What’s In A Name?

Each year Harvard Law School publishes a list of the undergraduate institutions attended by their incoming class of aspiring lawyers. Since stumbling upon this gem a few years ago it has become a staple in my toolbox of resources that I share with students and families. Why, you might ask? It’s simple…

Beloit College

Brandeis University

Clark University

Gettysburg College

At least one of our students has enrolled at each of these schools in the past, and all of these are included on the most recent list of 172 undergraduate institutions represented at Harvard Law. So, why is that relevant? My guess is that most people reading this may be familiar with one or two of these institutions. Perhaps you’ve “heard” of these schools, but weren’t aware that they were producing Harvard Law-quality graduates. In fact, an interesting experiment would be to run through the list of institutions represented and tally the number of schools you assume WOULD be feeder schools to Harvard-esque graduate schools. Maybe 10? 20? Perhaps….but certainly not 172.

Much has been written recently about the affect your undergraduate institution has on your life trajectory. Does it matter WHERE you go to school, or simply that you went at all? The answer is, of course, both. However, there are many who argue that the WHERE is less important than the WHAT and HOW…as in, what you do with your time in college and how you take advantage of resources and opportunities play an even greater role in your outcomes. In fact, if you haven’t had the chance to hear my Harvard tour guide story, call me. It’s a gem…and fully demonstrates this idea. For those seeking a STEM-focused program, this talk by Malcolm Gladwell will also put things into focus.

Did you know that Warren Buffet transferred from the University of Pennsylvania to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln? It’s true. Who leaves an Ivy League school for a non-Ivy? It wasn’t the name on Buffet’s diploma that made him a billionaire. It was the result of hard work, persistence, self-direction and passion. It was the result of connections and opportunities taken…and Buffett isn’t alone.

Students need to know that while the institution matters, it is what they make of their experience that remains the most important factor in their outcomes. A name on a diploma may open doors, but it does not close deals. It may get you an interview, but it will not make you CEO. It might help you make connections, but it will not be your voice. Those things? Those are up to you.