What do Warren Buffett, John Grisham, Colin Powell and Oprah Winfrey have in common?
They all attended and graduated from a public college or university in their home state.
Warren Buffett, one of the world’s richest men, graduated from the University of Nebraska and still lives rather modestly not too far away in Omaha.
John Grisham, author of multiple best-selling novels, graduated from Mississippi State University and practiced law in the South for many years before turning to writing, first as a distraction and then as a career.
Colin Powell, distinguished soldier, aide to President Reagan, Joint Chiefs Chairman and U.S. Secretary of State, graduated from the City College of New York, also known as CCNY, as he grew up in the Bronx after his parents emigrated to the U.S. from Jamaica.
And Oprah Winfrey, she of the TV show of the same name and the magazine with her first initial, graduated from Tennessee State University in her home state, before moving on to start a career in local broadcast news.
None of these famous folks went to an Ivy League school, or even one of the top 100 schools in the U.S. rankings.
Yet they all have been remarkably successful, just as millions of other people have without the benefit of a degree from a prestige institution.
At College Parents of America, one of our favorite reporters covering higher education is Jay Matthews, who writes for The Washington Post Companies, where Mr. Buffett, by the way, happens to be a major shareholder.
Jay graduated from Harvard, so only he could credibly come up with this title for one of his many excellent books: Harvard Schmarvard.
In the book, Jay spends more than 200 pages making the same compelling case that I am trying to do in 750 words. It matters less where your child goes for his or her undergraduate degree than how he or she takes advantage of the undergraduate experience, in terms of a record of accomplishment that can lead to career or graduate school options.
Jay took advantage of his Harvard degree to build a successful career as a journalist at a respected newspaper, and as an author of several well-regarded books. But Jay is also the type of person who probably would have been successful had he graduated from South Succotash College (well, that’s actually a fictional school, but you get the idea).
Now since you are visiting the College Parents of America Web site, we presume that you are very interested in your child’s current or future undergraduate experience. And we also assume that you may be slightly more interested than the average parent in having your child attend and graduate from a name brand college or university, the kind of schools that tend to populate the “top colleges” lists, no matter who the creator, whether it be U.S. News & World Report or The Princeton Review.
We write this article to say that’s OK, but don’t go overboard. Don’t create undue pressure on your child to “get in to one of the top schools, or else.” Don’t focus only on the prestige or ranking of the school, but instead try to focus on the commitment to teaching, the ethos of service, the output of the education in terms of career choices and other variables that are important to you as a family.
We all might like to have a window sticker that says “Harvard,” but we all should remember that the sticker from Local State U. can be just as valuable, if the student is committed to making the most of his or her collegiate experience.