Prestigious university: A path to money?

By Chae Yeon (Christy) Kim 

When posed the question “Why did you decide to attend your university?” to a student who goes to a so-called “prestigious” school, a handful of students will simply answer— “to make good money.” The assumption that degrees from selective universities will lead to well-paying jobs is an influential factor for students in choosing which university they should attend.  However, recent rankings have shown that students who graduated from certain less-known schools have higher salaries than students who graduated from the elite and prestigious schools.

Widener Library at Harvard University. Photo by author.

Widener Library at Harvard University. Photo by author.

PayScale, one of the largest salary profile databases online, recently ranked universities in terms of highest average salary[*]. Surprisingly, schools that are generally perceived as “dream schools” such as University of Pennsylvania and Columbia University ranked #27 and #54 below schools such as Babson College (#5) and State University of New York Maritime College (#14) that are generally less heard of.  Similarly, Princeton University, which was ranked as the most prestigious National University by US News (2014) was ranked #6. The school that was ranked first with the highest average salary was Harvey Mudd College, a liberal arts school on the West Coast that is ranked #16 under Liberal Arts Colleges on US News (2014). These rankings may come across as quite shocking for some students who strive to attend good universities for well-paid jobs.

Why would this be the case? Shouldn’t prestigious universities obviously lead to better salaries? A study by policy researcher Stacy Dale and economist Alan Krueger offers a possible explanation. Their studies show that students who attended selective schools do not earn more than students who were accepted to schools of the same stature but attended schools of lower “rank.”

From this research, it can be assumed that students with enough drive have the capacity to reach the same level of earnings as students who actually attend the prestigious university and receive a “quality” education.

The salary ranking from PayScale as well as the conclusion of the research by Dale and Krueger puts forward a controversial yet important point that students should keep in mind while striving for a “high-quality” education for well-paid jobs. Whether the student has attended a prestigious university does not necessarily have an impact on the student’s future economical standing. But rather, having a positive mindset to aspire for a better future through the means of a distinguished university is what seems to be the main factor for earning money and so-called “success.”

Elitist schools offer an education based on abstract ideas and liberal arts rather than hands-on practical education like those offered by most lower-ranked schools. Students usually attending “prestigious” schools also wish to continue their education career and gain practical knowledge from degrees after undergraduate school. This may be a reason why students who graduate from less-known schools earn more money than “elite” undergraduate students.

So, as the application period for schools around the world approaches, as well as for the University of Tokyo, and the rejection letters come flying in, we can now tell those disheartened students that going to a less-known school is not a big deal after all and that they will not be missing out on much—at least not on money.

[*] calculated by averages of starting salaries and mid-career salaries

Christy is a first-year PEAK student at the College of Arts and Sciences, University of Tokyo. 


One thought on “Prestigious University: A Path to Money?

  1. I think that the branding of prestigious universities, especially in the Northeastern countries, is harmful to the youth. Youth should instead be striving towards having an education and following their individual curiosities instead of aiming to attend a branded school conceived by their society.

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