What was the point of going to Ivy League?

After high school I attended Princeton while most of my friends stayed behind and attended the local flagship university. After graduation I did the standard banking and private equity stints. 

My friends ended up getting jobs at McKinsey, Bain, Google, and Pimco. The McKinsey friend left to work at a startup. The Bain friend transitioned into Bain Capitol. Google friend is still working there. And Pimco friend is on their way to becoming a PM and makes considerably more than all of us do. 

So…what exactly was the point of attending Ivy League when my friends got the same tier of jobs at graduation?

Does Ivy not matter as much anymore because of the internet? Is it because high paying jobs are no longer just on the East/West coasts? 

Kind of regretting my decision to attend and was just wondering if any of you have thoughts or opinions on this. 

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Comments (46)

  • Incoming Analyst in IB - Ind
May 19, 2021 - 9:19pm

Won't address your question directly, because there might be more to unpack from others, but will say that I attended a non-target state school and broke in just fine. That is to say, you can succeed from any type of school or background -- all comes down to the individual. Some may have it easier than others (maybe being Ivy gave you a leg up over your friends, and they had to grind harder than you did to land equally or above you), but it is doable from any level in my opinion.

  • Incoming Analyst in IB - Ind
May 23, 2021 - 5:19am

Did you read the parenthetical portion of my post? Definitely mentioned that as a possibility.

"maybe being Ivy gave you a leg up over your friends, and they had to grind harder than you did to land equally or above you"

May 19, 2021 - 9:25pm

It sounds like your friend would have done well regardless of what school they went to. Again, it's a little of a reverse feedback look. People who are accepted into Ivies are generally already rockstars, it being there makes them more of a rockstar. However, some of these rockstars choose not to go to ivies and do just well at state schools. 

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  • Intern in IB-M&A
May 19, 2021 - 9:26pm

Your local flagship must've been Berkeley or something because McK, Google, etc are much more likely to be an outlier than at a target school. Troll imo

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May 19, 2021 - 9:26pm

i went to my in-state university and ended up getting a front office position at an investment bank (after working in IT for a couple years, and then lateralling to front-office seat).

I worked with kids from Princeton, MIT, Harvard, Yale, Duke, etc...smart kids....but they were mostly the same as me...and besides ease of getting into my "prestigious" front office seat...no other difference.

just google it...you're welcome
May 19, 2021 - 9:34pm

If you see college as a means to an end (obtaining a job), then there are multiple ways to get there. Going to an Ivy might be the option with the highest probability of getting you the job that you want. But there's two points to address here.

1) This is only your first job. A lot of people, particularly here, buy in to the notion that this pipeline of HYPSM>MBB/BB/EB>PE>MBA>PE is the optimal path through life. A career extends far beyond this and if you saw your education as a means to an end, you were not thinking far enough ahead about where the end was. Which leads to my second point.

2) You went to Princeton and I think you're missing the point of going to Princeton. Princeton has great job placement, sure. But is it where you would be happiest? Why did you go there? Was there pressure to go to the highest ranked school possible without regard for your fit or academic interests? Did you take advantage of the academics/research/network while you were there to better yourself? Would there have been a school that would have fulfilled your needs better? There are careers outside of high finance and "tiering" them based on perceived social prestige is incredibly shallow. The point of these schools is not for you to get a job in finance. How you graduated without realizing that is dumbfounding. 

May 19, 2021 - 9:52pm

I think the most important takeaway here is that your school won't make your career. Sure, it'll open doors and give you access to a superior network but at the end of the day, if you're a shark you're a shark. Regardless of where you go to school. 

You shouldn't measure your decision based on your salary. But you've had doors open up, you probably have access to people who will one day be at the top of their respective fields, and you also received a solid education. I think those things put together make it worth it. 

Also you're looking to a very small number of outcomes. On average, the disparity is a lot bigger. 

  • Analyst 1 in AM - Equities
May 19, 2021 - 9:56pm

your friends were obviously extreme outliars. I am guessing that they were exceptional because this is absolutely not the norm at a non-target. At nontargets you may see 1-5 people at the top of the class going to FAANG SWE, or BB IB. The difference is at an Ivy it is considered relatively normal to achieve such positions. 

Does being 6'8 mean that you are going to the NBA? No. But it can make things considerably easier than being 5'7. Same can be said for ivy league recruiting versus nontargets. 

  • Intern in HF - Other
May 22, 2021 - 10:23am

Non target I went to usually has 30-40 kids do SA in IB each summer that most on this forum trash. My junior year alone we had 9 kids at one BB and 5 ended up accepting FT offers (my friend and I turned them down so we essentially could have converted 7/9 spots had we accepted our offers). Kids were and are still going to GS/MS/JPM/BOA/PJT/Moelis and others so these weren't local boutiques either making up the majority of the placements. 

As for SWE there would about 12-24 kids going to FAANG in a given year. We'd place another dozen across these organizations in other roles (leadership development programs/SCM/Strategy/etc.). 

Only area I saw people struggle to break into was MBB consulting. Knew a few guys who did it and are killing it there though. The majority of our consulting placements were Big 4 advisory and pretty easy to land if you just joined the right clubs.

This idea that you're screwed if you go to a non target just isn't completely true. If you go to a flagship state school you're going to be okay as long as you get good enough grades (3.5+) and network. You'll also have a better social experience than most people in the country. 

The fact of the matter is that while people who went to top schools want to believe they're superior to everyone else it just isn't true. I would put the top 5% of students at my nontarget and most schools against an average Ivy student any day and I think you'd find that they aren't that special. 

OP talked about his friends placements. 

These are just my roommates from my non target that most on this forum think leads to call center jobs. 

Megafund REPE, SM HF, BB IB, FAANG Strategy, SaaS Sales (pulling in $250k working 30 hours a week and is going to become a multimillionaire after his company goes public in the next 18 months). These were all placements straight out of UG as well without having to do IB stints (guy at SM HF, MF PE, the guy in IB is currently weighing buyside offers vs getting fast tracked to becoming a VP early). 

I know a couple hundred other people who are in great jobs from my time there that most on this forum wouldn't believe are accessible for grads of that school. 

May 19, 2021 - 10:11pm

^ I'm agreeing with the comment two above, I was the only kid in my hometown to go to an Ivy and no one else besides me has come remotely close to FO finance - the closest thing would be one of my best friends who busted his ass for 4 years straight after screwing around in high school and got Deloitte. OP was definitely a HYP or bust kid in high school who's realizing there's a bunch of other schools who have graduates at top firms.

You're also looking at outcomes, not journey. A top target kid who screws around for 4 years and falls ass-backwards into Citi (I've seen it happen) had a much easier time than the nontarget who sacrificed endless hours networking and interview prepping. There's survivorship bias here as well (as in, it's possible your friends are the outliers - you went to Princeton and associate with them so they probably are not stupid, lazy people).

  • Intern in IB-M&A
May 19, 2021 - 10:56pm

If you really went to Princeton, you wouldn't be asking this question

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  • Analyst 1 in IB-M&A
May 19, 2021 - 10:57pm

This just gets to the value of an academic institution debate and why school matters. Ultimately, I would say-yeah your undergrad doesn't define your life, no shit. I think going to a prestigious undergrad has a few advantages, but aren't the end all be all:

1) Signaling-I think people on the forum buy into this way too much honestly. But at some level, many people will judge a person first glance based on their undergrad. In other words, if you see a person will an Ivy League undergrad they likely are somewhat capable. That said, I'd argue there is a lot of people mixing up correlation and causation. People at Harvard don't get jobs just because they went to Harvard, they often got into Harvard because they had top of the pile test scores and academics and this carries. Nonetheless, going to Princeton gave you a brand where people will say, "wow that dude is sharp" just on a first look. If you went to a state school, people might not immediately assume this.

2) Network-as you get older, the friends you made along the way become increasingly relevant. Hell, many argue that's the sole purpose of business school. By going to a good academic institution, you are more likely to build friends and acquaintances who are driven individuals that will accomplish things in their respective fields. At a state school, there are many more individuals who might just take a job and never really strive to be high achievers in their field. They might be less smart, or they might be less driven. Nonetheless, you likely have a network of smart contacts from classes, clubs, and dorms, that becomes increasingly useful as you age. The kids at state schools, have this to less of a degree.

3) Pace-by going to Princeton everyday you were surrounded by and competing against kids who were some of the smartest and hardworking high schoolers in the country. Further, this was during the years where you were developing habits and beliefs about who you are as a person. As a result, your expectation and understanding of what it means to work hard was shaped drastically in a direction that gears toward high achievement. It also likely was less lonely and you enjoyed yourself more versus if you were a lone wolf trying to work harder than everyone around you. For example, the school I went to was a top 10 undergrad and likely sub 40% went out and those that really partied the most went out prob every Thursday, Friday, Saturday. At state schools, there are individuals who go out every single day of the week. If you wanted to be a two day a week partier at a top 10 school versus a state school, it would be much easier, less lonely, and more "normal". You likely developed working habits and opinions about working based on those hardworking individuals around you which carries throughout your life. 

4) Potentially more interesting conversation and classroom material. There are limits to this obviously-I don't think Harvard and Carnegie Mellon and Michigan really have that different of classroom discussions, but nonetheless, compared to Alabama, you likely received better instruction and had more intelligent conversation at Princeton than your state school friends.

All that said, again no shit. You have to prove yourself every single day, there is no golden ticket. Early in my career I worked at a middle market bank, and almost all the founders were people from no-name colleges that knew the only way they could become wealthy was creating a company themselves. Off the top of my head I can think of at least 5 individuals who made $50m+ who came from no name colleges. That prob beats most your Princeton peers, but they are the unicorns, and you, a PE professional from Princeton are not-that's what you paid for.

  • Incoming Analyst in IB-M&A
May 19, 2021 - 11:21pm

OP: "I went to Andover, Princeton, Evercore, and KKR, all the standard stuff."

Also OP: "A guy from my flagship U of State has a good job. Is the Ivy League dead?"

May 20, 2021 - 12:28am

That's a summer camp, dude. Congrats on the camper-of-the-week ribbon - you really showed those (vacationing) Ivy League kids what's up, assuming they even deigned to attend class at all after the prior night's bender. 

  • Analyst 1 in IB-M&A
May 20, 2021 - 12:32am

OP isn't elitist because he's cool with his non-target friends but benchmarking/comparing while trying to justify your pedigree because other kids from no-name colleges got good jobs too is kinda corny lol. Just keep your head up and work hard..

May 20, 2021 - 7:11pm

i mean is your local flagship something like ucb, ucla, umich, uva, uta? because those are all regional target schools. 

you underestimate how much easier it is to get a job in a traditionally prestigious industry coming from an ivy league compared to a random non-target. it's the difference between mckinsey spending hundreds of thousands of dollars per target school just to recruit a couple dozen students and mckinsey filtering out resumes from schools below the ~t25

  • Prospect in PE - Other
May 20, 2021 - 10:03pm

The point of school isn't just to get a good job/good jobs. It's good and permanent branding, good for your network, and I personally had a great time. Lots of other reasons I missed.

You have to understand money isn't necessarily the ultimate goal for everyone. I know some brilliant, well connected, and/or loaded people doing PhDs and other random shit that will likely never break $200k, but that doesn't mean they're less intelligent or "inferior" to someone who went to a state school but landed EB/BB/MBB/buyside. 

  • Analyst 1 in IB-M&A
May 21, 2021 - 12:02am

Went to what is undoubtedly considered a non-target. Was surrounded by bombshells, trust funders, dipshits and hardass workers. I had a great time, but undoubtedly had to work harder to get to my current EB compared to my friends who went to ivys. Would I trade it for an Ivy? Maybe. I don't waste my time playing what if, I just leverage the experience I did have 

  • Intern in IB - Ind
May 21, 2021 - 3:08pm

Dude UChicago is only a semi-target if you're not even trying to get into banking. 

May 21, 2021 - 3:16pm

Your friends' outcomes say more about them than about their schools. You say they went to your local flagship, which is not necessarily a non-target. No matter where they were, if they hustled it makes sense that they got top jobs. It sounds like you all grew up in a conducive environment and were all driven regardless of where you went for undergrad. I will say there are plenty of sharp people who choose a 'lesser' ranked school for a number of qualitative or logistical reasons. They are sometimes more driven than their peers, lead clubs, are social and become outliers in terms of placement. There's a huge difference between the kid who bumped along in HS and got lucky getting into his reach school and the driven guy who could have gone to a wider range of good universities but chose his dream school. 

May 21, 2021 - 4:10pm

OP here. 

Thank you all for the replies. For those curious, my flagship is University of Colorado - Boulder, a complete non target. 

I suppose I was hoping for more discussion around the decentralization of high paying jobs, the rise of the internet, and how these two things impact hiring. 

When I was going through my stints in banking and private equity I was working alongside Ivy kids, state school kids, and schools I've never heard of. Personally, I found this interesting and thought it represented a decline in traditional "eliteness" that finance was known for. I think it's a great thing that more kids are getting opportunity and that's what led me to question what was causing this. As I said, I suspect the internet and the decentralization of jobs on the West/East coasts have something to do with it. 

Thanks to everyone for sharing their thoughts and their own personal stories! 

May 22, 2021 - 4:46am

CU Boulder is near Denver, which has a great finance scene with less competition. Your friends were able to do local internships in small IB and PE firms. They probably were able to market their experience to elite positions in BB. By the way, Dick Fold (the former head of Lehman Brothers) went to CU and tried to make CU a target school at Lehman. Google has an office next to CU's campus. Twitter and Facebook have offices near by. Many of the FAANG software engineers did not come from classic ivy league schools. There are plenty from UC San Diego, San Jose State, UC Santa Barbara. To get into FAANG, you have to pass a bunch of coding tests regardless of where you graduated from.

May 25, 2021 - 9:49pm

Yeah I've talked to people who have worked in finance for many years and it seems like they have been recently getting more open to hiring a top student from a flagship state school. I think the college admissions process these days is very wack (unlike 30 years ago) and a lot of elite kids end up in such state schools.

  • Intern in IB - Gen
May 21, 2021 - 5:42pm

Same ceiling, lower floor. Especially for year 1 of a 20-40 year career, not gonna be a huge difference on paper between the top student at Harvard who went McKinsey versus the non-target who went to McKinsey.

May 21, 2021 - 8:20pm

Maybe if you got off of CollegeConfidential once, you would realize that the school you go to matters very little compared to the skills you bring and the intelligence you have and the connections you form throughout your college career and before that. It just so happens that ivy league students have those aforementioned qualities and more, but this is not a hard rule; tons of state school kids are now getting top jobs and making tons of money straight out of college. It's almost like the tortoise and hare story. Just cause you go to Princeton doesn't mean you're set, and just cause you go to a flagship school doesn't mean you're screwed.

Also, not sure how a PM at PIMCO (dime a dozen) is making more than a software engineer at Google who has seemingly been there for several years. Pay at FAANG should be better, especially with the crazy RSUs given out these days.

May 21, 2021 - 10:00pm

Going to Ivy League gives you optionality. I have several friends who graduated from Ivy League universities and chose to start on non-traditional paths (teaching English abroad, joining early-stage startups, etc.), but eventually decided to transition into FO finance. All of them were able to do so rather easily because of their school pedigree and alumni network. Conversely, the kid who goes to the non-target or even some semi-targets has to pretty much play all of his cards right in order to get in. Basically, the Ivy brand allows you to take more risks. You can pursue your passions and dreams, knowing that you can always fall back on the prestigious school name. The same can't be said for an unknown state school.  

May 22, 2021 - 11:10am

OP, I've come to a similar conclusion as you to an extent.  I went to a non-ivy target and I have made some very interesting observations about career outcomes thus far.  I feel like it is more about YOU than the school you went to (obviously a top school opens some doors or makes some paths easier).  I have friends who were top students in HS (1500 SAT, 4.0+ GPA) who went to an in state flagship (Rutgers, Penn State, UMD) because they got kind of unlucky in the college admissions process.  Interestingly, they have all done fine career wise.  On the other hand, I have a friend at my university who is working at a call center (Imagine how his dad feels paying for an elite prep HS and then a target uni only for his son to be working for a call center).  

That is only the first job though.  I feel like the branding and network of a top school will carry on for life.  On average, the student you meet/work with at a target school is likely to be more successful than the state school counterpart.  For example, if my younger brother or cousin wanted to do banking, I can easily set him/her up with my buddies at the top banks.  

Just know that your buddies are probably top students at their flagship, not the typical student at that school.

  • Intern in IB-M&A
May 22, 2021 - 1:22pm

As someone that went to a below average public high school and then a target school, being surrounded by people that will be successful either through hard work or being connected in their own ways is a huge benefit when working towards your own goals. If anything, I believe school prestige(college but also before that) gives someone huge advantages and its foolish to say you'd be in the same position without those benefits. 

May 23, 2021 - 8:22am

One thing a lot of these posters haven't covered is peer pressure.  I have some friends who went to HS in the ghetto and ended up getting some great scholarships and doing well, but I know some others who got dragged down and started using drugs.  I also have some friends with really rich parents who ended up not going to college because it was apparently a waste of money after attending a high school with a lot of vocational classes.

It's the same way with universities.  Ivy League kids need to get the best grades, get the most prestigious jobs, so on and so forth where a lot of public school kids are happy with a decent well paid jobs.  So in a way they peer pressure you into doing the same.  There are a lot of really motivated kids in public schools but the culture isn't there as much

May 23, 2021 - 8:53am

Ivy League or otherwise, go to the best school you can and that's affordable for your family. Of course choose one (assuming you have choices) where you feel you best fit. Why wouldn't you. You can do very well from any school based on your own efforts. Will be harder the smaller the pipeline, OCR, etc. Point 3 above is really key. I call it ecosystem. Your peers at the higher end schools will be more elite students. They just are! Some are naturally brilliant while others are grinders who are used to doing the work (which is much harder at strong colleges than HS).Either way you're surrounded by people who are used to achieving. In and of itself, that supports a climate of success. People are far more driven and more likely to be seeking a certain type of outcome. Have seen this first hand both for myself and my kids. That environment breeds a certain level of expectations. Kids start planning earlier. They get more engaged. They join the organizations and network. It really does matter.

Going at it alone at a lesser school is doable but just harder. 

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