Going To An Elite University Only Means Higher Salaries For Some Professions

Going to an Elite College Only Means Higher Salaries for Some Professions

How much of a difference does going to an Ivy League school versus an open enrolment university make on your future earnings? Well, that depends on your major, according to a recent study published in Contemporary Economic Policy. Photo by David Paul Ohmer.

After analysing a survey of thousands of university graduates and their salaries a decade after graduating, researchers found that for some fields, graduating from a selective university didn't make much of a difference on future earnings.

Specifically, for business and other liberal-arts majors, the prestige of the school has a major impact on future earnings expectations. But for fields like science, technology, engineering and maths, it largely doesn't matter whether students go to a prestigious, expensive school or a low-priced one — expected earnings turn out the same. So, families may be wasting money by chasing an expensive diploma in those fields.

This makes sense, since STEM fields tend to hire with a focus on skills acquired:

For potential employers, the skills students learn in these fields appear to trump prestige — possibly because curriculums are relatively standardised and there's a commonly accepted body of knowledge students must absorb. So, a student may not need to attend the best possible school to ensure a good salary after graduation. (It's important to note that we controlled for numerous other factors that might influence postgraduation earnings, such as family income, race/ethnicity, gender, marital status, SAT score, postgraduate degree and age at graduation and more.)

Business majors, on the other hand, would benefit from the connections made during university with potential employers and other alumni at more prestigious schools. For business, education and humanities majors, the researchers found a 6 per cent to 18 per cent better salary for graduates of prestigious schools compared to less selective universities or midtier universities (based on Barron's ratings of colleges).

Good stuff to know before you invest in an expensive diploma.

Is It Where You Go or What You Study? The Relative Influence of College Selectivity and College Major on Earnings [Contemporary Economic Policy via The Wall Street Journal]


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