You don’t necessarily need an Ivy League degree to get the job you want.
I once came across a Craigslist ad with the following qualification: Must have an Ivy League degree.
I didn’t apply, but I found it odd that attending one of these eight prestigious institutions mattered more than my work samples or professional background. I thought back to why I went to a state school and realized rankings played a minor role in my decision.
But should rankings play a large role in where you attend college? Multiple factors must be considered when answering this question.
Is there a correlation between rankings and post-graduation earnings?
The answer to this question is not a simple yes or no.
According to the survey What’s Your College Degree Worth? published on Bloomberg Businessweek and conducted by Payscale, highly ranked private schools top the charts for 30-year student earnings. Number one on the list is Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), which costs a little over $189,000 per degree and has an approximately $1.8 million 30-year net return.
There are also 10 public schools in the top 50, and they’re all usually highly ranked on top-college lists. Though it’s only a general survey and exceptions exist, it does point strongly to the fact that where you attend college can affect how much you earn after graduation.
Maggie Dines, who graduated with a master’s degree in social work from Columbia University in 2011, said one of the reasons she chose Columbia was because she knew Columbia’s prestige would allow her to negotiate her salary.
“You have a bargaining edge when you go to an Ivy League school,” Dines said.
So, are those who went to non-prestigious colleges doomed to low-paying jobs? Not necessarily.
A study by Alan Kreuger of Princeton University and Stacy Berg Dale of the Allen Mellon Foundation compared students who went to highly selective colleges to students who got accepted into prestigious colleges but opted for less-selective schools. The two groups earned around the same wages. Or, as Jordan Weissmann worded it when he highlighted the study in The Atlantic, “If you were smart enough to get into Yale, or even take a shot at it, you were probably smart enough to earn like a Yale grad.”
This goes to show that hard-working students can attend less-prestigious schools and be just as successful as Harvard grads. So while where you go can factor into your future salary, it’s not everything.
Do high rankings mean it’s a better school?
Dines attended the University of Nevada – Reno for her undergraduate degree. While she recognizes that her Columbia professors were more profound and esteemed, she said, in her experience, the two institutions didn’t differ much academically. But Columbia offered her something she couldn’t receive elsewhere.
“My field experience in East Harlem, I couldn’t have got at a state school,” Dines said. “Being at an Ivy League opened up more doors of opportunity and experience.”
“No school is absolutely perfect across the board,” Skurman said. “Every school has strengths and weaknesses … A ranking doesn’t necessarily tell the whole story about a particular institution.”
So, you can get a great education at a highly ranked private school as well as at your local public college.
Do high rankings land you jobs?
A study by The Wall Street Journal surveyed 479 U.S. companies and showed that they prefer state-school graduates over elite private-school graduates for entry-level jobs. In fact, 19 of the top 25 schools these companies mentioned were public, such as Texas A&M University.
But Dines argues that it depends on the job. For her, going to Columbia set her apart when landing a job as a social worker in the ER of a Reno hospital, she said.
“If they’re looking at two resumes — a state school and Columbia — there’s no comparison,” Dines said. “They’re going to hire me because I went to Columbia.”
Schools often publish the success rate of their students when it comes to landing jobs after graduation. Skurman said that this should be one of the factors students look at when choosing a college. Rankings are just one of many factors to consider, Skurman said.
“Rankings can make the decision that much clearer and sharper,” Skurman said. “The rankings are at students’ disposal, and they should use all the resources to make them as confident in their decision as possible.”
While I can’t land jobs geared toward Ivy League grads, I continue to have success in my career. You can too if you work hard enough.
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