Research shows that for most students, it probably doesn't matter, at least when it comes to future earning potential. However, for some specialties and socio-economic environments, there are good reasons to attend an elite school. This month, economists from Virginia Tech, Tulane and the University of Virginia released a new study that reexamines data from the Dale-Krueger study. Among men, the new study found no relationship between university selectivity and long-term income.
However, for women, “attending a school with an average SAT score 100 points higher increased their income by 14 percent and reduced marriage by 4 percent. Has one of the most famous articles in the education economy been discredited? Frank Bruni, in his book Where You Go Is Not Who You'll Be, cites research showing that most of the U.S.-born CEOs of the top 100 companies on the Fortune 500 list did not attend elite universities and there was no pattern as to where they went to school. Michael Lindsay's Platinum study studied 550 American leaders, including 250 high-level CEOs, and found that more than two-thirds graduated from non-elite schools. This finding is consistent whether they are Pulitzer Prize winners or leaders in the fields of science and engineering.
Many studies have documented that where you go to college has little predictive value for future earnings or levels of well-being. In my experience as a longtime mentor for college-age youth, I see a bigger problem that goes beyond choosing the right university. My graduate professor in physics told his children that he would only pay for college if they went to teaching colleges, which are universities that only teach, and don't pose as “research” or what they pose as research. In fact, the only gender-specific effect of attending elite universities is that female graduates are more focused on their careers.
Since the price of college is always rising and is almost beyond the reach of middle-class families, I encourage my high school students to consider state universities very carefully. Everyone can talk endlessly about the relative advantage of an Ivy League education or similar, but the fact is that only a small percentage of all students who go to college are allowed to enter those universities. Women who graduate from elite schools delay marriage, delay having children, and stay in the workforce longer than similar women who graduate from less selective schools. A student who attends college (any university, whether Ivy or State) who is held hand in hand by professors, advisors, etc.
According to the Association of Colleges and Universities of the United States, there are more than 2,600 accredited four-year colleges and universities. The strong debate about the benefits of attending an elite university is based on a larger conversation about whether college is worth it in the first place. I think it's also important to understand what a prestigious university is and what it means to be a selective university.