Your Graduate Degree Is Cool, But Study Shows Your Undergrad Is Where The Money’s At

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So you picked a small state school for undergrad, thinking that if you made good grades you’d get a doctorate at an Ivy league to make up for it? Well, science says you screwed up. New data released from a study at Vanderbilt University shows that the prestige of your undergraduate institution is what will affect your earnings, not where you attended grad school.

This study looked at postgrads, and showed that, students that graduated from a non-prestigious undergraduate institution but got a grad degree at an elite school made less than those that got their undergraduate education at an elite university. Even worse, their salaries are unlikely to ever match up. Dr. Joni Hersch from Vanderbilt says:

“Status of the graduate degree-granting institution should have a more important relation to earnings than status of the undergraduate institution, but even high ability students who attend nonselective institutions for their bachelor’s degrees are, on average, unable to overcome their initial placement by moving up to an elite graduate or professional school for an advanced degree.”

So essentially, we completely get how messed up this is, but it’s highly unlikely that it changes anytime soon. Awesome.

To get this info, Hersch used data from the 2003 and 2010 National Survey of College Graduates, which looks at around 178,000 postgrads across the nation. Hersch sorted undergraduate schools into four tiers of prestige (with Tier 1 being the best and Tier 4 being the worst), and was able to consolidate her data into the following graph. The male-female earning gap aside, postgrads who attended a Tier 1 school for their undergraduate education earned 39-44% more than those who got a bachelor’s degree from a non-elite school, regardless of where they got a graduate degree.

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Well, fuck. The good news is that Hersch’s data also showed that those without an Ivy-league bachelor’s degree were less likely to attend a graduate school, which also factored into the data. So if you can work your ass off to get into a great graduate school and increase that earning potential to match that girl’s whose Daddy bought a new library to get her into Yale. Well, almost.

[via Vanderbilt University]

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Steph W.

Steph W. is a new Master's degree graduate with an intern's salary and six-figure taste. She realizes her expectations far exceed reality, so she spends her days pinning away Loubs she pretends are in her physical closet instead of her virtual one. Her hobbies include attempting to trapping her boyfriend into marriage before he finds out how insane she is and pretending that Black Box wine tastes as good as the kind she could afford when she was gainfully employed. Send her tips for getting out of student debt at

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