In the Wall Street Journal, Susan Shellenbarger writes about a study comparing the financial success of students who were not accepted at elite colleges with those who were. The 1999 study by Stacy Berg Dale and Alan Krueger found that the rejected group overall did better. They call this the “Spielberg Model” after the famous filmmaker, who as a youth was rejected by film schools at the University of Southern California and U.C.L.A., ending up at Cal State Long Beach.
Dale and Krueger also found that (at least in the 1970s, when the cohort they studied began college) the more tuition students paid, the more success they had.
Shellenbarger says that the message of the study is that a key ingredient of success is ambition — measured by “willingness to stretch in applying to exclusive schools” — not the school you actually go to. This is probably true. An additional interpretation might be that elite schools breed complacency, and less famous schools do not.