May 1 is fast approaching, and with it the deadline for high-school seniors to commit to a college. At kitchen tables across the country, anxious students and their parents are asking: Does it really matter where I go to school?
When it comes to lifetime earnings, we’ve been told, a bachelor’s degree pays off six times more than a high-school diploma. The credential is all that matters, not where it’s from–a view now widely accepted. That’s one reason why college enrollment jumped by a third last decade and why for-profit schools that make getting a diploma ultraconvenient now enroll 1 in 10 college students. But is it true that all colleges sprinkle their graduates with the same magic dust?
With unemployment among college graduates at historic highs and outstanding student-loan debt at $1 trillion, the question families should be asking is whether it’s worth borrowing tens of thousands of dollars for a degree from Podunk U. if it’s just a ticket to a barista’s job at Starbucks. When it comes to calculating the return on your investment, where you go to school does matter to your bank account later in life.
Not surprisingly, research has found that a degree from a name-brand elite college, whether it’s Harvard, Stanford or Amherst, carries a premium for earnings. But the 50 wealthiest and most selective colleges and universities in the U.S. enroll less than 4% of students. For everyone else, the statistics show that choosing just any college, at any cost for a credential, may no longer be worth it.