An Ivy League Degree is Not Enough

December 3, 2020

In a world that is suffering the effects of Covid-19 and is trying to recover, education plays a big role. At the same time though, it is being reconsidered.

As someone who had the luck and privilege to get what is often referred to as an "elite education" in countries (Italy and Spain) where you don't have to go into enormous amounts of debt, I have a very particular point of view on the topic.

I have nothing against online education, on the contrary, I believe it can be a great solution. Especially if you have a full-time job and/or children or if you cannot relocate to get the education you need.
This being said, I also firmly believe online education is not for everyone, and it can be extremely difficult to assess among the different options.

According to a UK study, people who earned a higher education (bachelor's degree) earned, on average, £210,000 more than those who didn't. If the person in question is a woman, the benefit would rise even more. (Walport and Leunig :132)

In countries such as Italy, where there is a strong bias in the workforce where men are often more considered both in terms of know-how and management positions, investing in one's education is, maybe, the most valuable step one can take to grow professionally. Studying will allow women to highlight their competences and raise above colleagues who are less prepared but favored just because of their gender.

Other than access to knowledge, the competitive upper hand an Ivy League education gave me (or, the unfair advantage, if you will) was the access to a network and signalling.

Before I get into these two aspects, let me define unfair advantage: "[it] is a competitive upper hand, and your set of unfair advantages is unique to you. It’s more than just a unique selling point, it’s a fundamental leg-up over the competition, and sometimes it’s not one that is ‘earned’ or worked for."


Networking is often considered to be a male prerogative. Men network, they go to conferences, cocktail parties and dinners. Women, historically, much less so. Attending two highly renowned institutions gave me access to a group of talented people that are most likely to talk to me if I approach them because we share a common education. These are not interactions that happen merely through a screen, they are private events, talks and informal gatherings to which I would have otherwise not had access to. Mind you, this kind of networking can happen on a college campus, but it is not limited to it. Several Universities organize regular events in different countries in which alumni can take part in.

This has allowed me to create and build relationships outside my work environment even when I had just started working in Madrid. It made my expat life much easier as I had a network to rely on which had faced similar challenges as the ones I was dealing with.


Signalling is a matter of an educational institution's branding. Just because I graduated from certain places I am able to better communicate that I have the skills and know-how to perform certain jobs.

These advantages are well known, several alumni from different institutions are well aware of them and will make the most of them.

As an example Reid Hoffman, co-founder of LinkedIn and Stanford graduate, was asked the following question when a guest on the NPR podcast ‘How I Built This’ by Guy Raz: ‘How much of what you accomplished is because of your hard work and your intelligence, and how much of it is because of the luck and the privileges that you’ve had?’ Without a breath of hesitation, he answered: ‘The answer is MASSIVELY BOTH, of course.’

Is an Ivy League Education Enough?

The short answer is: no.

Recently a friend and mentor of mine, who is used to hiring recent graduates, told me the issue that candidates with an education background similar to mine (and hers, given she is a Wharton graduate) have is that they can come off as know-it-alls.

So, Ivy League education can act as a double-edged sword.

We all know someone who graduated from a renowned institution who, even though they ended their degree yesterday, believes s/he is an expert in their field. Those who think a logo on a diploma automatically gives them the title of expert often happen to be non-ideal subordinates or unpleasant teammates. 

What is Enough then?

Once you graduate, by all means use the advantages your alma mater gives you, it would be silly not to. Do bear in mind though that you still have a lot to learn and be honest about it. 

Unless you have several years of experience under your belt, most likely you are an employee who is ready to enter the working arena on training wheels. So demonstrate your willingness to learn. Show your interest for the topics you are dealing with and be happy to do more learning on the side. 

Some of the most valuable lessons I got were because I did not stop learning once I took off my gown. Make it a prerogative to learn a little every week, and you will see a much faster career growth. Curiosity is a great muscle to develop because it can open many unexpected doors, use it.

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Alessia Cappello

Alessia eases brands, agencies and publishers measure their online advertising effectiveness. She is a digital marketing and advertising enthusiast by day. Passionate about the intersection between technology, art & culture by night.

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