College Choice: Substance Trumps Style for a Happy Life

Feeling pressured to gain acceptance to an elite college? Don’t. According to a new Gallup-Purdue University study, it’s not where you study that matters in life, but what happens while you’re there. Researchers surveyed 30,000 college graduates and found that a person’s overall well-being and engagement in their work after college has little to do with where they went to school, but rather is influenced by the formative experiences they had while they were there.


(Photo Credit: Connecticut College/Flickr)

According to the poll, engagement in work and well-being in life more than doubled if graduates polled had a professor who invested in them, got them excited about learning, and encouraged them to pursue their dreams.

Engagement and well-being also doubled if a graduate had an internship or job where they could apply what they were learning in the classroom, were involved in extracurricular activities, and worked on a project that took a semester or longer to complete. Unfortunately, only 3 percent of graduates say they experienced all six formative experiences.

(Image Credit: Gallup, Inc.)

Where a graduate attends college, whether public or private, big or little, very selective or not, has little bearing on the outcome of their lives, according to the poll. Only for-profit schools demonstrated any difference, showing that students who attend are much less likely to be engaged or to achieve elements of well-being.

(Image Credit: Gallup, Inc.)

Gallup has spent years exploring the concepts of well-being and engagement across surveys and considers well-being to be composed of five elements that include: purpose (pleasure and motivation in what you do), social (strong, supportive relationships and love), financial (economic status that reduces stress and offers security), community (engagement, pleasure, safety, and pride in where you live), and physical (good health and energy to accomplish daily tasks).

Engagement at work is defined by Gallup as an intellectual and emotional connection to work because you’re good at what you do, you like what you’re doing, and you have someone who cares about your career development.

Only 11 percent of college graduates were found to be “thriving” in all five elements of well being. More than one in six graduates are not thriving in any of the elements. If college graduates are engaged at work, the odds are almost five times higher that they will be thriving in all five elements of well-being.

(Image Credit: Gallup, Inc.)

Student debt was found to play a destructive role in engagement and well-being, the higher a student’s loans, the worse their well-being and the less likely they are to participate in entrepreneurial activity.

Armed with the knowledge that exclusive and expensive schools don’t seem to make a difference in future outcomes, potential students should look for schools that emphasize mentoring and offer a robust selection of extracurricular activities and internship opportunities. Determining a school’s ROI before making any final decisions is also recommended.

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