College Admissions: Does It Matter Where You Attend College? Absolutely!

Dr. Paul LoweBy Dr. Paul Lowe – College Admissions Guru

I often hear from parents, students, high school guidance counselors and even fellow educational consultants that it doesn’t matter where you attend college, as long as where you attend is a “good fit”. Actually studies show it does matter where you attend college! My recommendation to my U.S. as well as international clients is that one should attend the “best” school possible where you will happy and have a great and memorable college experience.

Obviously, there are many people who are happy, quite successful and have had wonderful college experiences without attending Ivy League or highly competitive colleges. However, in this tight job market, recent college graduates increasingly find that higher paying jobs are very selective. While attending an Ivy League or selective college may not guarantee financial success or happiness, to buyers of talent (HR professionals, employers, personnel departments) it certainly does matter. One of the first questions they consider while perusing a job applicant’s resume: where did you attend school?

(1) A study in the journal, Research in Social Stratification and Mobility, confirms parental suspicions that the best route to a top job is to attend an Ivy League school. According to Dr. Lauren Rivera, the author of the study, “Elite professional service employers rely more on academic pedigree more than any other factor. Where you went to school rather than what you did there makes the difference”.

(2) PayScale Inc., an online provider of global compensation data, in a survey demonstrated that an Ivy League diploma is still worth its price of admission and tuition. “An Ivy League education makes a job candidate stand out, even before a recruiter talks to them! The median starting salary for Ivy Leaguers is 32% higher than that of liberal-arts college graduates and at 10 or more years into graduates’ working lives, the spread is 34%.”

(3) Robert H. Frank, an economics professor at the Johnson Graduate School of Management at Cornell University, stated: “Because of the bitter competition for premium salaries, elite educational credentials are often a precondition for even landing a job interview. Degrees from elite schools clearly open doors.”

Let’s face it. We live in a competitive, meritocratic and global society where brand, image, prestige and reputation certainly matter. The answer to the question: does it matter where you attend school, then, is rhetorical. Still believe it doesn’t matter? Just ask the record number of students (an estimated 30,000) who apply to each Ivy League school where the rejection rates can exceed 90% for these colleges.


Dr. Paul Reginald Lowe is the managing director and lead admissions expert at Greenwich Admissions Advisors. Tel. (203) 542-7288.

Dr. Lowe is an active member of several professional organizations including: the Higher Education Consultants Association (HECA), the National Association for College Admissions Counseling (NACAC), the New York Association for College Admission Counseling (NYACAC), the New Jersey Association for College Admission Counseling (NJACAC), the Overseas Association for College Admission Counseling (OACAC), and NAFSA: Association of International Educators, American Foreign Service Association (AFSA), and the Admissions Leadership Consortium (ALC).


  • Dr. Lowe is right on. If you don’t have a better reason, attend the highest-ranked college possible. If you expect to be a liberal arts major, do NOT fear falling behind among “geniuses”. Good grades in liberal arts classes are generally a matter of how hard you work. Ds and Fs go to the kids who use college as “flake-time”. Stay focused as you have and you can earn As and Bs even among the top-tier scholars around you.

    I’ll add that your astuteness to what the professor wants also earns high grades. The skewing is probably MORE palpable at Ivy League colleges. Play to their vanity in the papers you submit. This too does not require genius.

    Last, Paul’s point about the PayScale number is almost assuredly UNDERstated if looking out to the 20 year mark. That’s when graduates from prestigious colleges become partners, managing directors, and principals. That’s where salary gaps between them and a “less-merited” echelon become even wider.

    The gap is FAR UNDERSTATED were PayScale to examine wealth, instead of income. Wealth is mainly based on what you save, and is compounded nicely by interest / investments. The high earner can save a lot; the low earner can’t. The Top-college graduate starts with the tools for a high income stream and MUCH higher wealth accumulation. Marry your college sweetheart (or someone from a similarly high-ranked college with the similar earning power) and the Wealth discrepancy is EXPONENTIALLY higher vs. the couple who each has marginal savings.

    I’m not saying wealth accumulation is especially meritorious; but the translation of college “clout” to wealth deserves to be in the calculations that students and their parents make. Paul is right to bring these forward.

  • Sarah Darer Littman

    The problem with Mr. Greenstein’s thesis on wealth discrepancy is that it ignores the starting point. Overall, despite affirmative action, attendees of Ivy League colleges are starting ahead of the game – from families who have accumulated greater wealth before they even stepped on campus. So looking at their wealth rather than income 20 years out ignores trust funds, the fact that their university education might have been paid by aforementioned trust fund or well-off grandparents rather than loans, not to mention the high level social and business connections that their family’s position brings to bear when they go out into the workplace. It plays into the whole “I built that” fiction rather than the research proven reality that a privileged person less able than a non-privileged person is still likely to do better economically.