A big name college does not determine your future

Jack Parsons


Illustration by Will Ethridge.

From the outside, my uncle lives the life of someone who had everything lined up for him. He resides comfortably in Aspen, Colorado, where he runs an upscale Italian restaurant, lives in his own apartment, skiis, mountain bikes and can call Lance Armstrong one of his best friends. If it is not already apparent, he has achieved his definition of success, which consists of financial comfortability, mental wellness and personal happiness.

As a Redwood student, you may be under the common impression that my uncle did well in high school, graduated from a “brand” name college and thus was able to reach the level of happiness and success that he considers himself to be at today. In fact, his trajectory was nearly the opposite of that: he got mediocre grades, attended a stereotypical “party” school with an 83 percent acceptance rate and yet still was able to achieve fulfillment.

As it is now May and the school year is drawing to a close, a majority of seniors seemingly have a large step of their life finally laid out before them: where they will be attending college in the coming fall or spring semester. Months of hard work—standardized tests, college counselors, tutors, teacher recommendations—has (hopefully) given them the return that they deserve. And they look exhausted.

Redwood is known to breed a competitive student body where many students attend elite and highly ranked universities and later go on to achieve success post-graduation. While this has fostered a motivating and rigorous school environment that benefits most, it also comes at a cost. Many factors involving school and the overall environment in Marin County have created a well-fed stigma around the Redwood campus: the only way to succeed in life is to start by earning a degree from a recognizable college, such as a UC or an Ivy League school. I’m here to tell you that that is far from the truth.

I didn’t preface this opinion with the story of my uncle to brag, but rather to shed light on the reality of life. Although he may seem like a random person who somehow got lucky by landing a lucrative job without a prestigious college degree, he is one of many Americans who is doing just fine. I am familiar with many more of these kinds of people, especially my father, who claims he achieved success through his people skills and hard work ethic. He attended a small school on California’s coast which also had an acceptance rate of 83 percent.

Although I am not here to argue the definition of success, it definitely comes into play when students choose college. A recent self-reported Bark survey found that 47 percent of students felt that post high school and college success constitutes achieving a sense of contentment in life (regardless of financial status). Many argue that it is hard to be content in life without financial security. However, most Redwood students don’t know what true financial security means. In Marin County, we often live or are constantly exposed to excess: beautiful homes, nice cars, trips to Europe in the summer. For those who have never lived outside of Marin, it would be hard to believe that happiness can be achieved without a six-figure-salary, and rightfully so. It is very hard to scrape by in Marin without that. However, it is important to know that there are so many other places in the United States that don’t require nearly as much wealth to comfortably reside with a house, family and a good attitude towards life.

For the 13 percent that believed that post grad success does require some form of material wealth, attending a prestigious college does not necessarily secure someone with a high paying job and route to success. Across the board, most employers agree that a person’s social skills and knowledge of the field in which they work matter far more than where they got their college degree. According to the Times magazine, “Employers seek people with skills that apply to the particular job—and who have the ability to solve problems and work in a team.” In other words, a degree from MIT and a degree from Sonoma State University could mean the same thing if the skills and personality are fit for the given job.

Opponents of that argument will bring up the statistics that show how Ivy League graduates, on average, earn higher salaries than the graduates of your average state school. While this may be true, their higher salary has more to do with the fact that they are some of the brightest people on earth. They are smarter and more talented than most of us, which is why they were admitted in the first place. Their material success is not necessarily because of where they got their education, but because they are the most skillful and intelligent people in the world.

So for those of you who looked at the map in this paper and felt ashamed that you aren’t going to be attending as “good” of a college as some of your peers are, there is one thing that is essential to remember: regardless of what your definition of success is, or how much you think college matters in the grand scheme of life, there is always a place in society in which you can consider yourself successful. College does not determine that. It’s your personality, dedication to a specific field of work and overall attitude in life that will get you much further in life.