No Berkeley grads need apply

In law, investment banking and management consulting, elite firms hire from super-elite universities, writes Bryan Caplan on EconLog after reading Lauren Rivera’s Ivies, Extracurriculars, and Exclusion.

Those evaluating job applicants prefer an Ivy graduate with mediocre grades to a top student from an elite, but not super-elite, school.

So-called “public Ivies” such as University of Michigan and Berkeley were not considered elite or even prestigious …

Evaluators don’t think the super-elite graduates have learned more. In fact, they criticized  super-elite instruction as “too abstract,” “overly theoretical,” or even “useless” compared to the more “practical” and “relevant” training offered at “lesser” institutions. What they value is the rigor of the admissions process, which they believe guarantees a “smarter” student body.

In addition to being an indicator of potential intellectual deficits, the decision to go to a lesser-known school (because it was typically perceived by evaluators as a “choice”) was often perceived to be evidence of moral failings, such as faulty judgment or a lack of foresight on the part of a student.

Evaluators favor candidates with extracurricular “passions,” which must be prestigious or exotic. Hiking, no. Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro (or Everest!), yes.

. . . those without significant extracurricular experiences or those who participated in activities that were primarily academically or pre-professionally oriented were perceived to be “boring,” “tools,” “bookworms,” or “nerds” who might turn out to be “corporate drones” if hired.

The process seems likely to screen out truly interesting people, especially those from blue-collar backgrounds.

Elite university graduates are “narrow in certain predictible ways,” writes Megan McCardle, who’s one herself.

I guess I am too, though I never climbed Kilimanjaro. (And I never worked for a fancy law firm, investment bank or management consulting firm!)

About Joanne


  1. Walter E Wallis says:

    But you have one hell of a work record, JJ.

    sounds like you are having fun. You deserve it.


  2. Bill Leonard says:

    Isn’t this really just the same old-boys — or perhaps we should make that ‘old grads’ — network in action? The tacit message really is, We only want our sort of people.

    Having been a blue-collar kid who worked his way through a state college, I have encountered such attitudes, always labeled or disguised as something else, many times over the years.

  3. Do the “four elite schools” include NYU? The new Dean of the Stern School of Business seems to think he places many students into investment banking:

    Few schools are as dependent on a single industry as Stern is on finance, and few schools have paid a steeper price. In 2007, before the collapse of Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers, 44% of the class entered investment banking, the most lucrative of fields for Stern’s graduates. By 2008, the number had dwindled to 37%, and by 2009 it was down to 32%. In all, 18% of Stern’s 2009 graduating class lacked a job offer three months after graduation, up from 8% in 2008, one of the biggest increases in unemployed grads among top-ranked B-schools. Yet even as late into the financial crisis as 2009, nearly half the Stern graduating class was still pursuing careers in financial services, followed by consulting with 17% and consumer products with 12%.

    There may be a difference between actual hiring practices, and the practices people will admit to when asked.

  4. That’s sick. What it tells the graduates of Unviersities like UC Berkeley, UT Austin, etc. is that you can do everything right… And it won’t matter most of the time. Forget it. The elite either think you’re too ugly, not smart enough, or not from a background of the ‘right kind of people’ to matter, so you might as well give up now and save yourself some trouble.

    Our society is sick, just sick… If you can’t work your way up the ladder, why even bother to give the impression that you *might* be able to?