What You Put Into College


Depending on the chatter around you, it can be very easy to get caught up in the prestige and reputation of a school. In fact, you may be under the impression that where you go to school has a lot to do with your later life success and happiness, when in reality, your happiness and success are much more dependent on what you put into college. What you do while in school will matter more to life success and happiness than the name of the institution you attended. And there’s science to back this up.

The Gallup-Purdue Index (GPI) is a long-term study of college graduates that assesses alumni perceptions of their undergraduate experiences and how those experiences relate to their well-being and job quality later in life, i.e., their life success and happiness. The first report was released in May 2014 and made it very clear that it isn’t so much where you go to college as it is how you go to college that influences your life success and happiness. From the summary report of the 2014 GPI: “there is no difference in workplace engagement [i.e., how satisfied and involved you are with your job] or a college graduate’s well-being if they attended a public or private not-for-profit institution, a highly selective institution, or a top 100-ranked school in the U.S. News & World Report.” Instead, what matters is what you take from the college experience.

For example, people’s lives were improved if, in college, they found some sort of academic mentor. According to the report, “if graduates had a professor who cared about them as a person, made them excited about learning, and encouraged them to pursue their dreams, their odds of being engaged at work more than doubled, as did their odds of thriving in their well-being.” Also, “if graduates had an internship or job where they were able to apply what they were learning in the classroom, were actively involved in extracurricular activities and organizations, and worked on projects that took a semester or more to complete, their odds of being engaged at work doubled.” But the prestige or selectiveness of the college attended had little bearing on graduates’ contentment.

So instead of worrying about getting into that name-brand school, focus more on finding a college that fits you best and, once there, take advantage of all of the opportunities it provides. Find a mentor, participate in extracurricular activities and campus groups, get a job or internship, and consider being a research assistant for a professor. These experiences – what you put into college – matter the most when it comes to later life success and happiness.

This article was adapted from an excerpt in Frank Bruni’s book, “Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be: An Antidote to the College Admissions Mania.” We highly recommend you check it out!

For more information on the Gallup-Purdue Index, please visit this website.

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