Which College's Graduates Make the Most Money?

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Is it Harvard? Stanford? MIT? Via Economix, a website called PayScale has collected data from college grads on their jobs and salaries and put together a fascinating chart ranking the highest median graduate salaries by school. How tantalizing! And the college whose graduates earn the most money is...


Dartmouth University College*. At least, to be specific, Dartmouth graduates self-reported the highest median mid-career salary.

Before I go on, a disclaimer about the study. The pool of respondents is not randomized, but rather self-selected and the statistics are self-reported online. PayScale only included respondents whose highest degree was a bachelors, which counts out lawyers, doctors and other jobs that require a degree. As Al Lee, PayScale's director of quantitative analysis, told Catherine Rampell:

"You're thinking of buying a college, if that's all you buy -- and undergraduate -without having to spend more money and time and effort to get another degree," Mr. Lee said, "you want to know what the return on that investment is."

And as for that return on investment, here are the top colleges ranked by highest median mid-career salary (first graph) and median starting salary (second graph):

midcareersalary.png
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Let's talk about what's not surprising: Engineers making bank. Check out the school types in the second graph. After Loma Linda (a Seventh-Day Adventist health services institution in southern California), you get a waterfall of engineering schools sprinkled with three Ivies.

Also unsurprising is the presence of Ivies in the first, mid-career list -- five out of the top 10 earning grads come from the Ivy League. And those numbers are obviously being depressed by the exclusion of doctors, lawyers, and academics.

Rampell serves up more graphs with a healthy dose of skepticism, and I'd just like to steal one more observation from her. Research has shown that attending one highly ranked college instead of another has, in the aggregate, very little impact over the students' future income, if you control for the ambition and work ethic of the student. As Alan B. Krueger explained in a nutshell: "'The best school that turned you down is a better predictor of your future income than the school you actually attended.''

*Update: If Dartmouth University's graduates were today the country's highest earners, that would be the least remarkable thing about the school's alumni, considering that "Dartmouth University" has not existed for 190 years and its bachelor degree holders would be about as old as the state of Vermont. What I meant to say was Dartmouth College. Thanks to Dylan Matthews for correction.
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Derek Thompson is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he writes about economics, labor markets, and the entertainment business.

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