Study finds prestige not factor in success for college graduates

Joe Layton

Attending a more selective college does not lead to higher earnings for the average student, according to a recent study by Princeton researchers.

Students who apply to, and are accepted by, elite schools are likely to be high-achievers, said Stacy Dale, an economist at research institute Mathmatica who worked on the study. High-achieving students are likely to have high earnings regardless of where they go to school, Dale said.

“In a certain range, it doesn’t matter where you go when comparing a moderately selective school to a highly selective school,” Dale said. “Based on the information we have, we can’t determine the wage benefit of a highly selective school to a less selective school.”

The study was limited to information available from the College and Beyond Survey. The 27 schools examined in the study included Georgetown University, Miami University of Ohio, Wellesley College and several Ivy League schools.

The study is an update of a Princeton study from 1989 that reached similar conclusions. However, college applicants still think strategically about how a university’s name and brand will impact their career options, according to the study.

“UT has a better reputation and is more prestigious [than UT-San Antonio],” said Sharjeel Momin, an undeclared sophomore who transferred from UT-San Antonio in Fall 2010. “I’ve heard good things about the career center, that a lot of big companies come here to recruit. Essentially, I have a better chance of getting a better job graduating from UT.”

Wage earnings after graduation are influenced more by the average SAT scores of the most selective university a student applied to rather than the school they actually graduate from, Dale said.

Although attending a more selective college doesn’t seem to lead to higher earnings for the average student, students who come from minority groups or families with less parental education do seem to benefit from job-networking opportunities that become available from attending a more selective school, according to the study.

Under state law, UT automatically admits applicants in approximately the top 8 percent of their high school graduating class, according to the admissions office.

“It’s hard to tell if this makes us more or less selective because we can only use one metric,” said Augustine Garza, deputy director of admissions. “We have no control over a large percentage of the students admitted to the University, but the rest, we can use more of a holistic approach to evaluate.”