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Is an Ivy League Degree Worth It?

The CollegeBoard reported college costs (tuition, fees, room and board) increased an average of 6.6 percent in 2007-08 (see Cost of College 2007-08). That means students and parents can anticipate spending, on average, about $13,589 at a public university or $32,307 at a private university. That’s a lot of money (even when its financed primarily through institutional, state or federal aid). The costs of an ivy league education are even higher; with parents of students at these institutions--like Princeton--anticipating total annual costs at or above $40,000. Given the cost, the question that comes to mind is this: how does the quality of education and eventual return on investment (payoff in terms of salary or position) measure against the cost of attending an Ivy League? In other words, is an Ivy League education worth the cost?

Quality of Education
Ivy League institutions have always been highly selective; and very competitive in terms of admission processes. Scuttlebutt has it that “you must be really smart” if you’re selected for admissions at an Ivy League. Research, however, doesn’t support the theory that an Ivy League education is better than an education obtained at a less “prestigious” institution (see Saying No Thanks to the Ivy League for info).

Many people believe that a degree from an Ivy League institution will open the doors to high-level, prestigious employment. The truth is, unless you aspire to work as a financial consultant on Wall-Street—one of the few bastions of employment where an Ivy League degree may have an impact on your employability—where you obtain your degree (as long as the institution is accredited) isn’t as important as the kind of degree you obtain (see Wanted: CEO, no Ivy Required).

Potential Salary
The prevailing thought has always been that graduates of Ivy League institutions will enter the market and earn, over their lifetime, higher salaries than other graduates. Unfortunately, only half of this statement actually holds true over time. Alan Krueger and Stacy Berg Dale examined this phenomenon quite closely; and found that, all things being equal (meaning when you look at students of similar abilities and aptitudes), over a period of time, salary doesn’t have a direct association with the name of the institution granting the degree. The greater impact on the salary earned is (1) the student’s actual abilities and aptitudes and (2) the bachelor degree standing (see Who Needs Harvard? for details).

So, is the extra cost for the Ivy League degree really worth it? If you break the decision down to strictly dollars and cents (and let’s hope these factors aren’t the only variables that you consider when weighing your decision), then maybe not. But, if you’ve evaluated all of your options—including dollars and cents—and feel that an Ivy League institution is still a good fit; there’s no reason not to apply. Just remember to keep your expectations for what may happen after graduation reasonable.

Want more information on finding a college that actually fits you? Check out Loren Pope’s Looking Beyond the Ivy League. This is a revised edition of Pope’s 1995 book and has solid information on really finding a school that fits you—and one in which you truly fit.

Until next time!

Lynn Byrne

Preparing for college admissions? Trying to find direction? Need a little help with the planning? Check out my college planning series:

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