Turns out money is not alone—an elite education can’t buy you happiness either. A new Gallup study finds that graduates of top schools aren’t more engaged at work or more satisfied with life than graduates of other universities. This news probably won’t deter strivers from applying to prestigious schools, however. Despite their pretensions to the contrary, top-tier universities often resemble finishing schools for the next generation of the American elite. Many people who attend top schools know this, and go for precisely that reason: not in order to be “happy,” but to make connections with the future leaders of the world.But what sort of college experience does lead to a happier life? Well, it turns out that the happiest college graduates had “forged meaningful connections with professors or mentors, and made significant investments in long-term academic projects and extracurricular activities.”We are reminded us of this nugget of wisdom from WRM’s essay on attending college, which we republish every year:
Choosing the right college is over-rated. Just about every college in the United States has more talented and interesting students than you will have time to get to know in four years. At every college in America you will not be able to take all the great courses from great faculty, read every worthwhile book in the library, or participate in all the rewarding extracurricular activities.Choosing the right courses, on the other hand, is under-rated. In the old days you could take a lot of silly courses and guts and get away with it. But your generation is going to have to scramble and you need every edge you can get.
We are living through a time of profound economic transitions, and it’s typical in such periods for old patterns of privilege and affluence to be disrupted, at least temporarily. When the old structures break down, it’s not as important to go to a school that is wedded to them. Who you know still matters, but there’s more chances than ever before for smart, scrappy, entrepreneurial young people to invent apps or navigate unusual career paths. In preparing for that journey, good classes and good teachers matter more than anything else. They won’t only help you lead a happy life; they’ll probably help you find a job.