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Does Your Prestigious Diploma Determine Your Success?

According to a recent report by Payscale, students graduating from one of the Ivies or more harvard-202138_640prestigious technical institutions will over the course of their lifetime earn far more in career earnings than students who graduate from lesser respected institutions or “party” schools.  This on average is true but perhaps the Ivy diploma lends less to a person’s success than the person themselves.  Ivy League schools recruit the best of the best from around the country.  The students in most cases are brilliant, overachieving and ambitious.  In essence the Ivy has stacked their roster with talent.  Would these same students be less successful after graduating from less prestigious schools or do their natural attributes already pre-destine them for success?

Years ago economists Alan Krueger and Stacy Dale published a study comparing the success of students who were accepted to Ivies, but chose to attend a lesser prestigious school, with that of students who attended the Ivy institution.  Their results showed that when comparing apples to apples the added income potential from selective schools disappears.

Krueger breaks it down this way, “The average graduate from a top school is making nearly a hundred and twenty thousand dollars a year, the average graduate from a moderately selective school is making ninety thousand dollars. That’s an enormous difference, and I can see why parents would fight to get their kids into the better school. But I think they are just assigning to the school a lot of what the student is bringing with him to the school.”

Social scientists call this the treatment effect vs. the selection effect.  Best-selling author and columnist Malcolm Gladwell explains that the Marine Corps is a treatment-effect institution.  The Corps doesn’t take only tough recruits but rather their training is what makes recruits tough.  A modelling agency on the other hand is a selection-effect institution.  You don’t grow beautiful by signing with the agency, you are signed because you are beautiful.

In May Ronald Nelson decided to go to the University of Alabama despite having been accepted to all eight Ivy League schools in addition to West Coast Stanford.  He is intelligent, was his high school’s senior class president and an accomplished saxophone player.  How much less successful, if success were solely measured monetarily, will he be by graduating from UAB than from say Princeton?  The Ivies wouldn’t make him successful.  He already was successful and that’s why the Ivies chose him.

Well of course you may suggest that employers will view him more favorably with Harvard or Princeton on his resume than Alabama.  Not necessarily.  As I pointed out in an earlier post, a Gallup survey of 600 business leaders showed that 84% were more interested in a candidate’s knowledge compared to only 9% who felt that a candidate’s school pedigree was important.

Furthermore, as I also noted, Google found no correlation between a candidate’s ability to perform well in school and their ability to perform well at Google.  As their SVP of People operations put it, “…G.P.A.’s are worthless as a criteria for hiring and test scores are worthless.”

Now if you’re wondering which prestigious university provides the best ROI for its graduates, Princeton, Harvard, Yale, M.I.T., Stanford, you might be surprised none of these are at the top.  That distinction goes to Harvey Mudd College.  In my ignorance I have never even heard of this school.  Now whose name is Mud?

About The Author

Ryder Cullison

Ryder has more than 10 years of experience working with retained search clients as a search professional. As a pioneer of Interview4 he has great knowledge of video interviewing. He writes about all things hiring and looks forward to engaging with his audience on topics of leadership, recruiting, candidate screening, and employee satisfaction. Follow him on Twitter: @hireintelligent and @cullison1

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