The Value of an Elite College Education

by | Apr 4, 2017


Maybe I don’t remember correctly, but the process of applying to and choosing a college seemed much less stressful and involved 30 years ago as it is currently. There is immense pressure on today’s high schoolers to make good grades, do well on standardized tests and to have the right activities in order to get into the best possible college.  Is it worth it? Is going to an elite college worth the investment?

Imagine the situation of Darcy.  She has a 3.95/4.0 GPA, a 34 on her ACT, is active in school sports and clubs, volunteers and works a part time job (and was promoted to assistant manager recently).  She has applied to a number of elite schools:  Penn, Princeton and Duke.  As a back-up she has also applied to her state school – The University of Illinois – as well as a few solid liberal arts  schools. Much to her dismay, she does not get into any of the elite schools and instead heads off to the U of I.  In terms of career earnings is she worse off?

Research from two economists say no.  In their paper, they found the difference in career earnings between the students who went to super-selective schools and the students with similar SAT scores and other attributes who were rejected from those schools and went to less selective institutions was “indistinguishable from zero.”

Thus, for most, the conclusion is it matters more who you are rather than where you went to college.

The researchers did find a major exception to this conclusion: Black and Hispanic students and those from families without college education did benefit from attending highly-selective schools. The reason? The authors speculate that elite colleges provide internship and networking that the parents are unable to provide.

So – if you know any high schoolers – tell them not to stress too much. Learn for learning’s sake. Do activities they want to do.  Build character.  Have fun, make friends. There will be a college that fits.  Remind them that only about 30% of 29 year-olds have a four-year college degree.


1 Comment

  1. As it should be. Who you are should matter far more than what school you graduated from. Maybe the administrations should start looking at the very high cost of going to an “Elite School” since going there does not translate into a better education.

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