Wednesday, June 4, 2003

Honor is predictor of college success

But smarts don't always pay off

By Cindy Kranz
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Valedictorians are a safe bet to become successful professionals, but don't expect to see them change the world.

"They're not the creative mold-breakers," said Karen Arnold, a professor at Boston College and author of Lives of Promise: What Becomes of Valedictorians (1995; Jossey-Bass).

"They're not the ones who are going to be Bill Gates. They're going to be good at running a division for Bill Gates."

Arnold followed 81 Illinois valedictorians and salutatorians from the Class of 1981 for 14 years. Arnold, who conducted the study with Terry Denny, a professor emeritus from the University of Illinois, found that valedictorians were generalists involved in many extra-curricular activities. They were persistent, conscientious, well-rounded and had a good work ethic.

"They knew how to do school," she said. "They attributed their success to working hard, doing their best and being willing to do what the school requires.''

It's a "fabulous predictor of college success. They graduated in record numbers. They won every award.''

The flip side about being so smart is that it doesn't always pay off.

"Harvard could fill itself with valedictorians, but it chooses not to," Arnold said. "They want divergent thinkers. ... They want those people who are going to break through in an unusual way."

After college, most valedictorians she studied went on to become professionals with high-level jobs, such as lawyers, doctors and leaders of companies and organizations, Arnold said.

"They're a good bet for future solid success, and they're solid people. Being valedictorian is part of their identity. ... There are very few labels that follow you through life. Valedictorian is one of them."

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