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January 12, 2011 4:58 PM Not Good Enough

By Daniel Luzer

Thought going to college would be a sensible way to get a good job? Well it looks like for the most sought-after positions in the country, only a few schools—five of the more than 4,000 colleges and universities in the United States—will do. As Tom Bartlett put it in a piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education:

If you want to get a job at the very best law firm, investment bank, or consultancy, here’s what you do:
Go to Harvard, Yale, Princeton, or (maybe) Stanford. If you’re a business student, attending the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania will work, too, but don’t show up with a diploma from Dartmouth or MIT. No one cares about those places.

This is according to a forthcoming study by Northwestern professor Lauren Rivera in Research in Social Stratification and Mobility. There are really only five schools that matter in terms of recruitment for the country’s most elite jobs.

That means no Columbia, no Cornell, and no MIT. Definitely no University of Iowa.

What’s particularly interesting about Rivera’s study is that while apparently going to these schools is really important for the good jobs at McKinsey or Bain, Sullivan & Cromwell or Williams & Connolly, it actually doesn’t seem to matter what kind of grades people earned there. Or, at any rate, having really high grades doesn’t seem to help much. Impressive extracurricular activities matter a lot more.

Note that this is probably not because human resources personnel (who themselves mostly attended lesser schools) actually think people who don’t go to those five schools are not qualified for the jobs offered. It’s more just that the top companies are deluged by applications. Literally hundreds of people drop off resumes at career fairs. When recruiters have too many applications to sort through, they have to start eliminating people based on whatever characteristics they can find, even if that makes the selection criteria pretty shallow.

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer

Comments

  • Walker on January 12, 2011 5:51 PM:

    Actually, the issue is alumni networks. When they have no other means for identifying quality, people at companies hire from the colleges that they went to. This is a self-reinforcing cycle that can be hard to break. It is one of the things that give the older, more established colleges a significant advantage.

  • SBC on January 12, 2011 6:35 PM:

    Deluged by applications, not deluded. (Although that's probably true too.)

  • Andrew on January 12, 2011 11:39 PM:

    I'm surprised to see Williams, Amherst and Swarthmore excluded from the list of go-to schools. Seems like their graduates end up I-banking, at McKinsey, etc pretty often, no?

  • cashmoney on January 13, 2011 4:45 PM:

    Interesting that the firms cited -- 2 elite consulting companies and 2 BigLaw firms -- sell the sort of services that do nothing for the longer term health of the US economy.

    One Larry Ellison (Chicago dropout) or Bill Gates (Harvard dropout) are worth more to the US economy that any number of management consultants, investment bankers and corporate lawyers.