Does Your School Matter?

Does Your School Matter?

August 14, 2019 100 By Stanley Isaacs


We’re all told to work hard in school, so
that we can get into the best colleges or universities, and be successful. But, does
the school you choose actually matter? Take a look at these SAT scores for an average
school – which are out of 800, by the way. Those that have the highest SAT scores end
up representing over 50% of the people who get degrees at these schools, while the lowest
SAT scores only represent around 18% of the people who actually graduate. Not so surprising. But now let’s look at a top school, like
Harvard. Here, the students with the lowest SAT scores, are still smarter than the best
students at an average school. And yet, when we look at their rate of completion, it looks
awfully similar. The top students represent just over 50% of people who graduate, while
the lower SAT scores represent around 15% of people who actually graduate. Wait, what’s going on?? This phenomenon
is known as the Big Fish – Little Pond Effect. Simply put, we compare ourselves not globally,
but to our neighbours or people who are in the same boat as we are. As a result, students
at top schools compare themselves to their brilliant peers, and if you’re in the bottom
half of your class, you’re likely to have feelings of inadequacy. Even though compared
to the rest of the world you are at the top! Who do you think has a higher incidence of
suicide? People who live in developed countries that declare themselves as very happy, like
Switzerland, Denmark and Canada or those which describe themselves as unhappy, like Italy,
Greece, and Spain? The happy countries. If you’re depressed but everyone around you
is also unhappy, you may think of yourself as normal, as opposed to being stuck around people
who are happier than you. Similarly, if you’re very intelligent at
an elite school, you may end up being a little fish in a very big pond. And feeling as though
you’re at the bottom impacts your confidence and ultimately your motivation. Need more
statistics? 50% of US students in STEM programs drop out in the first or second year of school.
But for every 10 point decrease in the school’s average SAT score, degree completion rises
by 2%! Meaning, you’re much more likely to even get your degree if you don’t go
to your top pick. But who ends up being more successful in the
‘real world’? A study looking at publications produced by economists in their first six
years after graduation showed that top students in the 99th percentile – ie smarter than almost
every other person at the school – from the top 5 schools in America were producing an
impressive amount of publications. But those in the 75th percentile, still the top quarter
of best students, are publishing next to nothing. Essentially failures in their field. But if we now look at the best students from
the 30 worst schools, we see that they’re publishing more than those in the top quarter
of the best schools in the country! Clearly, your surroundings and peers matter. Now, of course, this doesn’t cover every
aspect of going to a top ranked school – including the fact that having a degree from one of
them can be a badge of honour, and may help you find a job more easily. But, that’s
if you ever even graduate. So when you’re applying for school, or even
at your new college, keep in mind that whether you go to the best or worst school, the formula
for success is mixed. Remember the importance of confidence in your abilities, and how being
a Big Fish in a little pond can sometimes be more important than your school itself. If you’re worried about doing your best
at school, you can check out our previous video on the 9 best scientific study tips
with link in the description. And subscribe for more weekly science videos!