Good news, graduates! If you went to Harvard, you could be a genius. And if you didn’t go to Harvard? You could still be a genius. At least, according to new data from the MacArthur Foundation.
The institution, which each year offers its prestigious MacArthur Fellowships (also known as “genius” grants) for exceptional creativity, crunched the numbers to see which schools have historically produced the most recipients.
While the top MacArthur fellow producer is — yes — Harvard, the vast majority of winners didn’t go to there. They didn’t go to Ivies or other private research universities at all. In fact, one in five went to a school that accepts more than 50% of applicants, some went to community colleges, and a not-insignificant number skipped college altogether.
To be fair, the schools that have produced the most fellows aren’t particularly surprising. The top three are:
- Harvard University: 72 fellows
- Princeton University: 28 fellows
- University of California, Berkeley: 20 fellows
Yet the vast array of schools represented — 315 in total — is striking. It proves that your trajectory isn’t dictated by your alma mater, argues Cecelia Conrad, vice president of the MacArthur Fellows program, in a Huffington Post article. “What also matters is the student’s active engagement in the educational experience,” she says. It’s not so much where you go, but what you do with it.
That said, if you really want a MacArthur Fellowship, you might want to consider liberal arts colleges, which account for a disproportionate number of “geniuses” — 2% of all college grads went to liberal arts colleges, compared to 14% of MacArthur fellows.
It’s probably not that these schools admit more creative students than other kinds of schools, Conrad says, but they seem to nourish creativity more. Or as she puts it, “something must be more likely to happen to a student at these institutions than at other institutions that allows creativity to flourish. I argue that something is a true liberal education.”
The bottom line: College is what you make of it, and it’s possible to cultivate the kind of creativity that wins you a MacArthur at “almost any institution” — or even no institution at all.
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