How Much Do Ivy League Graduates Make And What Do They Do?

What if you go to Harvard and end up a nobody?

When I worked at Goldman Sachs in NYC, we routinely rejected kids from Ivy League schools like Harvard, Princeton, and Yale. It was a funny experience, because I didn’t go to an elite private school (W&M). And I probably never would have been able to get into one.

But the reasons why we rejected a lot of these Harvard graduates was largely due to fit. There are some really socially awkward, uncharismatic people you don’t want to sit next to for 12 hours a day!

Also, each company wants to hire graduates from a wide variety of different schools. Therefore, if you're an Ivy League grad, you may have a much harder time competing for a top spot. There are thousands of Ivy League grads who want to join investment banking, management consulting, private equity, and tech.

Your baseline expectation is so elevated, you may end up becoming perpetually miserable. This is especially true if you end up doing the same job as non-elite school graduates.

How Much Do Ivy League Graduates Make?

In, What If You Go To Harvard And End Up A Nobody, you’ll see that most Harvard graduates end up doing exactly what everybody else is doing in society. This includes flipping burgers, serving coffee, cleaning bathrooms, starting companies, working at big corporations, flaming out, and so forth. The article profiles a lot of Harvard graduates in the San Francisco Bay area because that’s where I live.

The only time going to an Ivy League school matters to the student and the proud parents is when the student is enrolled. Once you graduate, it’s all about what you can do on the job or at your startup that counts. After several years of work, nobody gives a damn about your college degree anymore.

And if you start telling everyone you're an Ivy League grad, the expectation is that you should be doing something great. But, usually that’s not the case.

Below is data from Harvard on the anticipated starting salary by gender for the class of 2021. The median is $50,000 – $70,000. That's nice, but nothing special since the median household income in America is roughly $75,000 in 2023.

Once you compare the Harvard salary data to the median salary of post college graduates, Ivy League salaries are even less impressive.

Harvard graduate expected earnings

Ivy League Graduate Earnings Three And Twenty Years After College

Over time, Ivy League graduates earn more than other college graduates. Below is a great chart from PayScale and US News & World Report that highlights Ivy League graduates pay three years out and twenty years out.

Ivy League graduates earn a median pay of $86,025 three years out versus $58,643 for non-Ivy graduates. 20 years after college, Ivy League graduates earn $161,888 compared to only $101,777 by non-Ivy League graduates.

Therefore, if you want to make more money as an Ivy League graduate, your goal should be to work for as long as possible! But lasting for decades may not be feasible. I only lasted for thirteen years in banking before I got completely burned out. I went to William & Mary, a public university.

Joining the FIRE movement will be out of the question too. Going to an Ivy League school and then wanting to retire early isn't a good Return On Investment.

how much do Ivy League graduates earn

Examples Of Ivy League Graduate Occupations

Curious to know what Ivy League graduates do for work after graduating?

Here is some data I got from LinkedIn to see what 201,507 Harvard alumni do, work, and live. As you can tell from the chart, most are concentrated in Boston, NYC, SF, DC, and LA.

Many work for typical blue chip companies like Google, McKinsey, and Goldman Sachs. And many do Business Development, Education, and Entrepreneurship.

Where do Harvard graduates work according to LinkedIn data - what do Ivy League graduates do for work

In the long run, everybody ends up in a similar boat due to the undeniable bell curve. It’s what you do with your opportunity that matters.

What Do Harvard Graduates Do For Work?

Based on data for Harvard's class of 2022, roughly 57 percent go into finance, consulting, or technology. In other words, the majority of Harvard graduates chase money and prestige, which is quite different from what they write in the college application says.

Specifically, 23 percent of respondents will begin consulting jobs, 18 percent finance jobs, and 17 percent technology jobs.

Beyond the big three sectors, 9 percent will pursue academia or research, 6 percent engineering, 6 percent health, 4 percent arts and entertainment, 4 percent public service, and 3 percent government or politics.

Below is a great chart by The Crimson which highlights post-graduate employ by industry for Harvard graduates. The breakdown is very similar among all Ivy League graduates. Careerism and the pull of money and status is too hard to ignore.

What Harvard graduates and Ivy League graduates do for work
Source: The Crimson

Become An Entrepreneur Or Creator Instead

If you really believe in your abilities, as all Ivy League college graduates do, you should highly consider entrepreneurship. With entrepreneurship, there is NOWHERE to hide. You either succeed or fail.

I decided after 13 years in banking to see if I could make a livable income stream online. I was burnt out and wanted to be free from the binds of Corporate America life. With internet 2.0, I knew if I didn't try to do something on my own I’d regret it as an old man.

So, I started Financial Samurai in 2009. It was the best career move I ever made. What I learned about entrepreneurship is that CONSISTENCY and HUSTLE are the two most important factors in becoming successful. NOT brains.

The next most important attribute for entrepreneurship is LIKABILITY. Determine if you and your product be likable enough to digest.

You have to have the ability to not hit the snooze button and get up immediately at 5am to work instead. Stick to your process to give yourself a chance to succeed. Way too many folks give up before the good gets going.

I promise you, once you start gaining momentum with your business, you will get hooked on creating something from nothing. The satisfaction of making a buck on your own is 10X more satisfying that making a buck for your employer. You escape bureaucracy, micromanagers, and meetings about meetings.

Take The Leap Of Faith

Do you want to become an old man, filled with regret, waiting to die alone?

If you have the ability to get into an Ivy League school, then you have the ability to choose your freedom.

Here's my step-by-step guide on how to start your own website like this one in under 30 minutes. Everybody should at least own their own brand online.

Either become an entrepreneur, create something new, build something great, or spend your time helping others.

The focus on making as much money as possible after graduating from an Ivy League university should not be your priority. Remember all the activities you did in high school! Now you can do them as an adult to help change the world for the better.

Further Reading

Here are some additional articles for further reading.

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About the Author:

Sam worked in finance for 13 years. He received his undergraduate degree in Economics from The College of William & Mary and got his MBA from UC Berkeley. In 2012, Sam was able to retire at the age of 34 largely due to his investments that now generate roughly $350,000 a year in passive income. He spends time playing tennis, taking care of his family, and writing online to help others achieve financial freedom too.

Sam is the author of the Wall Street Journal bestseller, Buy This, Not That: How To Spend Your Way To Wealth And Freedom. The book is 99.99% cheaper than an Ivy League degree and provides more value. Pick up a hard copy today.

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