When ranked by median mid-career pay, the top schools are Stanford, Harvard Business School, the University of Pennsylvania and the University of California- Berkeley, according to a report released Wednesday by PayScale.com.
When schools are ranked instead by early career pay, the order changes a bit but the same schools dominate the top of the list. Two schools — the University of Chicago and the University of Texas at Austin — crack the top 10, displacing Harvard and Columbia, which have higher earnings for mid-career graduates.
The strong correlation between brand recognition and pay doesn’t hold true for all graduate programs, says Katie Bardaro, director of analytics for Payscale.com. For most students, the degree and job earned will have a bigger effect on earnings than the school attended. (Consider, a public school teacher who graduated from Harvard likely won’t make much more than one who graduated from a public university.)
For instance, fewer colleges and universities will offer certain technical or scientific degrees. And often, lesser known state or public schools may end up being among the best known within a particular industry, such as engineering or physics, if they have large research grants that allow for more ambitious projects, Bardaro says.
MBA programs are much more commonly found on campuses across the country, she says, “so one of the things that makes people stand out is if they got their degree from this top tier institution.”
While there are, of course, many reasons for going back to school, earning potential can be especially important for people considering graduate school, where scholarships and grants are harder to come by than they are for undergraduate programs. People taking on debt need to consider how long it will take them to pay off those degrees, Bardaro says.
Students considering graduate school should ask current and former students what they learned and what they did after they graduated, she says. It also helps to talk to potential employers about how much a graduate degree matters for advancing at a particular company.