The Impact of Education at a Top College on Your Career
Many high school students getting ready to apply for or choose their college are faced with a dilemma: Do they go to a prestigious private school with huge yearly tuition, or choose a less well-regarded university and incur less student debt?
On one hand, the less debt a person acquires, the sooner he or she can start saving money or buying a house once his or her career begins. On the other hand, a degree from a top-notch university can open the door for many career opportunities that a degree from a lower-tier university might not offer.
Does the college a person go to matter when it comes to their future career? And if so, what impact does it have? Researchers have been looking at these questions for the past 30 years or so, and it’s possible to say some things definitively about this topic.
The Impact of College Choice on Future Earnings
The first question is: Does the ranking of the college a person attends have an impact on future earnings? The short and clear answer is that yes, they most certainly do.
A study divided all colleges into groupings of ‘Top Private’, ‘Middle Private’, ‘Bottom Private’, ‘Top Public’, and ‘Middle Public’. Graduates of Top Private saw an average wage premium of 39%, Middle Private was 10%, Top Public was 26%, and Middle Public was 6%. Meanwhile, Bottom Private had a negative wage premium, at -15%. Without a doubt, graduates of top tier colleges do better on aggregate than those in less well-regarded schools.
To truly weigh the cost versus benefit, it would be necessary to factor in the difference in student loan burden for all students, but the raw numbers show that going to a better school means a more lucrative career. True analysis of the best schools to attend from a financial standpoint look at more than simply average wages of graduates.
Best Schools for Return on Investment
Judging which schools produce the best ROI means factoring the tuition costs for a degree, amount of financial aid available, and the average salaries/wages earned by graduates. Incorporating all these measures, a calculation can determine the best schools in terms of financial ROI.
Interestingly, none of the Ivy League or Top 10 universities make the head of the list. The top five schools on the list are SU-NY Maritime College, Colorado School of Mines, Georgia Tech, Massachusetts Maritime Academy, and South Dakota School of Mines & Technology. The common denominator with these colleges is an emphasis on engineering degrees and reasonable tuition rates.
That being said, not every student wants to become an engineer. Some other schools high on the list are UC Berkeley and a number of the Big Ten public universities like University of Illinois, Purdue and Michigan. A general rule when it comes to ROI on colleges is that if a student is looking to maximize earning potential, he or she should focus his or her degree on the STEM fields.
Beyond College Rankings and ROI
While all this data definitively shows that going to certain colleges is an advantage in a graduate’s future career, it’s important to note that it’s not quite that simple. There are numerous instances where graduates from a lower ranked school out-earn graduates from the most prestigious universities. The specifics of an individual play heavily into determining how he or she does in a future career.
One factor in determining the success a graduate has in a later career is the wealth and resources his or her family has. Siblings who went to differently ranked colleges tended to earn comparable salaries within their chosen fields, suggesting that there are other factors at play beyond the ranking of the college attended.
Another differentiator can be how involved a student is in his or her education process. Excellent grades from a lower tier college may trump mediocre grades from a more prestigious one, depending on the hiring process candidates encounter. Extra-collegiate options like a Course Hero free account can allow students supplementary materials in developing their knowledge base. Participation in networking clubs and fraternities and sororities can leave graduates with a network of contacts and allies that may lead to future career opportunities.
Though the data shows beyond dispute that going to a top college tends to have an impact on future careers, there are a number of other factors that go into determining future success.