Does How Well You Do in High School Matter?

Traditional prestige is commonly seen as a gateway to success.

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Traditional prestige is commonly seen as a gateway to success.

There is a common phrase that goes around- “A students work for the ‘C students.” Is that really true, or is it just a comforting thing to say to yourself when you do poorly on a test? In the corporate world, are “C students” really the bosses of the “A students?” In the government, do people who went to their state school serve as the boss for the person who went to an Ivy League School? Does the academic system stifle skills like leadership, innovation, and management that are key to a successful career? 

Out of US Presidents, 34% went to an Ivy League school, with eight presidents coming from Harvard and five presidents coming from Yale. Thirty-three percent of Biden’s cabinet went to Harvard, and the most common school that a US Senator or Representative went to is Harvard. To put this in context, around 0.2% of the US population went to an Ivy League school. 

Of the ten richest people in the world, six of the 10 went to Ivy League schools and two of the remaining four went to Stanford. 

But, if your goal is to run a business one day, don’t feel discouraged if you’re not going to a traditionally prestigious school. Out of the Fortune 500 CEOs, a list of the 500 largest US companies, less than 15% went to a traditionally elite school like an Ivy, Stanford, or MIT.

Does going to an elite college improve your chances of becoming the world’s richest person? Probably. Does not going mean that you will be immediately barred from success in business or the government? Definitely not. If those statistics were presented as 66% of US Presidents didn’t go to an Ivy League school or only 40% of the ten richest people in the world have an Ivy League degree, it would make those accomplishments less reserved for people with elite educations. 

That, however, doesn’t prove the “A students work for the C students” phrase. There is no evidence that people who do better in school work for people who did worse in school. The opposite is true. While it might seem like history or math classes don’t prepare students for a specific career, success in school is correlated with monetary success in one’s career. On average, a student with a 4.0 GPA in high school will make $8,000 per year more than a student with a 3.0 GPA and $15,000 per year than a student with a 2.0 GPA. 

It is important to realize that one’s success in high school doesn’t determine their career prospects, but if one wants to have a greater chance of success, doing well in high school is a good start.