Why Graduates of the Best Ivy League Schools Earn More

Coveting entry to the best Ivy League schools is an American tradition. A recent PayScale study adds another reason to chase acceptance: Ivy League grads out-earn their liberal-arts colleagues. According to the study, the median starting salary for Ivy League graduates is 32 percent higher than what liberal arts graduates earn. So why do graduates of the best Ivy League schools make more than graduates of other schools?

One reason could be the connections. New Ivy Leaguers are welcomed into a circle of some of the wealthiest, most powerful and connected people, including very distinguished lists of alumni. An acquaintance of mine who has spent time working at Harvard, Stanford, Yale and Duke recently told me that at Harvard, for example, once you're in, the Harvard circle does everything in its power to make sure you succeed--and keep succeeding throughout life. Others offer different reasons for why graduates of the best Ivy League schools make the big bucks. David Wise, a senior consultant at Hay Group Inc., a global management-consulting firm based in Philadelphia, says "Ivy Leaguers probably position themselves better for job opportunities that provide them with significant upside."

The Best Ivy League Schools Offer the Best Networks

I disagree with Wise. I don't think that, on their own, Ivy Leaguers are better at selecting lucrative jobs than state-school graduates, for example. I do think they are better positioned, however, to gain access to those jobs, and a lot of that has to do with their connections. There's also the issue of status and perception. U.S. corporations view Ivy League graduates as the gold standard, and will pay handsomely for them. Peter Cappelli, a professor of management and director of the Center for Human Resources at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, says, "Dartmouth kids get paid more for the same job than kids from Rutgers are [doing]."

Part of my reasoning stems from my own experience. When I applied to graduate programs, I picked the two considered best at training journalists, institutions that would give me contacts and access to good jobs. I was accepted at both, and chose the one with, in my mind, a better reputation as far as contacts, networking, and yes, curriculum. In hindsight, it was a bit of a gamble, but my salary did increase significantly. I scored my first job out of graduate school not because of my superior ability at 'positioning' myself. I landed the gig through my connections from graduate school, and was ultimately hired by an alum of my alma mater.

Readers, do you think Ivy Leaguers know how to position themselves better in the job market? Or does their advantage lie more in connections and perceptions of the Ivy League as education's gold standard?



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