Why Your School Determines Your Worth

It really shouldn’t, but to the overwhelming majority, your school determines your worth. Harvard? Princeton? Yale? Any other Ivy League Schools? The thinking is you’re a genius. Western Nevada College, however? You’re average. But where does this value actually come from and will this thinking change?

One needs to look no further to understand the death-grip Ivy League schools have on the workplace than at the recent admissions scandal. Some parents are willing to pay millions of dollars to get their children into a school like Stanford because they know that a degree from such a prestigious institution is a tremendous advantage.

Natalie Elisha GoldNatalie Elisha Gold, wealth attorney and author of Money Momma became an attorney at 23-years old, starting her own firm at 24. She’s been featured in CBS NY, CNBC, Cosmopolitan and she says this kind of pay to play scenario isn’t new. She explains it’s a tale as old as time and wealthy donors know if you give a large amount of cash to a University and put your name on a building, you get preferential treatment. It’s not exactly a secret. For some wealthy parents, it’s worth it. An Ivy League diploma sets you up for life and proves you are intelligent. Or does it?


The Ivy League Schools Badge System

Gold explains that whether we like it or not, in the USA we have a badge system. If you go to one of these Ivy League schools, you are automatically placed in the “great” pile. If you go to any other school, however, you go into the “meh” pile. But there is one big Achilles heel in this logic.

The only reason people rank Ivy League diplomas as better than other diplomas is simply due to business owners, hiring managers, or recruiters honoring that same badge system. I’m sure you are familiar with the other badges as well. Other badges include years of experience, previous companies one has worked at, and even the city you may have worked in. New York sounds better than Darien, Connecticut, despite the fact Derien has far more per capita wealth.

Generally speaking, these badges have nothing to do with how brilliant you are or how great a worker you are. And in fact, many of our successful CEOs and founders in this country didn’t go to Ivy League schools or even graduate from college. Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, BIll Gates and Frank Lloyd Wright are just a few well-known names that not only hold no Ivy League degree, but no degree at all. So, the question is, why is there a badge system and what would it take to undo it?

It’s a simple question and it has a simple answer. People don’t know talent when they see it. You could be a mega-genius and even explain in vivid detail how you would be the perfect candidate at a particular job, but if you don’t have the correct badges, there’s little hope. I often think of Joshua Bell’s fun subway social experiment as a great demonstration of this.

Bell, who packs halls, and is one of the most well-known violinists in the world played in a subway for 43 minutes and hardly anyone noticed. The same is true of iconic design Jony Ive, who was basically ignored for most of his life until Steve Jobs noticed him. The overwhelming majority of people suck at identifying talent. Identifying talent takes training. It takes hard work. It takes keen listening and saturating yourself in the research deep end and actually get to know people instead of scanning resumes for Ivy League schools.

Sadly, most leaders are too busy putting out fires to realize they are the ones responsible for creating the dry work culture conditions fires thrive in.


Listen to the interview with Natalie Elisha Gold


Don't miss a thing! Justin Brady has written for WSJ, WaPo, HBR and others on cultivating bountiful work culture. Learn about the cultivate process or subscribe to his newsletter below.



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Don't miss a thing! Justin Brady has written for WSJ, WaPo, HBR and others on cultivating bountiful work culture. Learn about the cultivate process or subscribe to his newsletter below.