You guessed it: Ivy League grads do earn higher salaries

Going to one of the most selective institutions has a better payoff than attendance at even a 'very competitive' institution

Students who attend the most selective universities, such as Ivy League institutions, tend to have higher post-graduate earnings, according to new research presented at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association

Researchers used statistics from the federal Baccalaureate and Beyond Longitudinal Study and classifications from Barron's college guides. They also controlled for factors other than the college experience itself that would put some students at a greater earning advantage, including:

  • Public vs. private institution classification;
  • Advanced degrees earned after graduation;
  • Age;
  • College GPA;
  • College major;
  • Gender;
  • Parental education;
  • Parental income;
  • Race;
  • Region of employment post-graduation; and
  • SAT scores.

The researchers found that even while controlling for all those factors, 10 years after graduation, students from the most competitive institutions earn 8% more than graduates of very selective colleges, 11% more than graduates of competitive colleges, and 19% more than graduates of colleges that do not have competitive admissions. 

For 2003 graduates 10 years after earning a bachelor's degree, income by major and selectivity are:

  • Health related: $91,571 for most selective, $59,194 for non-selective;
  • Business: $82,633 for most selective, $59,104 for non-selective;
  • Math, computer science, engineering: $79,811 for most selective, $64,400 for non-selective;
  • Social science / humanities: $76,468 for most selective, $52,740 for non-selective;
  • Other: $70,926 for most selective, $44,852 for non-selective;
  • Professional / vocational: $66,727 for most selective, $55,082 for non-selective;
  • Life/physical sciences: $66,422 for most selective, $51,841 for non-selective; and
  • Education: $61,335 for most selective, $40,150 for non-selective.

Co-author Paul Attewell, a professor of urban education at the City University of New York Graduate Center, noted that a number of factors contribute to earnings and colleges or majors alone do not necessarily determine success. However, where one attends college certainly does make a difference.

"The graduates of the most selective colleges... do get considerably better-paying jobs," he said. "A very smart, hardworking student who gets into a college below the very top level of selectivity does not earn the same as one who gets into one of the most selective colleges" (Jaschik, Inside Higher Ed, 8/22).

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