Median Income Earned By Ivy League Graduates: Unimpressive At First

One reason why you might want to attend an Ivy League college or similar college is to earn a higher income. As a parent, you hope your child attending an elite university will make them upwardly mobile. A better life is what every parent wants for their kids.

However, the median income earned by Ivy League graduates from U Penn, Princeton, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, Yale, and Brown is unimpressive in the beginning. For schools with single-digit acceptance rates, you'd think the median income earned would be much higher. Ivy League colleges are consistently ranked in the top 20 out of almost 4,000 colleges in America.

Before you find out how much the median income figure ten years after starting school is, take a guess at what it might be. $100,000? $150,000? $200,000? $250,000+?

Median Income Earned By Ivy League Graduates

According to the Department of Education Scorecard, former Ivy League attendees who received federal aid earn a median of about $90,500 a decade after starting school.

The Scorecard is data used to help prospective students and their parents make more informed decisions about where to attend college.

Does $90,500 sound like an impressive income to you as a 28-32-year-old top university graduate? It's OK, but it's not blowing my socks off.

If you are to attend a top 0.375 percent university, then expectations are for you to make a top one percent income for your age group, not a top twenty five percent income.

A top one percent income for the 27-to-31-year-old age group was about $170,000 in 2014. For the 32-36-year-old age group it was about $210,000.

In 2023, assuming a three percent annual inflation since 2014, a top one percent income for the 27-to-31-year-old age group is about $222,000, and for the 32-36-year-old age group it is about $274,000.

$90,500 is quite a big shortfall for both age groups! The shortfall is even greater when compared to top 0.1% income earners by age.

top one percent income and top 0.1 percent income by age group
Source: Professors Faith Guvenen, Greg Kaplan, Jae Song 2014

Median Income By Ivy League University

To get a little more granular, let's look at the median income earned 10 years after attendance by Ivy League university according to the Department of Education Scorecard.

If you want to potentially make the most amount of money 10 years after attendance, attend the University of Pennsylvania with a median earnings of $103,246. U Penn is known for its business school and heavy focus on working in industries that pay the most.

If making the most money 10 years after attendance isn't your top priority, then consider attending Brown University. Brown is famous for its open curriculum, where students have greater freedom to study what they want. Its graduates have a median earnings of $78,943.

1. University of Pennsylvania

  • Median earnings 10 years after attendance: $103,246
  • Average annual cost: $25,046
  • Median debt at graduation: $16,763

2. Princeton University

  • Median earnings 10 years after attendance: $95,689
  • Average annual cost: $9,836
  • Median debt at graduation: $10,450

3. Dartmouth College

  • Median earnings 10 years after attendance: $91,627
  • Average annual cost: $32,410
  • Median debt at graduation: $17,000

4. Cornell University

  • Median earnings 10 years after attendance: $91,176
  • Average annual cost: $37,042
  • Median debt at graduation: $14,500

5. Columbia University

  • Median earnings 10 years after attendance: $89,871
  • Average annual cost: $22,823
  • Median debt at graduation: $21,500

6. Yale University

  • Median earnings 10 years after attendance: $88,655
  • Average annual cost: $15,296
  • Median debt at graduation: $13,142

7. Harvard University

  • Median earnings 10 years after attendance: $84,918
  • Average annual cost: $13,872
  • Median debt at graduation: $12,665

8. Brown University

  • Median earnings 10 years after attendance: $78,943
  • Average annual cost: $29,544
  • Median debt at graduation: $13,000

Data Is Only From Students Who Took Out Federal Loans

The one big caveat about the median earnings data is that it reflects only students who received federal student aid. Students and families who were able to pay for college without the need for federal financial aid were not included.

One can logically assume that those students and families who do not apply for federal financial aid are wealthier than students and families who do. Non-federal financial aid recipients may also be smarter, thereby receiving more merit scholarships and grants.

Below is data compiled by Elaine Huang from The Daily Princetonian that highlights 49% to 65% of Ivy League students applied for financial aid from 2016 – 2020.

As a result, perhaps the median income earned by Ivy League graduates after attending is higher. Wealthier people tend to have wealthy connections that help their kids get even wealthier.

It's curious to see students from Brown, the university that has the lowest percentage of financial aid applicants, also has the lowest median earnings 10 years after graduation.

One could make the assumption that Brown students may come from the wealthiest families who need less financial aid. Given they come from wealthier families, their students can also afford to major in areas that don't translate as often into jobs in the highest-paying industries.

Whereas with Penn, even though the percentage of students applying for financial aid is similar, its students focus heavily on joining the finance and management consulting fields. Companies like McKinsey & Co. and Goldman Sachs are at the top of their lists.

Mid-Career Earnings Of Ivy League Graduates And Non-Ivy League Graduates

The data from the Department of Education Scorecard was unsatisfactory to me. As a middle-aged man, I wanted to know how much Ivy League and non-Ivy League graduates earn more than 10 years after attending.

Searching further, I found more information by US News & World Report and PayScale that paints a clearer picture about pay differences.

Early-career (three years of work experience) median pay in 2022 was $86,025 for Ivy League graduates, compared to $58,643 for those who graduated from other universities. A 47% pay difference is significant.

Mid-career (20 years of work experience) median pay in 2022 was $161,888 for Ivy League graduates, compared to $101,777 for those from other institutions. A difference of $60,111 a year in gross annual pay difference (59%) 20 years after college is massive!

Relative pay: Ivy League graduates pay versus non-ivy league graduates pay

If two of these Ivy League mid-career professionals marry, they'll have my well-documented $300,000+ household income. With a $300,000+ household income, they're living a comfortable middle-class lifestyle in an expensive coastal city and an upper-middle-class lifestyle everywhere else.

Hence, to get the most out of your attendance at an Ivy League school or similar-level school, work a long time, make lots of great friends, and marry a fellow graduate.

Work Long Enough Post Graduation To Make Attendance Worthwhile

To increase your Return On Investment (ROI) attending an Ivy League or similar school, work as long as possible. Forsake the FIRE movement, which I helped ignite in 2009. The longer you work, the greater the earnings gap compared to non-Ivy League graduates.

However, lasting 20 years in one profession is hard. Personally, I could only last for 13 years in banking before I was burned out. Even with today's greater work flexibility due to work-from-home and technology, I still might have lasted for only 20 years at most.

If you end up changing professions, you may have to take a large pay cut. A pay cut lowers your ROI, but at least you might be happier doing something new.

If you're thinking about retiring early or taking things easier before age 40, then attending an Ivy League school may not be worth it, especially if you don't get scholarships or grants.

The same logic goes for those who want to become doctors, professors, scientists, or lawyers. The more education required by a certain profession, the longer you should or may need to work.

Below is a chart that highlights mid-career median pay by Ivy League school. The likelihood of earning six figures a year in one's 40s is high. As a parent, this should be comforting.

Ivy League college pay by school early career and mid career
Source: USNWR and PayScale

What Do Ivy League 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 wrote in their college application essays.

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

Yes, A High Salary Isn't Everything

Of course, earning the highest salary you can after college isn't the most important thing to all students and families. Meeting great people, having an amazing time, and building a network of lifelong friends are equally important to some people. So is finding a soulmate.

But this is a personal finance site that is focused on input and output. Measuring the average income for new college graduates and graduates with decades of experience are important for making an informed decision about where and whether to attend college.

Having a great time in college and earning a high income after graduation are not mutually exclusive. You might as well get the best experience and the best financial returns from your investment. Because the more money you make, the more options you will have in the future.

What was your SAT score (or ACT equivalent) out of 1,600?

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Occupation Profiles Of Select Ivy League Graduates

To get even more granular, I thought I'd profile recent Ivy League graduates to see what they are doing. Understanding the end goal will help us decide whether the effort is worth it.

Given there's an upcoming Supreme Court decision on race and college admissions, I read a 2019 article by Jay Caspian Kang entitled, Where Does Affirmative Action Leave Asian Americans? The article profiled several Asian-American students at Ivy League schools.

Given it is four years later, I was curious to see what these graduates are doing now. Their occupations will also help give context to the $86,025 median income figure three years after graduating and the $90,500 median income figure 10 years after attendance in context.

Thang Diep (Harvard 2019)- Post graduate fellow at the Vietnamese American Initiative for Development (VietAID). Thang is likely earning less than $86,025.

Sally Chen (Harvard 2019) – Education Equity Policy Manager at Chinese for Affirmative Action. Sally is likely earning less than $86,025.

Fatima Shahbaz (Harvard 2020) – Business Analyst at McKinsey & Co. Fatima is likely earning closer to $160,000.

Catherine Ho (Harvard 2021) – Graduate Student In Asian American Studies at UCLA. Catherine is definitely earning less than $86,025 as a student. When she graduates in 2023, she will likely also earn less then $86,025.

Alex Chen (Yale 2023) – Intern at Snap. Alex is still in school, but will likely earn more than $150,000 his first year out if he works as a software engineer.

Share of Harvard graduates going into consulting or finance, historical chart

One More Ivy League Occupation Profile And Some Reflection

Then I read a book written in 2021 entitled The Inequality Machine: How College Divides Us, by Paul Tough. It's a great book.

Tough highlighted a female student named Shannen Torres who got rejected by U Penn and Princeton, but got into Stanford.

After graduating in 2021 with a BA in Comparative Studies in Race and Religion, she got her Masters in Latin American studies. She now works as a Communications Coordinator at Climate Leadership Initiative in San Francisco. Her income is likely less than $86,025.

If I was the father of any of these college graduates, I'd be proud of what they are doing, no matter how much or how little they are making. I just want my kids to pursue a career that pays enough and brings them joy and meaning.

How would you feel if you were one of their parents?

And if these graduates decide to do something else down the road, they'll easily be able to pivot.

Ivy League kids mostly come from rich families

Enjoy High School More

Given the median income earned 10 years after attendance is only $90,500 for an Ivy League graduate, high school students don't need to worry as much about getting into a top 25 college anymore. There are likely 75-100 colleges that will provide for similar income and career opportunities as Ivy League colleges.

Further, public colleges will likely continue to climb the rankings given it's much harder to buy your way into public college. Meanwhile, legacy admissions is also not used at the vast majority of public colleges.

The increase in breadth of colleges able to provide similar opportunities should also help alleviate the stress parents feel too. I know it does for me.

But even if you don't graduate from a top-100-ranked college, just graduating from college will help your earnings power.

According to the National Center For Education Statistics, the median annual earnings for 25-34-year-olds with a Bachelor's degree is $59,600. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average salary for all workers with Bachelor's degrees is $69,368 in 2021.

According to the National Center For Education Statistics, the median annual earnings for 25-34-year-olds with a Bachelor's degree is $59,600.

Sure, the earnings difference between attending an Ivy League university and any one of the ~4,000 colleges in America is significant. But not so much if you attend a top 100 college. Further, making the most amount of money after graduating may not be a student’s priority.

If money was your priority, you'd get a major in Electrical Engineering, Computer Engineering, Pharmacy, Aerospace Engineering, Chemical Engineering, and Nuclear Engineering, with average salaries over $100,000.

Top paying college majors that pay the most for mid-career workers, ages 35-45 years old

Go To An Affordable University

If you can attend an Ivy League school or a similar school with enough grants to make it affordable, go for it. If you can't get in, don’t worry. Just select another university that offers you the lifestyle and major that you want at an affordable price.

Earning $90,500 as a 27-to-32 year old is nice. So is earning $161,888 twenty years after graduation, especially if you can marry a person with a similar income. But it is underwhelming if you went to a top one percent university.

Therefore, if you do attend an Ivy League school or a similar school, make sure you develop great relationships that can improve the quality of your life. Here's a great debate I had with my wife on whether paying for private school is worth it. You can subscribe to the Financial Samurai podcast on Apple or Spotify.

Focus On Building Things And Helping Others

If you don't make great relationships or earn a corresponding top one percent income, then at least do something amazing. Create something new or do work that helps others.

Remember all the great extracurricular activities you were doing in high school to try and get into college? I bet the majority of those activities weren't about making as much money as possible! Instead, many of your activities likely involved helping others.

Consider painting a masterpiece that gets picked up by the NYC Museum of Modern Art. Be a violinist at Carnegie Hall. Write a bestselling book that changes people's lives. Reduce child hunger in your city. Invent a device that helps those with visual impairments see better. Or cure cancer already! Yes, someone please cure cancer.

If you do something amazing, you will likely get rewarded handsomely. The reward may not always be financial, but at least you will benefit spiritually.

Readers Questions and Suggestions

With the difficulty of getting into an Ivy League school, are you surprised Ivy League graduates don't earn more? Why is there still so much demand to attend the top-ranked universities, when plenty of four-year accredited universities will do?

Looking to leave a soul-sucking job with money in your pocket? Pick up a copy of How To Engineer Your Layoff. It will teach you how to negotiate a severance so you have a financial buffer to do what you really want. Use the promo code ‘saveten‘ to save $10.

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92 thoughts on “Median Income Earned By Ivy League Graduates: Unimpressive At First”

  1. Brown gives a lot of need based aid themselves, which I would guess explains a lot of why their students take federal aid at a lower rate

  2. Very interesting post. My sister attended Ivy League for both undergrad and graduate degrees while I attended a state school with no MBA. I made double her salary in my career. Granted she is passionate about her career and I was not.
    I‘ve been able to stop working at 53 (with an 1060 SAT score. )

  3. Ms. Conviviality

    My brother-in-law went to Harvard for his PhD in medicine. His dream was becoming a researcher and making medical discoveries. His research was recently published in a major medical journal so I’d say that he thinks his Harvard education was worth it. Harvard looks good when you’re submitting a bio along with the research grant application. Having performed a recent pre-awards audit, Federal awards are very competitive, so I can see how having an ivy league to back up his research helps.

    I also want to comment on the benefit of coming from a wealthy family. There are four of us siblings who grew up poor. Two of my siblings married into wealthy families while two of us didn’t. I’ve personally benefitted from my siblings who married into wealthy families. We’ve received low interest loans for real estate investments, free Infiniti coupe, and introductions to contacts that helped with my side hustle. My third sibling and his wife created their own wealth and they help by giving their time and loans as well. I’m grateful that my siblings married such nice and generous people.

  4. I came on here to defend my SAT score. I’m not insecure about it though. At all ;-). I took the SATs in 1986. Back then if you scored a 1600 it made national news. No exaggeration. Today, there’s a 1600 in every high school. My brother had the highest score of the 5 of us, with a 1300 – He made it into Columbia University on that. Impossible today with a 1300. The rest of us went to Barnard, Villanova, NYU/Lehigh (transfer), and Tufts. I had an 1140 and I’m the Lehigh grad. I make more money than all of my siblings – and I’ve been coasting for a few years while prioritizing my kid over my income. The coasting can come to an end soon as my son will head off to college in a year & a half. So the college expense question…the college prestige requirement dies hard, but the ROI justifies 320k expense for only @ 5 schools. Many Wall Streeters with big incomes that I work with are turning down the 80k/yr schools and sending their kids where they get $. And yes, what I consider sub-par state schools, are advertising 4.0GPAs and above, penalizing kids who go to tough NE high schools, like my son, despite his 1400 SAT, Varsity Ice Hockey, and 2 other sports. So, Fk em, that money has been going to an UTMA, and HE can have it rather than a university.

    Finally, Sam, is SanFran as bad as the news says??

    1. Not sure if I should be responding to a reader with under a 1,200 SAT score. Kidding!

      Good job making big bucks and outdoing your siblings. What do you plan to do with your fortune?

      I would think the coasting BEGINS once your son is off to college because you’ll have more free time, no? At least, that’s what I have imagined for myself.

      What’s going on in beautiful San Francisco? Maybe too much news consumption, as their mantra is “if it bleeds it leads.” Warriors have tied it up 2-2! Go Warriors!

      1. After you’ve gotten used to the daily requirements of parenting – the good solid time with your kid, and the tons of school/sport minutia – it’s hard to think about what you’ll do with all that spare time after they’re on their own. I don’t think I’ll be returning to bar & gala hopping around Manhattan. Might as well put in a few more years working and continue to build the nest egg. That said, I can see an international STA to head office, or a few months in Europe working remotely. If the last 3 years have taught me anything it’s to be flexible.

        Glad SF is still treating you well.

        1. How big of a nest egg do you need given your pay seems to be a lot and your children will be on their own?

          I’m trying to understand the future and it seems like once college is paid for and the kids are independent, there really is no need to work anymore unless you just love what you do.

  5. I attended an Ivy back in the 90s. Majored in history, minored in French, went into editing and have made pretty bad money for my entire career. Made a few connections, and the name recognition undoubtedly has helped me get jobs, but overall the Ivy degree has not been worth it for me. I was burned out before I even set foot on campus. Husband went to a much lower ranked school, had less pressure, loved what he studied, went on to a career he was interested in, did his Masters at a commuter school, and out-earns me by several hundred thousand per year.

    1. Thanks for sharing. The good thing is, that means you’re a combined income is several hundred thousand dollars a year!

      I hear you on being burned out before going to college. The amount of activities high school students have to do nowadays to get into a top college seems absolutely absurd.

      Hopefully you are at least doing what you enjoy doing and feel proud of your college degree.

  6. I did so bad on ACT I don’t think it’s considered as taking it at all. Granted I was only 1 year in USA as immigrant without parents and did not practice.

    Got in to college state school and now make 200k+ a year (Engineering degree) and not in tech 41years old.

    So SAT is not a great indicator of success but ability to take tests, even in engineering classes I would tutor others and still get lower grades – I am a bad test taker, but in real world u are not taking tests and are able to perform without artificial pressures!

  7. Finance Ronin

    I demand a re-vote ;-). I plugged in my SAT score of 1420 and was amazed that 35% of your readers scored the same or better.

    Then I did my research on my 1989 score. Due to changes in the SAT since then my equivalent score is now in the 1500s (due to inflation I suppose).

    As for choice of schools I selected a highly rated public university and an EE degree almost entirely driven by money and lack of talent to become a singer, actor, artist, athlete, etc. I retired in my early 40s and have the money for my kids to attend any school so I may find out first hand whether Ivys are worth it. I don’t expect any financial aid.

  8. ” I didn’t realize you can make $120,000 working at the federal government the first year out of college. Can you share more specifics on what the role was? And this was back in 2008! ”
    – Also skewed for me. 2008 I was an Medical Doctor, but more specifically an Intern in Transitional Medicine, which is a generalized internship. Between small intern doctor bonus, starting as an O3 (Rank), and all the tax free food and housing benefits for AD military, you get to about $120k before taxes.

    “some will feel like failures.”
    – I don’t know too many of my friends who felt like failures, I even know lots of drop outs who still did quite well, often because of the networking connections.
    – I majored in Education History and policy, which most people would apply to being a teacher or an administrator. Not very competitive there. But in my pre-med classes there was uber competition amongst my class mates, and I think most of them thrived in it. I simply took most of my classes Pass/Fail. No competition if the best grade you can get is Pass.

    The biggest failure of an IVY/Private school is if you don’t graduate/can’t get a job and our burdened with the debt, I know some of those as well.

  9. I went to public school for undergrad and a very good T10/15 MBA program of a public school (exec program, not the day). Since I received my MBA ~11 years ago, my income has gone up 8x as of this week, and sometimes it is a bit surreal how much I making now. Of course my boss (CFO) makes 5-6x what I do…. If you are a self-motivator, I don’t think an Ivy school is going to help you that much beyond your initial job. After that, it’s how you perform. Never stop learning, even after you finish school, and increase your business IQ no matter your position.

  10. When my son applied for college back in 2014, he was accepted to some Ivy League schools and the top UC (some offered 100% merit scholarship to cover tuition, room and board) as well. Given his major was Engineering, we didn’t believe it was worth going to any Ivy league (other than MIT) other than UC Berkeley since its engineering program is top ranked in the US. The decision was up to him and he eventually decided to attend Berkeley (with small merit scholarship) and graduated as top 1% of his class. He is making great money as software engineer and now just got accepted to MBA programs at Stanford, Wharton and MIT.

    Ivy League does give one a boost with the first job into certain industry (IB and consulting) but ultimately, it is up to you to make the best out of

    1. That makes sense to go to UC Berkeley, for the best engineering program possible with a merit scholarship, versus going to a liberal arts school. A lot of hiring managers and CEOs I talk to are putting a greater weight on top public university graduates because they know there is no legacy admission system or soft bribery system to get into these schools.

      It will be very interesting to see how the dynamics of college evolve over the next 20 years.

      We should talk about whether it’s wise to get an MBA full-time right now, especially if he is making good money though!

      1. The opportunity cost is definitely huge for two years! When he applied for the top MBA programs, he was not really serious about going, but he got into his dream school so now he is really interested to maybe pivot to another career or hopefully will have better career opportunity ahead.

        We have friends in hi tech, some claimed MBA helped advance their careers but others didn’t believe MBA is needed.

        I wonder if it is wise to pursue a two year full time MBA which would cost between $250K to $300K plus given up two years of compensation.

        1. My opinion is to go part-time. Work your day job if you like it, earn the money, and go to class/study at nights weekends. It’s A LOT of work, I did it for 3 years at Berkeley. But it was worth it b/c I was able to keep my income, got my employer to pay 80% of it, and was able to retire earlier.

          Just something to think about. GL!

          1. Totally agree if my son could do part time but Stanford does not offer such program. Additionally, big tech companies do not pay for MBA since it is not required to perform day to day job responsibility. I believe many IB and consulting companies do offer to pay for the tuition but not tech.

            Frankly, I am concerned if the opportunity cost is worth it.

            1. Yeah, I did my MBA PT at Berkeley.

              I don’t think he’ll go wrong getting an MBA at Stanford. Just make sure he ends up working at least 10 years after to make the return worth it.

  11. I went to a public university where tuition was about $5k a semester at the time, and I was career focused and got a job in finance via on campus recruiting, and am making well over the mid career numbers in your post. It was not especially difficult and my peers and classmates are in similar positions. College (football games, big parties) was also extremely fun.

    Going to an ivy league school (or worse an expensive private college that is lower quality) and ending up in terrible debt is a poor choice for most people if viewed as a financial investment and hard to defend. If you want to go to an Oberlin and study poetry or theater, that is all well and good, but you should understand up front it is a luxury and will not be financially remunerative.

    Frankly, the US should not be subsidizing that kind of malinvestment with student loans. I think we would all be better off if student loans were reserved for doctors, engineers, and other technical professional degrees. Subsidizing those types of fields has a real societal benefit.

    PS, love your blog, Samurai.

    1. Hi Ed – Thanks for sharing your story. Did you go to college in the 1990s like I did? $5K a year in tuition sounds pretty good.

      “If you want to go to an Oberlin and study poetry or theater, that is all well and good, but you should understand up front it is a luxury and will not be financially remunerative.” – Yes, understand the potential financial ramifications, the end game, which is the main point of this post.

      Before committing any money or time to anything, especially college, understand what you could get in return! Eyes wide open.

      Thanks for reading and sharing my work.

  12. Ivies/top tier private schools are essentially finishing schools with extra networking potential. As another commented mentioned, if you’re rich and connected it’s less important.

    On the other hand, you can go to an Ivy, it’s no guarantee you’ll make the right connections. Great thing is in many professions, it doesn’t really matter!

    One brutal but apt quote for the socially ambitious: “They became sophisticated in a way that she wasn’t-in a way she’d never be because sophistication is either your first language or you always have an accent in it.” ― Taffy Brodesser-Akner, Fleishman Is in Trouble

  13. I went to one of the Ivy’s.

    My pay is skewed because I’m government, but year 1 was likely 120k, and now at year 15, more around 220k (still Fed gov), then like another 100k from non W2 sources.

    I think the articles is slightly misleading.

    Here are a few things I would change.

    1. One of the commentors made a good point, regarding the rigors. If you goto an IVY you are in class with the top 1% academically gifted students in the world (Meaning they come from everywhere) and as such such you are held to a higher academic standard in general. If you strive off of competition to be the best, this will help push you, vs if you go to a state schools with 30k kids per class, a top 1% student will still be the best, with much less effort, because the tests won’t be at the same standard as an IVY (in general), my university was about 1200-1400 per student body year. As someone pointed out, that may not matter at the next level….”What do they call the student who graduates at the bottom of his/her medschool class?” Doctor.

    2. Sort of related to #1, At a smaller liberal arts school (IVY), you can become a Big Person on campus quite easily. You can literally know 20% of the student body decently if you are a social person, you can widdle this down to most important people and set yourself with quite the friend groups. I was also inducted into one of those secrety societies, and although I don’t think its as cryptic as the media would have you believe, this ended up being composed of the people who end up becoming CEOs I can comfortably say almost 20 years later. Meaning, not only can you network, but you network with the best. #2 is pretty useless if you are not a social person.

    3. My W2 paystub matters, but as other readers will agree, as you get older, it should matter less and less. The education that I now make the most money off of, are the what’s app conversations, and face to face conversations I have with the people I met in college. We all care alot about money, and taxes, and how to creatively make more of it. My friends who went to state schools, care about making more money at work. My Liberals arts IVY friends, know what a Calendar Spread is, even though their degree was in something random like like French Literature. Anyways, they expose me to ideas I might never have gotten exposed to.

    4. I also agree with the commentor. The most successful people from IVYs got an engineering degree , which they could have gotten somewhere else.

    1. I didn’t realize you can make $120,000 working at the federal government the first year out of college. Can you share more specifics on what the role was? And this was back in 2008!

      Related: The Best Paying Government Jobs

      “If you strive off of competition to be the best, this will help push you” – Or break you. Only 1% can be in the 1%. So if your entire competition is against other 1%, then 99% of you will not get there, and some will feel like failures.

      Related: What If You Go To Harvard And End Up A Nobody?

  14. I don’t follow this website. I stumbled on this post because of a link on a news page. Based on my own life experience, I don’t believe a lot of the stats/numbers in this post. I graduated from an Ivy League university in 1992. I got my first real job in 1993 and have worked steadily in the same field since then, in a major east coast city. After 30 years, I am making $51k per year, and I work about 50 hours per week. And no, I am not a teacher (but the starting salary for a teacher in this city is $49k) and I don’t work for a nonprofit. My wife has a degree in chemical engineering from Notre Dame and has worked in the pharmaceutical industry for 25 years. She makes $74k per year, and these stats are showing that a person who has just graduated with a chemical engineering degree is making over $100k annually. None of my friends/peer group, who are all at least 25+ years out of college, make any anything close to $100k per year, and I doubt any of us ever will. If I work for the next 15 years until age 67, and get a 2% raise per year (which is no guarantee, many years we have had only 1 or 1.5%), my final salary will be $68,639, with a 401k of about $750k (assuming the stock market bounces back from negative 20% returns and averages about 7% a year). Of course this all assumes I don’t get sick or have chronic or terminal medical problems, which is the fastest way in America to go bankrupt. If I could do college over I would have chosen a different school. Having an Ivy League degree and not being hugely successfully is like having a monkey on your back biting you and poking you for the rest of your life.

    1. Thanks for sharing your background and experience Dan. What is it that you and your peers do?

      Hopefully your occupation is spiritually rewarding at least. And, to feel better, you can always remind yourself you got into a college 99% of college graduates could not!

      1. I work in medical/scientific journal publishing on the editorial side. Constant deadlines, multiple projects, constant nitpicking, and always less educated than the authors. It is no fun and a constant grind and the internet and smart phones just keep making ithe job worse if I could find another line of work I would move on.

        My peers are office drones, teachers, insurance adjusters, marketing people, booksellers, librarians, social workers, staffing recruiters, editors, journalists., We all need college degrees to work in our fields.

  15. In my experience, the best and brightest on the West coast went to the UC’s. Seemed like everyone sitting near me was a valedictorian or first in class from another country. Extremely competitive and almost a free education. The kids graduated with a fierce aggressive nature to concur, many of which ran Fortune 500 companies and led the industry in Law, Medicine, Science and Engineering, etc. Ivy league schools were not even a consideration for most, it did not hold any weight.

      1. As a side note, I attending Northwestern Univ. for grad school (Ivy adjacent) and was surprised how much more difficult and competitive undergrad was at UC. The students in grad school were relaxed and sure of their future. Many would take over a practice from a parent. No financial concerns. Half came from Ivy’s and were just not that motivated to excel. Just my humble observation from the 90’s

        “Go Bears!”
        Sorry Sam, I’m a Bruin!

  16. People want to get their kids in there for prestige and bragging rights, or they are thinking with their hearts instead of their heads.

    My dayghter’s school cost 100K first year out. Field of study is more important than the school the degree came from the majority of the time.

    1. Your daughter’s college cost your household $100,000 her freshman year? Or she made $100,000 the first year after graduating college?

      If the latter, what is she doing? Thanks

      1. Typo. When I went to send it got altered somehow. Tried to follow up with the correction and it didn’t go through as drafted either. Originally stated that her school cost less than 8K annually at a state school for tuition and she will be earning over 100K her first year out. Sorry for the confusing post!

          1. School psychologist. Finished undergrad in three years at 8K per year and attended the same school for grad school (MA/Ed.S.), with the grad school portion 90% covered with grants due to no longer having to factor in our income/assets. I guess things are viewed differently for grad school in terms of free money. So, in all, less than 30K for 6 years at a state school (3 for undergrad and 3 years for the grad program, with a paid internship in year three). One local district starts at 120K (year one), with several starting over 100K. Also, in line for a pension and 190 day work year. Can also start private practice as a side hustle after three years in the profession and passing an exam. Hidden gem of a profession! You should research it for your kids Sam!

            1. Got it! Thanks for clarifying because I thought you were talking about for years right out of undergraduate. But still great for her and you. Nice. It must be a very interesting profession! I feel like a psychologist all the time responding to some comments here on Financial samurai.

  17. I think people obsess over Ivy League schools because we live in a Capitalist nation and everyone wants to be a 1 percenter. But alas, only one percent of the population can be in the 1 percent (duh), but you’d be surprised at how many people don’t realize this.

    On the other hand, if you are a top 5 or 10% caliber person, then I truly believe it doesn’t matter what school you attend….or if you attended postsecondary school at all. I know people with just a high school education who went on to become plumbers and truck drivers and ended up in the top 10%. And research says that nearly 14% of millionaires in the U.S are teachers!

    So, who cares who gets into an Ivy League school? If you got the “Right Stuff”, it doesn’t matter what school you attend.

    You’re living proof of that, Sam.

    1. Makes sense. But I’m trying to point out that even if you go to a top 1% school, your likelihood of earning a top 1% income is small. Earning a top 20% income is high, but the rest depends on you.

  18. As an immigrant coming here at the age of 13, my parents barely made any $. I was given 0.50/day in junior high school to eat. I then discovered that low income families could get lunch tickets at no cost, but my parents refused because they had too much pride. I want to say this was a crossroads for me as it thought me the value of money. Fast forward to graduating high school, my parents could not afford college and even though i got into UCLA, i had to scrape every dime i earned with financial aid, i was able to graduate.
    Dumb luck found me stumbling into the tech industry where i worked my tail off and became a Cisco CCIE. I have not made less than six figures in the last 15 years. It was a tough childhood but i am grateful to have been given the opportunity here in the US.

      1. Pride is def strong with immigrant families. However, it is the kids that suffer. Too many times, immigrant families (esp Asians) are so bent up on what people think about them, they neglect what the big picture really is. Love your articles and website, raise those kids well! I have 2 that just turned 11 and 13, they sure grow up quickly.

  19. Reel Properties

    I think people overestimate starting salaries. Presumably you’ll be working anywhere from 10 (early retirement) to 40 (traditional retirement) years. In finance / private equity / real estate, compensation is typically not linear unless you stay at the same company your entire career. Working hard, networking, and taking calculated bets on yourself and career can get you a long way from where you started, typically in big bursts. And getting as close as possible to where the money is made at the company.

  20. Pinksunflower

    Very interesting article. I am in my late 20s 5 years out from undergrad and make a similar amount as the median expected salary of the Ivys -94.5k. I did not attend an ivy league. I had a full merit scholarship in undergrad and graduated without any debt. I attended a top 100 school for undergrad and then a top 50 school for grad school – science major for both degrees. Was not interested in Ivys as highschooler, was interested in GT and that was the only “elite” university I applied to. So interesting to see how the major may have more of an impact on your salary. Echoing poster above ” It would be interesting to compare the same graduation major between Ivy League and public State schools and other private schools.” Great post as always!

      1. Pinksunflower

        My parents were in healthcare and their income was above 350 when I was in undergrad. I did not qualify for any financial aid other than what was offered through merit scholarships.

        1. That makes sense. And corroborates with my guideline of a maximum of $300,000 in income a household can earn before being eligible for good financial aid. You also can’t have more than $200,000 in assets outside of your retirement accounts per child either.

          Did you feel that the majority of your classmates were upper middle class to Rich? I am reading a book called how college has worsened in equality and I am wondering whether the concentration of Wealth at top private schools is a good idea.

  21. I think there’s a major selection bias here. Most of the kids (not all) at Ivy league schools are go-getters who know how to work hard and create opportunities. Most of the kids (not all) at state schools are not. Perhaps teaching your kid to be a creative thinker, work hard, set goals, and be flexible is more valuable than paying or an overpriced education.

    One huge mistake people make is this: a university’s overall ranking or prestige directly relates to the quality of ALL programs at said school. Nope. NOT EVEN CLOSE.

    My husband is a university professor (business discipline) and our joint opinion, personally knowing professors at Ivy league schools as well as no-name state schools, is that Ivy League schools can be really good for graduate research and for networking.

    They can have amazing programs. They can also have terrible programs. For example, if you’re looking to get an undergraduate accounting degree, there are several Ivy league schools I most definitely would NOT recommend because their programs and faculty are objectively lame.

    We’re doing our best to help our kids identify what interests them as teens to help them figure out the best way to get a quality education. Changing your mind happens, but don’t let your kid start school without helping them identify a goal, a career path, and then try to find the best place for them to be successful.

    This is hard without digging. Talk to people in the field, talk to recruiters, talk to companies you want to work for, talk to professors, try to get statistics about job placement or exam pass rates in the case of something like a CPA.

    My oldest son, for example, really wants to be an aerospace engineer, so he’s trying to figure out which universities the companies he wants to work for tend to recruit from. Because if they don’t send recruiters it’s way harder to get that entry-level job!

    But most of all, if you want your kid to have the best possible chance of being a high earner, you have to teach them the life skills it takes to advance in a career to get there.

  22. I earned a degree in anthropology from a public university in the late 80s. Briefly went on to graduate school but soon dropped out. Started a business. about 10 years later, went to the local junior college and earned an IT certificate. Absolutely the best education ROI. Within 5 years, started an IT business as was making 6 figures. Just sold that business to private equity for mid-7 figures. Thanks junior college!

  23. Went Ivy 30+ years ago and coming from a modest family background, got lots of financial aid (only paid about $20k for 4 years) which definitely made the ROI worth it. Being affluent now, my child (if he gets in) won’t get any aid, so the calculus is a bit more complicated. I can’t say for certain whether my pedigree helped significantly in increasing my net worth, but I definitely value the intangibles (diverse friendships and experiences.) From a career planning perspective, there are definitely certain paths where having an elite education is a big advantage, and others where its unnecessary/wasted. Since my kids don’t know what they want to do yet, and because we can afford it, I look at expensive private education as an insurance policy (maybe they won’t “need” it, but its nice to have just in case.)

      1. I’m a physician. My Ivy degree helped me (I think) get into an elite medical school program (tuition free too), then elite residency. With my pedigree, I was all set for a career in academic medicine/research, but after some soul-searching decided to pivot to a less stressful (and more lucrative) career in private practice. My pedigree probably helped me land my first job after residency, but not really sure if its mattered much since then. I’ve always be frugal, so those habits plus high income, plus a few targeted “smart” (ie lucky) investments have given me the ability to FIRE if I want, but luckily I still enjoy work so I might as well stay until at least my kids enter college.

        1. Working until kids are in college or through college, especially if you still enjoy work is great. There is a whole MD personal finance blogosphere group of folks who burned out by 45 and pivoted to personal finance.

          I was reading mostly perspectives of going to the best undergrad possible, and then going to medical school that provides the most free financial aid. The recommendation was that where you go to medical school matters less since once you’re a doctor, you’re viewed upon as an equal. Several commenters here seem to believe the same thing.

          1. That’s mostly true, unless you are set on an academic medical/research career. If so, pedigree, and by that I mean not just institution, but who you worked with is especially important. Some of my colleagues from back then are still doing amazing work in the field, and I wouldn’t really be totally surprised if one of them wins a Nobel eventually. They generally aren’t motivated by maximizing their net worth. Obviously this is a super small, select group of physicians, and its not the career path for the vast majority of MDs. Ultimately it wasn’t for me either. So retrospectively my elite education wasn’t necessary for my career path. But often its hard to figure that out prospectively.

  24. Ditto the previous MD’s comment – none of my patients care where I went to medical school.

    As others have alluded to, there is a huge range in inter-profession salaries. I work a low-paid gig in medicine earning 275k on 3.5 days a week. In my wife’s field, 1M+ working 4.5 days a week is typical, and 1.5-2.5M definitely possible for highly optimized practice working full time. The key is owning a business with a huge moat (specialty surgery).

  25. Ivy gives you 2 things: 1) exposure to the upper classes who run corporate America and will be the people you need to impress to move up there and 2) the best internship opportunities. If you come from the upper class there is less need to go to an Ivy bc you already know how to play the game, and going to State may actually expand your horizons. It’s the reverse for middle/working class kids – they should do everything possible to get into an Ivy or a ritzy private U bc they need to interact with those people and make connections. Beyond that your earning potential has zero to do with your degree or where you went to school and everything to do with your capability, productivity, ambition, aggressiveness, etc. People who get into Ivy are just statistically more likely to be smart and hard working, not to mention well connected and well ‘groomed’. But beware, many of us are wary of Ivy grads who may be big hat no cattle, not to mention the crazy wokeness being taught these days.

  26. Another good one Sam!

    It’s very telling and I’m surprised that there are not any comments about the fact that top paying degrees (per your post) are all engineering and applied science. Don’t bother with a basic business undergrad (get an engineering undergrad and then if you still want business education, go get MBA; in most cases your employer will pay for most if not all of the MBA). And just skip the liberal arts degree; start at the bottom and work your way up. Learn on the job.

    Crystal clear in 2023: Go to any college that is ABET accredited and get an engineering degree – any engineering degree – or go to trade school and start your own business after you have a master trade license.

    For upcoming high school students and their parents, understand that my national engineering firm pays newly minted EE’s $90k in year one post undergrad. Structural engineers with a graduate degree come in at $120k on day 1. And they get to live in the free states of Texas and Florida. Well worth the eduction dollars for engineering degrees, everything else, not so much!

  27. hospitalist

    in medical field, i can tell you nobody cares where you graduated from, it just doesnt matter, insurance companies and medicare will pay the same regardless of your medical school or undergrad school, if you are looking for a job at a prestigious hospital institution, some people say they might look at it, (i am not convinced), but often times you get paid LESS because they have the “name”. I retired from medicine already and there is a total of zero patients who asked me where did I go to medical school

  28. Grateful_Jarhead

    Great post as always, Sam! I’ll hope to bring a similar analytical framework to my future children.

    I happened to ‘backdoor’ my way into the Ivy League for my undergrad. I went to high school (where I underperformed both GPA and SAT scores), and then into the Marines (for a variety of reasons – mostly selfish). 5 years later, I started community college with a new level of appreciation for education and within 18 months transferred to Columbia where I majored in Poli Sci/International Relations. With the post-9/11 GI Bill, I want to thank everyone reading this for their tax dollars that bankrolled my collegiate experience including living expenses. Having gone through the experience, I’m beyond grateful, and am today a firm believer in the value of the liberal arts. AND, I’m not sold on the sticker price of the Ivy League.

    I started in big 5 consulting and joined a slightly smaller shop two years ago – going from client-facing for 8 years, to now an internal role within the HR umbrella – leadership development specifically. Started at 70K, now in the 180K range, and looking to continue to grow/see where I can add value for the organization while my career-oriented wife and I build our family.

    As we consider the path for our future kids, we likely won’t encourage enlisting in the military. We plan to have a set amount we’ll contribute – hopefully instilling in them financial literacy and planning values and tools along the way to be able to make prudent decisions for themselves as they build their lives.

  29. I think these salaries are just that – salaries, not including equity/stock/commission? Because it seems quite low

  30. I got my degree from a state college in less than two years and now I earn 105k in finance at 22. Going to an ivy league is like buying a designer label when you can get the same quality for much less. No one cares where I went to school, only how well I did and how fast I finished. I’d rather use my money to buy property than to pay for a fancy diploma.

      1. Thanks! I actually graduated college at 20 with my Bachelor’s thanks to CLEP exams, AP Tests, summer/winter community college courses, and 21 credit course overloads which were the same price as 15 credits at my particular school. This allowed me to start my career early and advance quickly. I worked in accounting for a year at 40k, then in internal controls for another year at 75k. Now I’m 22 and I make 105k as a senior internal controls specialist for a top S&P 500 company. I work remotely from a rural town with low living expenses (200k house). My job is to help assess and reduce risks for new projects.

  31. Fascinating insights! I would have expected much higher salaries from Ivy’s initially. The huge spread in income for mid career is very insightful too. Perhaps it’s related to the types of jobs the ivy grads are taking which have much larger ramp up opportunities than non ivy jobs that max out earlier or something like that. Very cool to see the profile examples of real grads. Thanks for compiling all of that and the data together!

  32. There’s more to a education from a top-25 university than money. The approach, curriculum, student body and teaching style is different in these schools vs say a flagship state university. My kid is exploring first-hand the trade-off between an Ivy and the flagship state school. The “top-25” kick your ass with problem solving challenges in the classroom, assignments and on tests. They teach different ways to think and which grows a person intellectually in a way you won’t get at a typical state U. If your kid has certain personality and smarts (top 0.1% academic capacity), they will thrive in that environment and will find the “good state school” much like high school with the classes somewhat easy (except for some of the upper level and graducate school classes). If you’re in the top 0.1% academically, I think there are unique opportunities for that student attending the top-25. My kid is more like the top 1% than the top 0.1% academically which makes it a tough choice. Personality wise, he thrives on challenge and doesn’t mind not being the best. But getting your ass kicked too many times can be de-motivating and you can always find challenge at a good State-U. I’m leaning towards the State-U personally but IMO, it’s really a toss-up as to which is better for a kid whose’s talent is at aroudn the top 1%.

    From an earnings perspective, I think the better comparison should be a comparison by major. My quick research shows that top-10 school undergraduate starting salaries in tech garners a 10-20% premium (the only one I care about) vs good State schools. Of course, you need to pick the right school as I don’t think a Yale graduate in Computer Science will command any premium over a Georgia Tech graduate for a SW development job (but an MIT graduate will likely get a small premium). But a CS Yale graduate probably has a better shot of getting an IB or McKinsey analyst job coming straight out of school. Honestly, I can’t see why someone who’s only interest is Computer Science would want to go to Yale but different people have different reasons.

  33. Lucky immigrant

    I feel lucky having a bachelors degree in CS from a public university in Brazil (where I grew up) and being transferred to the US by a big tech company. My wife is in the pharma field with no student debt either, graduated in a private college in Brazil. Together we make 400k+ USD a year, we are both in our mid-30s and live in a inexpensive city (not SF, NYC, LA etc).

  34. Interesting article. Have a high school senior who has all the qualifications for Ivy, but he wasn’t interested- even though we had a number of discussions about it (parents promoting) and decided to attend a ‘public Ivy’ for biomedical engineering in fall. I graduated from a state school subsidiary as a non trad-letter & sciences and through grit and hard work moved to IT management. Even with the stats in the article, think it is more about the person than the school attended. Where I would spend my time & money on making sure kids have best shot for a good life/ good income? A great grade school! Foundations matter.

    1. Hi Fay – Thanks for your note. Did your kid not even apply to an Ivy? If not, why not? There doesn’t seem to be too much downside besides the application fee and the time spent writing new essays.

      I didn’t apply b/c I thought I had little chance and my parents didn’t push me. When I asked them why not push me to get higher SAT scores and grades, my dad kinda shrugged. Very laissez-faire mentality, unlike me. Which is actually quite nice. Things will work out in the end.

      I like your belief in paying more for good grade school! Yes, I believe foundation matters.

      1. Hi Sam,
        He did not apply. Multiple reasons. One downside you guessed right – didn’t want to write more essays.
        College app time is stressful for them. It’s like the smart kid Olympics! He said, why should I take the time to apply to universities that I don’t want to attend? Fair enough.

        1. Cool. Glad he knows what he wants!

          If my kid was qualified or even below the 50% mark for qualification, I would make him or her apply to at least one of the top schools. This way, they will never wonder “what if.”

          I hate wondering what if, so I tend to just try everything at least once. To each their own.

  35. Would’ve expected better ROI the way alumni contribute to those endowment funds. I also wonder if you comped the surrounding area public schools how they’d fare. All those schools are clustered near NE USA with a heavy dose of Boston and NYC nearby. The income may be juiced by geography.

  36. Thanks for the post, it still sounds like your major can have a big determination on your salary. It would be interesting to compare the same graduation major between Ivy League and public State schools and other private schools.

    For a technical degree, like CS or Engineering, I would be curious to see if there is any sort of correlation/advantage between an Ivy league school, or a highly rated public school, or topic technical schools like MIT or Caltech. My sense is that there isn’t much.

    But what about other degrees? Even in Medical professions, there is medical schools that one needs to attend after a bachelor’s degree. Then to me it seems that Ivy League education at the BS/BA level is mainly focused on finance sector (business analyst, etc)

  37. Julie Robertson

    Very interesting article. I graduated from Texas Tech University (70% acceptance rate) with a degree in Public Relations. I was making six figures by the time I was twenty five years old as a pharmaceutical sales rep. I’m a firm believer that grit, discipline and determination trumps Ivy League colleges.

  38. My handyman makes more than that. Though it’s probably not for everyone, if I were graduating high school right now, I would 110% go into an electrician or plumbing apprenticeship.

  39. What a great post. Really good stuff. I’m currently in the early college prep phase with my high school freshman. I didn’t go to an Ivy league as an undergrad, but I did for business school. For us as parents, two things drive Ivy(like) preferences. 1) Much more likely to meet potential spouses that are as hotshot as you, or even just put yourself in those circles for the future (this is underestimated) and 2) If you’re going to major in anything not financially “meta”, then you want an Ivy brand behind it.

    For financially meta (e.g., CS, which I did as an undergrad), you can basically go anywhere (except for those junk for profit schools).

    1. “ If you’re going to major in anything not financially “meta”, then you want an Ivy brand behind it.”

      Can you clarify this with a college and profession?

      What is it that you do post your Ivy League MBA? Thanks

  40. Went to Dartmouth and came out with no loans due to generous student aid.
    Followed with grad school and came out with $320k in student loans!
    Two decades out and making $850k a year. I think getting another degree was the key for higher earning in my case. Great post as usual.

      1. I went to University of Michigan for grad school. Very different environments, with one being a small private college and the other a huge public university. I’m in healthcare in the mid west. Honestly, I think I was just very lucky during the application process for both places and grateful for the Dartmouth alumni who were so generous.

        1. Cool. Can you share what you do?

          Going to grad school at a bigger school is great b/c you still get small classes, then get all the benefits of a larger alumni network.

            1. Gotcha. Thanks for sharing!

              Entrepreneurship is the way.

              Funny story, but my dentist posts her diploma from Stanford, UCSF and then a Harvard MPH on the entrance wall. And so she should. Makes my teeth work feel better.

              1. That’s awesome! I’m done studying but admire those who took the initiative to get their masters.

  41. I never considered those top colleges when I was young. They seem so out of reach. My parents didn’t help much either. When my son is ready, we’ll apply to the right schools and see how it goes. He’ll have more opportunities than we ever did.

    1. I went to Penn for my MBA and worked for 42 years in the corporate world. Rose to run a $10+B business and just retired. Came from nothing and got in by having a strong undergrad profile, some business experience, and top 1% GMAT score. Wasn’t easy and had to work hard for many years but it was also very rewarding.

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