Possible Educational Paths – Part II

Smaller and Liberal Arts

Earlier in this two-part blog, Possible Educational Paths, Part I, I mused about the connection between my wife’s education and her accomplishments as a female executive in the male-dominated commercial real estate business. My conclusion was that both her private schooling before college and her collegiate experience at an all-women’s college, have played significant roles in her career success. This second part of my blog explores whether there might be any lessons to be learned from taking a more general look at the educational backgrounds of high-achieving professionals.

Inspired by my reflections on my wife’s experience, I decided to examine two different groups of high achievers as identified in local media coverage, specifically: “The Top 100 Women-Led Businesses in Massachusetts” (which also included nonprofits) and “The 100 Most Influential People in Boston

In the interest of time, I focused in on the top twenty in each of these lists of leaders, and on where they received their undergraduate education. Here’s a summary of my findings. First, interestingly enough, there was only one person who made the top twenty in each list – Abigail Johnson, Chairwomen and CEO of Fidelity. Her undergraduate college, Hobart & William Smith, and her degree in Art History there may surprise some, but both revelations are actually consistent with my analysis.

There were a total of 28 different colleges represented across the two groups of leaders. A plurality of twelve were small colleges (less than 3,000 undergraduates) – like Hobart & William Smith; nine were medium-sized (3,000-8,000 undergrads); and seven were large (more than 8,000 undergrads). Interestingly, there were also more colleges that are liberal arts oriented – like Hobart & William Smith – than there were those tilted toward business and professional bachelor’s degrees (fifteen versus thirteen). Additionally, a majority, nineteen, were located in either New England or New York with eight being close, i.e. within 25 miles, of Boston. There were almost as many NESCAC schools represented – three, as there were Ivies – four. In terms of schools that showed up more than once, BU and Harvard were attended by three different leaders each; and BC, BU, Northeastern, Tufts and Yale by two different leaders each.

What conclusions can be drawn? To me, the large number and varying types of different schools is perhaps the most striking finding, and one that provides strong evidence that there are a wide range of possible colleges that can lead to success. As we emphasize here at McMillan Education, it’s not about the name or perceived prestige of the school, but rather about finding the “right fit,” a place and program that matches the student’s interests and goals and in which the student will thrive. Another important point, is that an undergraduate degree at a small or medium sized liberal arts school is at least as likely a path to becoming a leader in your chosen field, contrary to the misperceptions of many that it’s a waste of an investment.

Finally, in case you were wondering, here’s the complete list of the 28 different colleges: Babson, BC, Bowdoin, Brown, Bryn Mawr, BU, UChicago, Colgate, Dartmouth, Harvard, Hobart William Smith, UHouston, Virginia Marymount, UNH, Northeastern, Ohio State, URochester, USan Francisco, Simmons, Stanford, St. Olaf, Stony Brook, Stonehill, Tufts, Vassar, Wheaton, Williams and Yale.

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