The Millionaire Next Door

Needed: College Admission Measures that Judge Success in Life

A headline in last week’s Wall Street Journal indicates a step in the right direction for college admission criteria:

“Colleges Put the Emphasis on Personality: Some Shift Focus Away from Test Scores in Deciding Which Students to Admit”

Yet even adding measures of perseverance, adaptability and discipline to the college admission process is not enough.  Why not?  Because, like grades in high school and SAT scores [a measure of cognitive intelligence], these specific personality measures are used to predict how well students “are likely to succeed at college”.  These measures are not designed to predict how well students will perform in life after college.

In The Millionaire Mind I cite the findings on this topic from the landmark article of David C. McClelland of Harvard.  McClelland found that traditional measures of intelligence (cognitive) do not account for a substantial portion of the variation in achievement and success in life.  But measures of cognitive intelligence are connected with grades.

McClelland also reminds us of the key issue in this regard:

Researchers have in fact had great difficulty demonstrating that grades in school are related to any other behaviors of importance – other than doing well on aptitude tests.

The results of my research on millionaires (see The Millionaire Mind, Table 3-4, p. 120) are congruent with Professor McClelland’s.  Grades received in college explain a small portion, less than 3%, of the variation in both wealth and income.

Multimillionaires who had mediocre academic credentials in school:

. . . never allowed the academic ‘odds makers’ to dictate their performance in life.  They recognized that creativity, hard work, discipline, and certain social skills, including leadership, were more significant than grades and aptitude test results (The Millionaire Mind, p. 69).

Perhaps McClelland said it best:

It seems so self-evident to educators that those who do well in their classes must go on to do better in life that they systematically have disregarded evidence to the contrary that has been accumulated for some time.

Colleges need to incorporate measures that explain the variation in after college productivity/performance of applicants.  How productive was the respondent who once told me that “I (always had) have an almost uncontrolled need to succeed”?  Today he has a net worth in the nine figures!

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