Mark Craemer No Comments

Maximizing your investment in today’s economy should be a no-brainer. However, when it comes to the selection of higher education, there seems to be way too much emphasis on which university to attend rather than the quality of the professors and a passion for a particular field of study.

Having a prestigious university name to list on your resume may get you the job interview, but finding inspirational mentors and holding a passion for a particular subject matter that engages you to continue learning throughout life may be much more important to thriving in your career and life.

The college years are undoubtedly the most optimal time to learn, however, they should serve merely as a launching pad for a lifetime of continual learning. To best compete in the 21st century job market, it is vital that you can demonstrate active learning as an integral part of living.

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal described a Gallup survey of 30,000 college graduates of all ages and all 50 states, which found that elite universities don’t necessarily produce better workers or overall happiness. Instead, it was the inspiring professors—wherever they may have taught—who made the biggest difference.

“Individual traits matter more than where you went,” says Stacy Dale, an economist at Mathematica, a New Jersey research firm. “It’s a lot more important what you learn later in life than where you got your undergraduate degree.”

The WSJ poll didn’t measure graduates’ earnings or earning potential. Instead Gallup’s research was based upon their 30 years of data that demonstrates the people who are most happy and engaged at work are also the most productive.

Gallup found that success for the people who are most engaged and happy was determined by “meaningful connections with professors or mentors” and the significant investments these people made in long-term academic projects and extracurricular activities.

Among other findings, the poll found that only 39% of graduates said they felt engaged at work and just 11% stated they were “thriving” in aspects of life such as financial stability, strong social network and a sense of purpose.

The strongest correlation for well being emerged with graduates described as thriving in that they were three times as likely to have described feelings of being emotionally supported by a professor or mentor while in school. Those people who described “experiential and deep learning” while in school, were twice as likely to be engaged in their work.

We should all recognize the importance of continued learning in our field of study, and that following passionate leaders and mentors who can inspire us will keep us engaged in the work and perhaps increase our overall happiness.

Keeping our brains active in the work we do enables us to continually exercise our creativity and ingenuity in solving problems and innovating. This also keeps us more fully engaged and it is what companies need most in their workers.

Employers should recognize that hiring based on the prestigious name recognition of universities should not out-weigh the overall candidate’s suitability for a job based on his or her abilities to engage in the work and continual learning on the job.

Getting a potential candidate to speak about a professor or mentor who inspired them may reveal more about their productivity potential than anything else.

I have learned that as my children approach their high school completion, the college campus tours we take will now require a better analysis of individual professors in particular subject areas and perhaps trying to sit in on their classes. And the elite universities will have to do more to convince us that we should spend our money with them based on their reputation alone.

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