Daniel Lemire's blog

, 3 min read

Where do presidents and prime ministers go to school?

In his most recent essay, After the credentials, Paul Graham tells us that in South Korea where “college entrance exams determine 70 to 80 percent of a person’s future.” Fortunately, the Americans know better: “Where you go to college still matters, but not like it used to.”

Paul writes good essays, but they are thin on research. How much is your alma matter a predictor of your success? The research is available. For example, in Regression and Matching Estimates of the Effects of Elite College Attendance on Career Outcomes, Brand and Halaby write:

Our results suggest that in terms of college quality, there is not only no direct effect on mid- and late-career attainment, but no significant effect at all. This study questions the consequential belief that an elite college education necessarily translates into privileged socioeconomic status throughout the life course.

To sum it up: If you are a privileged kid, you will do well even if you go to a local college.

Because my research budget for this blog is $0, I will do my own survey about a special job: the presidency in the USA and the office of prime minister in Canada. Do state leaders attend a small set of colleges?

Let us review where the American presidents got their first degree:

What about Canadian prime ministers?

Based on this evidence alone, if I were to coach a kid for a political career, I would ignore where he gets his degree. This makes sense. You become president or prime minister several years after earning your degree. By the time you have the experience required for the job, any college premium is gone.

See also my post The 2 myths getting students into ivy-league schools.

Note: I am a graduate of the University of Toronto, maybe the most prestigious university in Canada.