Greatness isn’t reserved

Jay Matthews, venerable and semi-retired education writer at the Washington Post, still resurfaces occasionally and adds his wise thoughts to calm college admissions mania, this time to remind us all about a young filmmaker who was denied from both USC and UCLA’s film schools, enrolled at Cal State Long Beach, and went on to become one of the greatest filmmakers in history.

That student was Steven Spielberg.

Spielberg is a story-worthy illustration that you don’t need to attend a famous college to be successful. But the circumstances surrounding his career path also make him a potentially less effective example. Few professions are as competitive as the film industry. They aren’t just handing out directing jobs to anyone with a degree. And yet Spielberg’s films have won 34 Academy Awards and grossed over 10 billion dollars, making him the highest earning filmmaker of all time.

How many filmmakers have achieved that level of success, regardless of where they went to college? Spielberg’s career is in many ways a well-deserved aberration. That’s why it might be easy for a reader to dismiss the example with, “Well, he’s Steven Spielberg. Of course it didn’t matter where he went to college.”

But the overarching point is not at all an aberration. Most successful people did not attend highly selective colleges. There are professions and people and societal challenges waiting for people to show up and play successful roles. Highly selective colleges can’t possibly produce enough graduates to fill all of them.

So whether or not you become as iconic in your profession as Steven Spielberg did in his, your path to get there will be rich with opportunities to learn, grow, discover your talents, and even have some fun along the way. All you have to do is attend a college where you will avail yourself of them.

Spielberg is story worthy. But the proof is there within just about every profession: greatness isn’t reserved for graduates of colleges that turn away most of their applicants.