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!)