cutthroat environment.
The bottom line is this: if you are one of the few to be accepted by an Ivy League school, that is awesome; and if you decide it’s the “best fit” school for you, more power to you. However, if you are like most students, who are not accepted by an Ivy League school, you should remember that it’s more important that you attend a college where you will thrive, rather than blindly attending the most highly ranked school that accepted you.
This article was written by Insight Counselor Jason Katz.
Jason has helped hundreds of students gain admission to their best-fit universities. In addition, he wrote more than 170 college admissions/college life columns for the Palo Alto Daily News and the San Jose Mercury News. Read his full bio here.