In terms of long-term success, getting into a prestigious college doesn’t matter much. A study released in 2011 by Alan Krueger of Princeton University and Stacy Dale of Mathematica Policy Research showed that students who are rejected by highly selective schools go on to bank the same average earnings as Ivy League graduates. Krueger tells TIME his study shows too much attention is paid to the schools and not enough to the students. “Students can get a good education at many places,” he says. “What matters most is what students put into their education — how seriously they take their studies and how much work they put in.” It’s what he calls the “Spielberg effect.” (Steven Spielberg, one of the most famous directors of all time, was famously rejected twice from the University of Southern California’s film school. He went on to attend California State University at Long Beach, a less selective school.) “Even if students don’t get in, the fact that they are confident enough to apply indicates they are ambitious and hardworking, which are qualities that will help them regardless of where they go to school,” Krueger says.
Additionally, when it comes to seeking admission to graduate school or employment, those who attend highly selective schools may not always have an edge. Krueger’s study also showed high-achieving students who attended less selective schools tended to rise to the top of their class at college and receive higher grades than their Ivy League counterparts, all of which could give them an advantage when applying to graduate school. Further, a study by Rasmussen Reports, found only 3% of employers thought Ivy League graduates made better workers. Still other surveys, such as one released by Newsweek in July 2010, show employers say experience, confidence and, yes, even looks, are more important than where a job applicant went to school. John Fraire, Washington State University’s vice president of student affairs and enrollment, says “Highly selective schools say they give a better education, but I think, like most educators, that it’s really about what school is the best for the student.”