What Matters More Than the Ivies

Tobin Smith
My 27-year-old nephew asked me the other day if I thought an MBA from Princeton would be worth the $150,000 it was going to cost him. He was NOT interested in investment banking or law school, he just wanted to improve his job prospects in the engineering field.

I told him to give me the $150,000; I'd open up a brokerage account guaranteeing an 8% return, and he would have about $2 million in his account when he turned 60.

In other words, hell no!

The East Coast elite (read Ivy Leaguers in the media, Wall Street, and law) do an amazing job selling parents and kids the great lie: that Ivy League credentials are the key to wealth and happiness.

My experience has been the exact opposite: UNLESS you are trying to join the exclusive club of prestige law or investment banking firms that ONLY hire their own kind (except of course for trading departments; there it's ONLY the law of the jungle), Ivy League credentials are NOT worth the investment.

Of the hundreds of kids I've hired in my career, the WORST hires I've ever made came from the Ivies.

Listen to Paul Ray, one of my favorite headhunters and CEO of the executive search firm Ray & Berndtson in a recent Harvard Business School article:

"At a certain point it doesn't matter where you went to school," said Paul Ray. The firm did a six-year study with Harvard Business School and 1,600 companies on return on leadership values and found that experience eventually becomes more important than a person's alma matter. "The most recent example is Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill, who went to Fresno State College in California. Obviously at this point where Paul went to school doesn't matter," Ray said.

Here is what matters to most careers, I've found:

1) Continuing education in your chosen profession POST college
2) The size of the network you build of colleagues and friends in your industry
3) Your ability to take risk and work with ambiguity
4) Your positive attitude and nature in the line of fire
5) The decisions you make as to who you work for

If your goal is to join the East Coast elite, pack your bags for an Ivy League school and turn in your soul for your membership.

If your goal is to position yourself for the most success possible in the world OUTSIDE the East Coast elite, review points 1-6.

This weekend our Business Block has much more on the price of college and other skyrocketing costs of living. Tune in Saturday 10am — noon ET.

Tobin Smith is a contributing market analyst for FOX News Channel and is a regular panelist on Bulls & Bears, FNC's highly-rated weekly investment program. Read Tobin's full bio here.