Does It Matter Which University You Go To?

does it matter what university you go to

Sometimes you hear people talking about going to a famous university, like Oxford or Cambridge. It might make you wonder, does it matter what university you go to? After all, college is a huge decision, and you want to pick the best fit, right?

We all know there are tons of amazing and great universities out there, and the “best” one can depend on what YOU’re looking for. Maybe you dream of a big campus with plenty of people, or perhaps a smaller, cosy school feels more like your style.

Well, this article answers the question and also discusses the factors to consider when choosing a university besides just the name.

What Really Matters When Choosing a College?

Is the choice of your educational institution a critical factor? Common belief suggests that attending prestigious colleges yields more excellent student benefits than non-selective institutions.

A study conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) in 2000 lends credence to this idea. The research discovered that obtaining a degree from a selective college resulted in an 11% to 16% surge in earnings for men and a 12% increase for women.

Furthermore, women who attended selective liberal arts colleges experienced a remarkable 24% boost in earnings compared to those attending other types of schools (Fitzgerald, 2000).

However, a study by Dale and Krueger (1999) presents a different perspective, asserting that the college attended doesn’t significantly impact income. This is particularly encouraging for students considering various public schools and universities in the US.

Their findings revealed that “students who attended more selective colleges did not earn more than students who were accepted and rejected by comparable colleges but attended less selective colleges.”

Interestingly, they observed that students attending colleges with higher average tuition tended to achieve higher incomes in the following years.

Additionally, their research highlighted that students from disadvantaged backgrounds who study at elite schools experience the highest income gains.

Read: Does The First Year Of University Count?

Smart College Choices: Earning Power vs. School Prestige

Dale and Krueger continued their investigation into the relationship between college selectivity and earnings with a subsequent study in 2011.

They collected data from the College and Beyond Survey (C&B), focusing on students who pursued higher education in 1976 and 1989. Subsequently, they compared the self-reported earnings data from the C&B survey with information from the Social Security Administration (SSA).

Their study gauged college quality by analyzing average SAT scores, net tuition, and Barron’s index, which assesses school competitiveness. To conceptualize their findings, the researchers introduced a “self-revelation” model.

This model assumes that students’ choices of schools reveal their potential abilities, motivations, and ambitions.

According to this self-revelation model, the researchers found that the advantage associated with college selectivity “substantially diminishes” and becomes “largely indistinguishable from zero” for both the 1976 and 1989 student cohorts.

However, the 1989 group observed a positive advantage in attending more selective institutions for black and Hispanic students and students from educationally disadvantaged family backgrounds.

For instance, the data indicated that attending a college requiring an SAT score 200 points higher could result in a 5.2% increase in earnings for students in 2007 who had parents with a high school education.

Conversely, there was no discernible advantage in attending a more selective college for students whose parents held college-level education.

The researchers postulated that the benefit of attending selective colleges for these student groups might stem from gaining access to valuable job networking opportunities.

In contrast, most students who apply to selective colleges could tap into similar opportunities through their social circles, including friends and family (Dale & Krueger, 2011).

Also, read: Should College Be Free: YES/NO? Pros And Cons

Top Schools vs. Your Major: Does Prestige Matter for Your Career?

Eide, Hilmer, and Showalter (2016) investigated the link between college selectivity and majors beyond income. They found that selectivity matters more for business, social science, education, and humanities majors.

Business graduates from highly selective schools earned 12% more than those from moderately selective ones, while the latter earned 6% more than those from less selective institutions (Eide et al., 2016). Institutional prestige likely connects business majors to alumni networks and job opportunities.

In contrast, the oldest university’s attendance did not affect income for STEM majors. The study found no earnings variation for science majors among different selectivity levels.

Engineering graduates from highly and moderately selective schools had slightly better earnings, with no significant difference for low-selectivity institutions. STEM skills mattered more than the college (Eide et al., 2016).

For social science majors, a top-selective college showed an advantage over moderate or low ones. Humanities majors benefitted from a top-selective college but not over moderate ones (Eide et al., 2016).

College selectivity does affect career outcomes, particularly for majors like social sciences, with low acceptance rate colleges offering an advantage.

Also, read: Why is the University so Expensive? Cheap Universities in the UK That Stands Out

Boys vs. Girls: Who Benefits Most from Top Schools?

Ge et al. (2018) built on Dale and Krueger’s work by exploring how attending a selective college affects later-life outcomes. Like Dale and Krueger, they found that attending an elite college does not significantly improve earnings for full-time, full-year workers for all genders.

This finding supports earlier studies, which concluded that where you go to college doesn’t matter. This is especially important when considering why college is expensive in the U.S.

In addition, they uncovered novel findings, particularly on the effects of college selectivity on women. For one, they found that going to a college with a 100-point higher average SAT score boosts the probability of women’s participation in the labour force by 2.3 percentage points.

Ge et al. point out that this could be due to increased labour supply or labour demand, such as gaining access to job opportunities that women find meaningful or that fit their schedule (Ge et al., 2018).

Secondly, the researchers found that a 100-point increase in a school’s average SAT scores increases women’s probability of earning an advanced degree by 4.8 percentage points.

It also decreases women’s chances of getting married in their late 30s by 3.9 percentage points but increases the likelihood that a woman’s spouse has an advanced degree by eight percentage points (Ge et al., 2018).

University Pedigree and the Hiring Process

Although data indicates otherwise, employers persist in hiring graduates from prestigious colleges. An Indeed survey on elite college expenses revealed that 29% of senior-level and executive managers preferred exclusively hiring candidates from top-tier institutions.

The question arises: does attending a prestigious college hold significance? Most survey respondents (48%) considered the candidate’s alma mater as “somewhat important” during the hiring process.

Merely 4% stated that the degree’s origin doesn’t matter as long as the educational prerequisites for the position are fulfilled (Indeed, 2016).

See Also: Masters or Master’s Degree?: Which Is It?

Managers Who Believe that Top Performers Come from Top Colleges

Source: Indeed Survey

This survey suggests that the preference for graduates from prestigious schools could stem from managers’ personal biases. Managers who identified as top school alumni agreed with the statement,

“I believe that employees from top education institutions are on par with the rest of the top performers,” comprising 47% of respondents. Notably, 55% of managers who shared this view were not top school graduates.

Regarding the attributes of top performers, 72% of surveyed managers highlighted collaboration skills, 71% emphasized strategic thinking, and 66% underscored self-directedness. Strikingly, managers ranked the college name on a degree as the least significant factor for top performers (Indeed, 2016).

The survey also noted that degrees from prestigious colleges have more influence on hiring for entry-level or executive positions, while their impact wanes in middle-management hires (Indeed, 2016).

In another study by Correlation One (2019), focused on data talent, tier two and three colleges surprisingly harbored a “significantly larger pool of elite data science and analytics candidates compared to the top 30 schools.” Impressively, 75% of such candidates hailed from these institutions and showcased superior skills compared to their tier-one counterparts.

Correlation One caution is that over-prioritizing candidates from top colleges perpetuate biases, distorts talent competition, and fails to optimize hiring outcomes for most firms. Yet, the question of whether university choice matters still influences recruitment practices.

Also, read: Do Employers Check Degrees UK? Everything You Need to Know about Qualification Checks

Top Schools: Do They Guarantee Success?

Like the Indeed survey, Taras et al. (2019) found that an employee’s university pedigree is not a reliable indicator of workplace performance. In the study, researchers examined the performance of 28,339 students in global virtual teams as they worked on an international business consulting project.

The students came from 79 countries and 294 universities, ranking in the top 10 to 20,000 positions in the Webometrics global university rankings.

They found that for every increase of 1,000 positions in the Webometrics rankings, overall performance improved “only nominally” by 1.9%. The performance differential jumps to 19% when comparing graduates from a top university with those from a “global average” university.

However, the researchers explained that this seemingly significant increase was for college graduates who were 10,000 university rankings apart. Considering that new hires will likely be hired from a more narrow pool of candidates, the researchers estimate that the realistic difference is closer to 1% (Taras et al., 2019).

Moreover, they observed that while graduates from top colleges had slightly better performance than other graduates, they tended to focus more on accomplishing instrumental tasks and less on interpersonal relationships.

The researchers also noted that graduates from elite schools tended to stir more conflict, held fewer non-instrumental conversations, the ad showed less commitment and identification with their teams.

Does It Matter What University You Go To?

Whether the choice of college is substantial is far from straightforward. While an early 2000 study demonstrated that college selectivity leads to higher incomes for all genders, more recent research has introduced skepticism regarding these conclusions.

These newer studies indicate that college selectivity primarily impacts students from specific backgrounds and particular majors. Attending an esteemed college offers more significant advantages for Black and Hispanic students, economically disadvantaged individuals, and those with parents lacking higher education.

Additionally, its significance appears more pronounced for business, humanities, and social science majors, while STEM majors seem less affected.

Moreover, attending a selective college benefits women more than men, enhancing their likelihood of entering the workforce or pursuing advanced degrees.

Regarding job roles, a candidate’s college background is more important for entry-level or executive positions but less so for middle-management roles.

While such a pedigree might facilitate initial opportunities, studies and surveys suggest that college selectivity doesn’t necessarily translate to exceptional workplace performance.

In such cases, choosing cost-effective online colleges might be a reasonable alternative. It’s better than incurring substantial student debt associated with Ivy League and similar prestigious institutions.

Read Also: How Much Does Acceptance Rate Matter? The Secret Path to Success

What top universities are looking for?

Ever wondered what makes someone get into a top university? It can feel like a secret code, right? Well, fret no more! Here’s the inside scoop.

Top universities are looking for students who absolutely shine, both in their brains and their hearts. Of course, strong grades are important, especially in subjects you’re passionate about. Think of them as your academic report card, showing you’ve mastered the basics and are ready for a challenge. Sometimes, standardized tests come into play, too.

But it’s not all about test scores! These universities want to see the fire in your belly, the things that make you unique. Are you curious about the world? Do you volunteer in your community or have a killer hobby? Can you write an essay that shows you’re not just a good student but a fascinating person?

Top universities are looking for well-rounded individuals who will make a difference. They want leaders, creative minds, and people who are bursting with potential. So show them what makes you tick, and who knows, you might be the perfect fit for their exciting world!


Do you need to go to a top-ranking school?

Not necessarily. College rankings are based on many factors. Just because a university is ranked in the top ten doesn’t mean it’s right for you. Top-ranked schools tend to be much more expensive. They offer limited spots for international students. You should not base your college decision-making process on rankings alone.

What should you consider when choosing a university?

The most important thing to consider when choosing a university is whether its degrees, programs, atmosphere, and opportunities fit your needs.

What do you want to study?

Every university offers a different mix of subjects and degree programs. Knowing what you want to study and what degree you’re working toward can help you narrow your choices immediately.

What is your budget?

Tuition, room and board, and fees vary depending on the university. A university may meet all your other criteria but still be outside your budget. Fortunately, there are many schools in the United States, so you’ll almost certainly find one that meets your needs and budget.

Are there any clubs or organizations you want to be a part of?

While not the most crucial consideration, clubs and organizations can make a difference in your college experience. If you feel strongly about becoming a member of a school-based organization, make sure your college has that option, or be prepared to start the first branch at that university.



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