Sure, it’s nice to have a graduate degree from Yale, but a new study finds that attending an elite undergraduate institution counts for an awful lot when it comes to lifelong earnings.
A researcher at the Vanderbilt University Law School found that people with advanced degrees from elite schools and undergraduate diplomas from less-selective institutions earn less than people who attended elite schools for both their graduate and undergraduate degrees.
The results hold up across a broad swath of graduate programs, from law degrees to M.B.A.s. And those who attended less elite undergraduate institutions are unlikely to ever close the salary gap, according to the study.
Joni Hersch of Vanderbilt Law School said the survey results came as somewhat of a surprise, but suggests that it’s not really undergraduate education driving the pay disparity, but instead the social status of graduates of elite colleges.
The parents of students at elite colleges tend to be better-educated than the parents of those at less competitive schools, Hersch said; the children of educated parents tend to have more early networking opportunities and understand certain social cues.
“It’s the vacations you can talk about, the small talk you can make, what wine you order in restaurants” that could make the difference in a hiring manager’s decision, said Hersch, who earned her undergraduate degree at the University of South Florida.
Researchers used the 2003 and 2010 National Survey of College Graduates, which surveyed nearly 178,000 college graduates, including over 83,000 students with graduate degrees. Degree-granting institutions were grouped into four tiers according to the 1994 Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education.
Among those who attended top-tier graduate institutions, the pay gap between graduates of top-tier and lower-tier undergraduate schools was considerable. Male graduates of top-tier undergraduate and graduate schools earned an average of $191,470 (in 2013 dollars), while men who attended bottom-tier undergraduate schools and top-tier graduate schools earned an average of $152,292.
Female graduates of top-tier schools earned an average of $117,973, while women who attended lowest-tier undergraduate schools and top-tier graduate schools earned $89,688.