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Choosing Ivy League over podunk college won't make you happier in life or work

The secret to overall well-being and career satisfaction for college graduates deals more with how engaged you are in college, not in where you attended college, according to the 2014 Gallup-Purdue poll.

The 2014 Gallup-Purdue Index Report surveyed 29,560 college graduates, with a bachelor's degree or higher, from all 50 states. Most college education polls try to measure job placements and salaries, but "Great Jobs, Great Lives" tries to measure the relationship between the college experience and whether those graduates have great careers and overall life satisfaction.

Overall well-being was measured by a combination of five well-being elements that included:

Purpose: Liking what you do each day and being motivated to achieve your goals.

Social: Having strong and supportive relationships and love in your life.

Financial: Effectively managing your economic life to reduce stress and increase security.

Community: The sense of engagement you have with the areas where you live, liking where you live, and feeling safe and having pride in your community.

Physical: Having good health and enough energy to get things done on a daily basis.

Graduates were to rate each of those well-being factors with either "thriving," "struggling" or "suffering." The report mentioned a Gallup poll in 2013 which found 29% of people in the U.S. were not thriving in any of those elements.

Go Podunk University!

Gallup found that overall life satisfaction after graduation didn't depend upon whether graduates attended the most exclusive and expensive universities, or if they went to a less costly college that was not very selective.  

As you might expect, college debt is a big weight around graduates' necks and has a big impact in overall well-being and happiness. Seven out of 10 students borrow the national average of $29,400, but the poll found that "2% of those with $20,000 to $40,000 in undergraduate loans reported they were 'thriving'." Brandon Busteed, who leads Gallup's education work, told NPR, "If you can go to Podunk U debt free vs. Harvard for $100,000, go to Podunk. And concentrate on what you do when you get there."

Gallup and Purdue found that the key to happiness was engagement in college as that followed through to great life outcomes such as future worker engagement and overall well-being after college. Graduates who felt supported in college later experienced better workplace engagement.

What could make graduates twice as likely to be engaged in their careers? Gallup and Purdue suggested: "If graduates had an internship or job where they were able to apply what they were learning in the classroom, were actively involved in extracurricular activities and organizations, and worked on projects that took a semester or more to complete, their odds of being engaged at work doubled." Yet only 6% of graduates "strongly agreed" that they had those options.

14% "strongly agreed" to having a professor who genuinely cared about them, encouraged them to follow their dreams, or made them excited about learning, but it doubled their odds of being engaged at work.

It boils down to "life in college matters for life after college."

When it comes to finding the secret to success, it's not "where you go," it's "how you do it" that makes all the difference in higher education.

Associate's degrees vs. bachelor's degrees

Lastly, Purdue and Gallup also looked at well-being and engagement for graduates with associate's degrees. "Nearly one in four of those with two-year degrees are not thriving in any element of well-being." Of graduates who reported "thriving" in purpose well-being, 48% have associate's degrees vs. 54% with bachelor's. College degrees for graduates thriving in social well-being: 41% associate's vs. 49% bachelor's. 39% of graduates with an associate's degree vs. 47% of graduates with a bachelor's degree reported thriving in community well-being.

You can read more or download the full Gallup-Purdue Index report.

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