I found Frank Bruni’s very well researched book, Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be, very compelling. In it, he discusses why going to an elite school does not guarantee success and much of what Bruni says is what I have seen in my 25+ years as a recruiter for top law firms. I spent 10 years as a campus recruiter for an investment bank and two major NYC law firms. I have recruited on campus at Harvard, Yale and Columbia to find talent. Some of the top students we hired from these elite schools were successful and some were not. Having interviewed over 10,000 professionals and placed close to 800, I can tell you that graduating from a top school does not guarantee a successful career. Yes, there are many people who went to elite schools that are top performers, but there are more “superstars” who did not. This is what Bruni’s books proves by analyzing the schools Fortune 100 CEOs and industry leaders attended and it matches what I have seen throughout my career.
When I was a junior in HS, going to an elite college was the most important thing to me. As an immigrant kid attending Bronx HS of Science, surrounded by the smartest people I have ever met, I was fixated on getting into a top college because it would mean I was “smart” and I believed it would guarantee success. Well, I had one very big obstacle to overcome to have any chance at getting accepted: I did very poorly on the PSAT and the SATs. Well, I became obsessed and decided that the Educational Testing Service was not going to determine my future – I was! I studied my butt off to retake the SATs (no tutors in those days) and put SAT words on every door and mirror of my house. The result was that my SATs went up 330 points and I got into Barnard.
What I learned from Bruni’s book is that it was my internal motivation and determination that have been the key my success, not going to Barnard. So the next time you are interviewing someone, ask them what obstacles they had to overcome to get where they are and what motivates them. The answers to those questions will likely tell you more about them then the schools they went to!