That Ivy League Degree Won't Make You Happy in the Real World

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According to a new Gallup-Purdue University poll, your experiences at college matter more for your post-grad life than the type of institution you attended (unless you went to a for-profit college, which is bad news all around). So you can chill out about that Ivy League degree. 

The poll, which asked 30,000 college graduates to answer an online survey about their college and post-college lives, found that students with the highest quality of life post-graduation are those who made strong connections with professors and committed to an an academic or extracurricular project as an undergrad. Per Gallup

The type of schools these college graduates attended -- public or private, small or large, very selective or less selective -- hardly matters at all to their workplace engagement and current well-being. Just as many graduates of public colleges as graduates of not-for-profit private colleges are engaged at work -- meaning they are deeply involved in, enthusiastic about, and committed to their work. And just as many graduates of public as not-for-profit private institutions are thriving -- which Gallup defines as strong, consistent, and progressing -- in all areas of their well-being.

The poll looked at "engagement at work" and "well being" as measures of the quality of each respondent's adults life. NPR explains the metrics in a bit more detail:

For Gallup, "wellbeing" and "engagement" aren't squishy. They have very specific meanings. In surveys of 25 million people over a number of years, the researchers have asked similar questions and correlated the responses across populations with income, health, employee turnover, company revenue and other "hard" indexes.

Researchers linked higher levels of both with affirmative answers to the following prompts: 

- I had at least one professor at [College] who made me excited about learning. (63 percent of respondents agree) 

- My professors at [College] cared about me as a person. (27 percent)

- I had a mentor who encouraged me to pursue my goals and dreams. (22 percent) 

- I worked on a project that took a semester or more to complete. (32 percent) 

- I had an internship or job that allowed me to apply what I was learning in the classroom. (29 percent) 

- I was extremely active in extracurricular activities and organizations while attending college. (20 percent) 

Unfortunately, per the poll, most respondents didn't have the type of undergrad experience that would lead to future happiness. Only three percent of respondents said they agree with all six statements. Six percent agreed with the last three, and 14 percent with the first three. If a respondent agreed with all three of the first statements, she was found to be 2.3 times more likely to be engaged at work and 1.9 times more likely to thrive in all areas of well being. If she agreed with all of the last three statements, she is 2.4 times more likely to be engaged at work and 1.3 times more likely to be be doing well. And, for what it's worth, all respondents who said they were engaged at work are 4.6 times more likely to experience general well-being than those who said they were not. 

Of course, there are certain things that might come easier for those who went to highly selective colleges — like access to an alumni network or richer resources. But attending a selective college alone won't usher you into a life of well-adjusted happiness. Something to think about as you brag about single digit acceptance rates and ultra-competitive a cappella groups. 

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.