Thursday, August 20, 2009

College and Salary: "With Whom" You Study Matters as Much as "What" You Study

The topic of how attending a "good college" relates to getting a "good job" came up in a recent conversation I was having with my high school-aged son, whom I am encouraging to give serious consideration to both what he enjoys doing and what type of lifestyle he wants to have after he graduates from college.

Using the popular U.S. News & World Report ranking of universities and salary data from, we can take a look at the correlation between university attended and resulting mid-career median salary. The table below shows the top 30 U.S. universities and the mid-career median salary of their graduates.

As might be expected, Ivy League schools (Harvard, Princeton, Yale, University of Pennsylvania, Columbia, Dartmouth, Cornell and Brown) figure prominently on the list, along with the well-known science and engineering schools (Caltech, MIT) and the so-called non-Ivy Ivies (Stanford, University of Chicago, Duke, etc.).

The relationship between university attended and salary can be seen in the graph below.

The regression line is:

Mid-Career Median Salary = $121,400 - $900 x (Ranking of University Attended),

giving a decrement of about $9,000 in annual salary for each 10 spots in university ranking. For example, a graduate of a university with a ranking of about 5 might expect to have a mid-career salary of about $9,000 more per year than a graduate of a university with a ranking of about 15. The numbers actually show more scatter and skew than is captured by the linear regression, as evident in the following examples of ranking-university-salary:

4. Caltech, $115,000
5. MIT, $126,000
6. Stanford, $124,000

14. Johns Hopkins, $94,900
15. Cornell, $106,000
16. Brown, $107,000

24. UCLA, $97,000
25. University of Virginia, $97,200
26. USC, $103,000.

The general trend of higher ranking (smaller number) correlated to higher salary (correlation of .63) is clear. While there are, of course, many individual exceptions to the rule, one of the tell-tale indicators for predicting lifetime earnings and net worth is the college one attends.

As I tell my son, the college one attends (i.e., with whom one studies) is just as important as what one studies in college. Choice of a college typically has a lifelong impact on one's social circle, which in turn often influences whom one does business with throughout one's career.