Do Prestigious Colleges Pay Off? It Depends On The Major

School choice is more important for those majoring in business and liberal arts than STEM.
Do Prestigious Colleges Pay Off? It Depends On The Major

While families and high school seniors debate which college to soon attend, the level of prestige each institution carries often plays a defining role in the outcome. The typical reasoning: the higher academic regard will translate to a higher salary post-graduation.
However, a recent study by Payscale, a Seattle-based salary research company, suggests diplomas from prestigious schools only lift earnings for certain majors, while students pursuing other fields might benefit from attending a school that is more affordable.
The Wall Street Journal reports that for degree-seekers with business and other liberal arts majors, the prestige of the school can heavily tip the outcome of future earnings. However, those pursuing a career in STEM—science, technology, education and math—appear to be wasting their money if they don’t choose the cheaper option.
For instance, students getting a business degree at top-ranked University of California—Berkeley earned $140,000 after ten years experience, versus University of Minnesota students who take in $87,800 on average after the same timeframe. For engineering majors, the spread is much less. After ten years in the workforce, a University of Minnesota alum will earn $104,000 compared to top-ranked Rice University where the average salary is $145,000 after a decade of experience.

Payscale’s study collected data from more than 1,000 schools (both technical and undergraduate) with lists comparing the average salary earned by recent graduates and alumni with 10 or more years of experience. The three highest-ranking colleges, along with Minnesota’s top five schools for earnings growth, are listed below.

Rank School Name Location Early Career Pay Mid-Career Pay
1 SUNY – Maritime College Bronx, NY $65,200 $134,000
2 Harvey Mudd College Claremont, CA $78,200 $133,000
3 Harvard University Boston, MA $61,400 $126,000
153 St. John's University Collegeville, MN $45,400 $89,500
155 St. Olaf College Northfield, MN $45,300 $89,400
157 Macalester College St. Paul, MN $40,300 $89,300
183 University of St. Thomas St. Paul, MN $47,300 $87,900
192 University of Minnesota Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN $50,000 $87,200