Is Harvard Worth It?

by aheadhuntertakesaim

Is Harvard Worth It?

Recently I watched a segment on the 60 Minutes television program featuring Malcolm Gladwell. Gladwell is an English-Canadian journalist, bestselling author, and speaker. He has been a staff writer for The New Yorker since 1996. He has written five books, The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big DifferenceBlink: The Power of Thinking Without ThinkingOutliers: The Story of SuccessWhat the Dog Saw: And Other Adventures, a and David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants (2013). The first four books were on The New York Times Best Seller list.

Gladwell finds America’s obsession with Ivy League colleges strange. He argues the presumed advantages of Ivy League schools can actually be disadvantages.  Gladwell went to the University of Toronto and says he’s better off for it.

Here is a portion of the 60 Minutes segment:

Malcolm Gladwell: I have a massive chip on my shoulder. I went to a state school in Canada. You kidding me? I come to New York and all kinds of people who went to Harvard and Yale are mentioning that in every second sentence. It drives me crazy, so — so I have taken it upon myself.

Anderson Cooper: I went to Yale.

Malcolm Gladwell: I know that, but you haven’t mentioned it until now, so I’ve—

Anderson Cooper: I never mentioned it. I really don’t.

He says the assumption in America that students should go to most prestigious school they get into is simply wrong.

Malcolm Gladwell: If you go to an elite school where the other students in your class are all really brilliant, you run the risk of mistakenly believing yourself to not be a good student. Right? So you—

Anderson Cooper: Even if—

Malcolm Gladwell: Even if you are. Right? It doesn’t—if you’re last in your class at Harvard, it doesn’t feel like you’re a good student, even though you really are. It’s not smart for everyone to want to go to a great school.

Anderson Cooper: So if you had a child, would you want them to go to Harvard?

Malcolm Gladwell: No, of course not. I’d want them to go to school in—to a state school in Canada where their tuition would be $4,000 a year.

Malcolm Gladwell: If Harvard is $60,000 and University of Toronto where I went to school is maybe six. So you’re really telling me that education is 10 times better at Harvard than it is at University of Toronto? That seems ridiculous to me.

So, the question raised is the cost of Harvard worth it? Gladwell says no. I say yes.

I’m going to cheat and talk about Princeton University since I know more about Princeton University. I have the privilege of auditing classes there. I also, can the Princeton’s Engineering building from my office window. Whenever I leave my office I am surrounded by the students, faculty and support staff from the university.

I always tell people when considering what school to go to choose the best school you get into and feel they are a fit for. You can never go to too good of a school.

There are so many things that an Ivy League education gives you both tangible and non-tangible;

A phenomenal network of alumni that will act as mentors and contacts now and in the future.

You are given extraordinary opportunities. Pick a country and you have the ability to study there or have an internship there.

You be exposed to the best and the brightest. At Princeton top industry leaders and government officials speak at Princeton almost daily. I have heard John Irving as well as Justice Anthony Scalia.

You will be recruited by the top corporations, consulting firms and financial institutions in the country. Even if you are at the bottom of the class you will face not the question of if you will find a job when you graduate but which offer you want to accept.

You will be surrounded by equally brilliant/special people. I have found that to go to Princeton you have to be more than just academically brilliant but excel in other areas as well. For instance 25% of the students participate in a NCAA sport.

What I really want to address is Gladwell’s statement “If Harvard is $60,000 and University of Toronto where I went to school is maybe six. So you’re really telling me that education is 10 times better at Harvard than it is at University of Toronto? That seems ridiculous to me.”

For this I have two arguments;

First, I remember sitting next to a Vice President of Human Resources at a major corporation on an airplane. I had recently received my MBA and discussed with her a MBA from a top business school versus a non-ranking MBA. She told me that her company recruits both types of MBAs. However the top business school MBAs received a significantly greater starting salary than the non-ranking. The justification was that the top MBA students have already proven themselves where non-ranking would need to prove themselves over time. There could be a time in the future when the non-ranking employee’s salary would equal the top MBA’s but the top MBA is given the benefit of the doubt.

The second argument is that Princeton offers a need-based financial aid program. They offer need-blind admission and meet 100 percent of each admitted student’s financial need with generous aid packages. Since 2001, they have eliminated loans from their financial aid awards and replaced them with grant aid that students do not have to repay. Currently, the average financial aid grant covers 100 percent of Princeton’s tuition. So if Gladwell does not think a Princeton education is worth 10 times the cost of another school’s tuition based upon the amount of loans and debt you will accumulate, it is a false argument.

 The Bottom Line

The bottom line to me is that Gladwell is wrong. While there are many considerations a student should consider when choosing what higher lever college they should go to, you can never go wrong going to an Ivy League school.

While it does not guarantee success, nor does it mean you cannot be highly successful without it, an Ivy League University offers an exceptional education coupled with extraordinary opportunities now and in the future.

I wish I had the focus, maturity and talent in high school to have attended one.


Paul Shanfeld is Vice President; Recruitment at Tech Career Search, Inc. ( Paul spent over 20 years in the Wireless Industry working for some of the most recognizable names in the industry. He has held executive positions in sales, marketing, product management, business development and strategic planning.

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