HigherEdMorning.comHow important is it to get into a 'good' school?

How important is it to get into a ‘good’ school?

August 2, 2009 by Geneva Reid
Posted in: Admissions & Financial Aid, In this week's e-newsletter, Latest News & Views

Most of us lived with the mantra of, “Study hard so you can get into a good school.”

But does it really matter where you attend college? A new study may provide the answer.

Here’s the data from PayScale, which based its numbers on 1.2 million people who reported their salaries and educational background.

One thing to keep in mind: The survey is based only on respondents whose highest degree is a BA – so many high-paying jobs aren’t included. This was done to determine the schools that are the “best investment”:

  • 10 years or more after graduation, Dartmouth students have the highest median mid-career salary.
  • Looking at the first five years after graduation, Loma Linda University has the highest median starting salary.
  • Overall, the best starting salaries came from engineering schools. In the “starting salary” category, they comprised eight of the top 10 schools.
  • For mid-career pay, the Ivy Leagues made five of the top 10.

The survey also takes a look at majors – and which ones lead to the highest or lowest salaries. Here are the top 10 college majors, ranked from high to low mid-career salaries:

  1. Aerospace engineering
  2. Chemical engineering
  3. Computer engineering
  4. Electrical engineering
  5. Economics
  6. Physics
  7. Mechanical engineering
  8. Computer science
  9. Industrial engineering
  10. Environmental engineering

And now the bottom 10 majors, from lowest to highest:

  1. Social work
  2. Elementary education
  3. Theology
  4. Music
  5. Spanish
  6. Horticulture
  7. Education
  8. Hospitality and tourism
  9. Fine arts
  10. Drama

To see the entire survey results, click here.

What are your thoughts on the value of getting into a ‘good’ school? How important is it? Let us know in the comments section below.

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  • JaneB

    Getting into a ‘good’ school may be important if your main goal in life is making a lot of money; however, a quick look at successful people in different professions shows that many did not go to a ‘good’ school. Drive, talent and smarts do count for something!

  • Karl

    I respectfully must disagree with JaneB. It’s not about “making a lot of money”, it’s about earning a living wage. In this economic climate, I think everyone understands that there are no opportunities without a college education. So, people are going after college education in whatever forms that can find (afford). In that respect, a student earning an associate’s degree may still find work after graduation, but might not earn a living wage with that degree. In my state, the average starting salary for an associate’s in finance or horticulture is just $9.50 per hour – my part-time student earns as much! A graduate of a ‘good’ school has the best chance to earn enough (or more) to live or raise a family on – it’s not ju

    I wish drive, talent and smarts were valued for more than they seem to be!

  • John

    The research presented here does not answer the question in the headline “how important is it to get into (go to) a “good” school. Deep in the article researchers who took entering characteristics into consideration are quoted:

    According to research from Alan B. Krueger, a Princeton professor and Treasury official who used to contribute to Economix, and Stacey B. Dale at Mathematica Policy Research, attending one relatively elite college (like Harvey Mudd) rather than another (like Harvard) doesn’t much affect a student’s future income. Rather, it’s the student who matters. Hard-working, ambitious students will do well wherever they go. The opposite applies to mediocre or lazy students.

    So, an “ivy” environment may not be as important (at least in terms of future income) as the qualities that a student brings to that environment.

    Of course, as always, more research is needed, but overspeculating and sensationalistic headline writing based on a very limited data set (regardless of the N) does not help.


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