Are you wondering if schools like Harvard are worth the price or all the hype? In this blog post we’ll explore some ideas on how top schools don’t offer as many benefits as some might assume. That’s not to say that I’m not a fan of top universities. Elite schools have a lot to offer, but those who may not have gotten into their dream schools can take heart in the details to follow.
You Matter More Than Where You Go
According to research Alan Krueger from Princeton University and Stacy Dale at Mathematica Policy Research, applying to top colleges may be as good an indication of future success as actually attending these prestigious universities.
Their research suggests that as long as your scores and grades are in the range of accepted students, whether you are accepted or not to an elite institution bears little impact on your long term earning potential. In one study, students who applied to top schools, got in, and didn’t decide to attend (rather, they attended, most often, more affordable, lower ranked or mid level schools such as state schools) fared as well financially over time as those that did attend those top schools. Even more surprising, students who applied to top schools and didn’t get in typically also achieved similarly high levels of financial success later in life. There are a few exceptions in their research: notably that socioeconomically challenged students and students in certain minority groups did see long range benefits from attending name brand name or elite universities. But many students, particularly those who the researchers hypothesize have connected family members who can support them as they enter the working world, showed similar outcomes.
Ivy League or Also-Ran? Does It Matter? – The New York Times
Revisiting the Value of Elite Colleges – The New York Times
What You Major In Matters More Than Where You Go
One measure of how much value a college education confers is ROI: Return on Investment. Different media outlets calculate ROI by estimating long range earnings against the cost of attending an institution. When viewed according to this parameter, many of the highest performing schools may come as a surprise. Sure, MIT and Stanford may make the top 10 (or top 20) of many of these lists, but among them, and even ahead of them, are some very everyday sounding colleges that specialize in fields which generally confer higher paying employment opportunities upon graduation.
Harvey Mudd College, in southern California, for example, tops PayScale’s ROI list of private colleges and Forbes’s 25 best colleges for ROI list as well. Why? It graduates students into engineering, math and sciences, with huge emphasis on job placement. Other schools that top these lists include other engineering schools as well as Babson, a business only major college. True, the schools on this list aren’t necessarily easy admits, but they also don’t tout 5% admission rates that many top schools do. Getting in may at least be a little easier than attending a top ranked Ivy or similar caliber school.
That’s not to say that no one in other majors makes money, or that students from selective schools in non-technical majors always make less than engineers. People who rise to the top ranks of their field often do make a good living regardless of major, but if you’re looking at probability, you have a greater probability of earning more from a well ranked, but not elite, institution with a technology emphasis than an elite one with a liberal arts emphasis.
Other studies have suggested some exceptions to this rule (i.e. for some industries which require connections, such as politics, where you go does matter), but ROI listings paint a different portrait of how education can empower people looking to improve their career choices and success down the line.
College ROI (Private) – PayScale
College ROI (Public) – PayScale
More on the Importance of a High Paying Major:
Major Matters Most – University of Texas System
10 Reasons Your College Major Matters – MoneyTalks News
Top Colleges Don’t Necessarily Provide the Best Upward Mobility for Low Income Students
Some believe education to be a great equalizer. But not all schools are equal when it comes to providing economic and social mobility.
A group of researchers, ironically from top schools such as Stanford University, Brown University and the University of California, Berkeley, along with the U.S. Treasury, found that many of the schools who best elevate opportunities for low income students are very everyday, accessible state universities. These universities include number one, California State University, Los Angeles, and others such as Pace University, State University of New York-Stony Brook, Technical Career Institutes, University of Texas-Pan American, City University of New York system, and even Glendale Community College, a two-year institution outside Los Angeles.
These researchers developed a new statistic they call a “college’s mobility rate,” which “combines a college’s share of students from lower-income families with its success at propelling them into the upper part of the distribution.”
In other words, many elite institutions aren’t providing the leg up to low income students that other universities are. True, when low income students do gain access to top colleges, they perform better than when they attend lower ranked institutions. Top institutions offer low income students the best chance at financial mobility. But the message is that there is great opportunity in local state universities if students are looking to improve their economic outcomes. Elite universities are not the only peddlers of dramatic, life changing opportunity. In fact, state schools often do a better job of helping those without resources maximize their potential.
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