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Does it Really Matter Where You Go to College? Financially, It Does

Jun 3, 2024

High school students and their parents are nothing short of obsessed with college decisions—concerns over students’ higher education prospects prompt parents to spend thousands of dollars on private school, tutoring, private college admissions consulting, competitive summer programs, and more. Though many invest huge amounts of time, money, and energy into the process, others often wonder: Does it really matter whether your student attends an Ivy League school or a state university?

From large state schools to small liberal arts colleges, students can find research opportunities, rigorous curricula, and vibrant campus communities at a wide array of colleges. In choosing where to apply, and later, where to attend college, students should be diligent in their research and discern what kind of school will best suit them. An Ivy League school is not the right choice for every student—needless to say, many students would not thrive in such rigorous academic environments. Further, Ivy League schools’ small campus sizes, cultures and locations may not be the best fit for some students. When it comes to student satisfaction and the potential to flourish, an Ivy League may not be the best option.

However, when it comes to future earning potential and career success, where you go to college matters greatly.

First and foremost, the caliber of a student’s alma mater can impact their likelihood of securing a job after graduation. Princeton, Harvard, and Yale all rank in the top 10 in the Times Higher Education 2023-2024 Global Employability University Ranking, alongside other top schools such as MIT, CalTech, and Stanford. Not only are graduates of these schools more likely to get a job, but a report from Opportunity Insights indicated further that attending a college in the Ivy plus category rather than a highly selective public institution triples a graduate’s chances of working at a prestigious firm.

This is due in large part to the networking opportunities afforded to students at world-renowned universities. While excelling in the classroom during one’s college years is an impressive feat, few employers will look at students’ GPAs or transcripts after graduation. They will care instead about the quality of their resumes and professional experiences. Ivy League and other top schools provide networks that will follow students throughout their careers, as graduates connect with one another through organizations such as the Harvard Club of New York City.

The significance of attending a top college manifests not only in one’s likelihood of getting a job, but also their average earnings. Graduates from Ivy League schools are reported to have higher average annual earnings than their peers who graduate in the top 10% of other colleges. According to U.S. News & World Report, Ivy League graduates with approximately three years of professional experience earned a median annual salary of $86,025 in 2022, compared to graduates of other schools who earned $58,643. The gap widens as time goes on—by mid-career (20 years of experience), Ivy League grads earn $161,888 on average, compared to other graduates who average $101,777. Additionally, graduates of Ivy League and other top schools are 60% more likely to reach the top 1% of the earnings distribution. It is no surprise, then, that every Ivy League school except for Brown appears on Forbes’ 2022 list of The 11 Most Popular Colleges Among America’s Richest. University of Pennsylvania topped that list, with 17 graduates appearing on Forbes’ 400 wealthiest American rankings.

These statistics are even more significant in light of Ivy League schools’ financial aid packages. For instance, in 2022, Princeton announced that they would offer free tuition, room, and board for most students whose families made less than $100,000 annually. Programs such as these bring the average annual cost of attending an Ivy League education down to $23,234—less than the average cost of ranked colleges outside of the Ivy League. These financial incentives contribute to the ROI of top schools, placing Princeton, Harvard, Yale, and Dartmouth in the top 10 in The Princeton Review’s ranking of best value colleges.

Ultimately, students should seek to attend a school that aligns with their goals and passions while recognizing that their college decision will have lasting effects on their career and income. Investing in the necessary support to maximize your student’s chances of admission to Ivy League and other top schools is a strategic choice—and one that could have a positive impact for years to come.

Originally posted on Forbes.

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