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November 20, 2011 5:03 PM   Subscribe

Sociologist Lauren Rivera of Northwestern spent two years researching the way elite financial and law firms really select their new hires. The original paper is behind a sciencedirect paywall, but Bryan Caplan has a nice write-up about the results. You're much better off with a degree from a tippy-top school than just any Ivy -- but they don't actually care about what you learned there. Your grades don't matter that much as long as they're not bad. Climbing a famous mountain or making a varsity team, especially if you're nationally competitive, would be wise. And oh yeah -- they do care what you got on your SATs. More reax from the Chronicle of Higher Ed and physicist Steve Hsu.
posted by escabeche (152 comments total) 35 users marked this as a favorite

 
Cool. So now when I'm arguing that burning those schools down would be the single best thing to do about the income gap, I can site this as a reference.
posted by SomeOneElse at 5:11 PM on November 20, 2011 [14 favorites]


from a friend "I didn't study Philosophy at IVY_X, I went to IVY_X so I would make friends who could put me in an investment bank the next day if I wanted to."
posted by The Whelk at 5:14 PM on November 20, 2011 [7 favorites]


er, ", because I wanted to make my living as a Philosopher" should be in the middle there
posted by The Whelk at 5:15 PM on November 20, 2011


site? cite. I learned that from my "cheap" public school!

My sister went to an expensive private school and can't spell worth shit. Yet Strunk & White is sitting on her shelf. I don't understand...
posted by sbutler at 5:17 PM on November 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


Ah. The fallacy of the excluded middle. Typical philosopher.
posted by yoink at 5:18 PM on November 20, 2011 [8 favorites]


Social capital what what.
posted by Sticherbeast at 5:20 PM on November 20, 2011


I have degrees from two of their second-rate universities. Does that add up to a degree from a first-rate university?
posted by madcaptenor at 5:23 PM on November 20, 2011


No.
posted by spitbull at 5:25 PM on November 20, 2011 [4 favorites]


This is perfectly rationale, if what you seek is someone selected because of their abilities as opposed to someone evident to you as learned in a particular field. You use intermediaries to select and then you let the candidates mature and, to a degree, let the mistakes wash out.

Ideally, one would add to those abilities by learning lots of stuff that's relevant in the interim. But the social cost of that missed opportunity might be mitigated by the opportunity to learn broadly, to experiment, and to decide whether one wants to pursue further selection by these entities. So the interim is about maturing and taste formation, as much as it is about learning particular skills.

This is frustrating, and not the best of of all possible worlds, but it's also not the worst.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 5:26 PM on November 20, 2011


Cool. So now when I'm arguing that burning those schools down would be the single best thing to do about the income gap, I can site this as a reference.

*facepalm*
posted by Lutoslawski at 5:26 PM on November 20, 2011 [7 favorites]


[I]t was not the content of an elite education that employers valued but rather the perceived rigor of these institutions' admissions processes.

This is not news really and neither was much of the rest. I am not sure 120 interviews were required to learn this, but it does make for nice confirmation.
posted by caddis at 5:27 PM on November 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


I just remember what Jim Cramer said, regarding his difficulties getting a high end job. He said that most people employed at the elite firms had already been co-managing their own trusts since they were children. I must have missed it in Caplan's description.
posted by Brian B. at 5:29 PM on November 20, 2011


Yeah not news, I briefly dated a HR person at Bridgewater. She always told me I was wasting my time trying to find programmers with specific experience, she maintained I should simply hire all the harvard grads I could get and teach them to program.

You know who I feel bad for? U Penn grads.
posted by Ad hominem at 5:34 PM on November 20, 2011 [8 favorites]


Or, the Upper classes are going going to co-mingle and promote their own, Higher Education at the very least allows some kind of mobility rather than none at all.

Of course, it should be more.
posted by The Whelk at 5:35 PM on November 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


When I was in the market for an MBA and shopping around, this aspect was discussed in excruciating detail in most of the boards and forums of the day (just over a decade ago).

The logic was simple ROI, but more in the intangible rather than the tangible sense, although BusinessWeek started publishing a whole series on that, because your average cost of Wharton or Harvard MBA was over $150K.

You'll note in the 2010 rankings though that whilst Chicago and Harvard are #1 & #2 in MBA rank, they're at the bottom of the ROI rank. (the rankings have indeed changed in the past 10 years and certainly become more international)

People would nitpick and debate all these aspects of the schools in question - some trying 3 or 4 times for the right brand for their future job interest.

Physicist Steve Hsu puts it well:

No offense to Rivera, because she gets things mainly right, but much of (good) social science seems like little more than documenting what is obvious to any moderately perceptive person with the relevant life experience. Bad social science, on the other hand, often means completely missing things that a moderately perceptive person would have noticed! ;-)
posted by infini at 5:35 PM on November 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


I don't see what's surprising about this. Law firms and investment banks are just looking for fresh meat that will consent to have the shit worked out of them, and have the minimum of brain power and desire for status and money that will keep them performing for a few years. They don't really care about what their Jr lawyers and bankers think about.
posted by yarly at 5:35 PM on November 20, 2011 [5 favorites]


You know who I feel bad for? U Penn grads.

NOT PENN STATE.
posted by madcaptenor at 5:35 PM on November 20, 2011 [6 favorites]


Hiring from a small pile of schools is risk aversion. As the funnel narrows the absurd over representation of Ivys shrinks, but the funnel is still mostly the Ivys, the top 10 or so big state schools, and a sprinkling of other highly selective schools.

Its also really important to look at the alma maters of people getting into the top 5-6 business schools. That's another path into the funnel.

But yes, the school obsession is dumb and it play a role in decreased social mobility.
posted by JPD at 5:38 PM on November 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


site? cite. I learned that from my "cheap" public school!

I'm so sorry, when I was learning useful society-building skills like engineering from ESL people who weren't being paid what they deserved, I must have missed that one.
posted by SomeOneElse at 5:38 PM on November 20, 2011



Since I don't have a shot at any of these institutions, here's the full paper [pdf].
posted by fizzix at 5:39 PM on November 20, 2011


I find it amusing I can't spell Ivies. Also the only person I ever had a role in firing because he just wasn't smart enough to do the job was a Harvard undergrad/Wharton MBA.
posted by JPD at 5:41 PM on November 20, 2011


But yes, the school obsession is dumb and it play a role in decreased social mobility.

Which is presumably why 'elite' schools perpetuate it.
posted by carter at 5:42 PM on November 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


Yeah not news, I briefly dated a HR person at Bridgewater. She always told me I was wasting my time trying to find programmers with specific experience, she maintained I should simply hire all the harvard grads I could get and teach them to program.

Wow. I could see this rationale working when you're comparing Harvard Law grads to Albany Law grads, because they're all people who can basically do the same stuff, except one of them uniformly did much better in the entrance criteria, but that attitude is completely psychotic when it comes to a set of skills like programming in specific languages. Not even very, very bright people can just hunker down with some books for two weeks and come out a professional-grade person.
posted by Sticherbeast at 5:43 PM on November 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


burning those schools down would be the single best thing to do about the income gap

It seems to me your ire would be better directed at those who unreflectively view an Ivy League education as a seal of approval utterly unrelated to its actual merits. As someone who is lucky enough to work at the Iviest of Ivies (note: no actual ivy on campus that I can recall) the colleagues and students I meet are amazingly brilliant, hardworking, and nice, and the work they do enriches the world. The library I work at houses an immense array of priceless cultural treasures, and believe it or not, we make them accessible to anyone with freshly washed hands and a photo ID.

Burning that down isn't going to make you any richer, but it will make everybody poorer.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 5:43 PM on November 20, 2011 [37 favorites]


I actually don't think its the schools that are the most guilty of perpetuating it. Its the companies that are the most culpable.
posted by JPD at 5:48 PM on November 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


I didn't see 'white, male and from a wealthy family' listed, but I admit I only skimmed the article.
posted by Space Kitty at 5:48 PM on November 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


If I had to nab names for ten slots at a firm that was top drawer, picking people from ivy schools would probably get me those with outstanding SATs, great high school grades in good schools, and many other desirable qualities...and I did not go to an Ivy.
posted by Postroad at 5:49 PM on November 20, 2011


(note: no actual ivy on campus that I can recall)

here you go.
posted by madcaptenor at 5:51 PM on November 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Your middle link is from Harvard, Illinois!
posted by Mid at 5:53 PM on November 20, 2011 [4 favorites]


Solving this problem involves a period of time where everybody is poorer. I'm fine with that.
posted by SomeOneElse at 5:54 PM on November 20, 2011


here you go.

Clearly I am not good at recalling. I would point out, however, that your second picture is of Harvard, Illinois.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 5:54 PM on November 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Add me to the pile of "elite consensus is people just like us are best at doing what we do" non-surprised folks. Also, I'd like to note that this is what the 1% (financial firms) perpetuating itself looks like.
posted by immlass at 5:54 PM on November 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Well, sure, it's the Harvard of the Midwest.
posted by box at 5:54 PM on November 20, 2011 [4 favorites]


Alright, I'm not perfect. But two out of three is 67%, which with grade inflation is still passing.
posted by madcaptenor at 5:55 PM on November 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Explains a lot about people on the Supreme Court.
posted by Ideefixe at 5:56 PM on November 20, 2011


The thing that bothers me is that it's so age-specific. I took my SATs at 16, and the fact that this determines so much of my earning potential for the rest of my life is pretty sad. The path that students are encouraged to take gives a permanent snapshot into who those students are as people, as earners, as potential executives forever.

My first few years in college weren't the best (I had to work several jobs, I started way too young due to weirdness in 1st grade acceptance policies in my town back in the 70s), and I dropped out with one semester left to go. When I returned to my (state, public) university five years later to complete my degree, I breezed through with a 4.0, engaged and wishing to learn more.

Going to graduate school became an uphill battle, and getting into a "decent" MBA program? Forget it. I mean...FORGET IT.

So as long as you're an exceptional 16-18-year old who gets into the Ivy League by whatever process, congratulations. You've won. And while it's amazing to me how limiting my own experience has been in the business sphere, I can't imagine how exponentially more difficult it would be if I had more obstacles than my white, middle-class, two-parent upbringing in place.
posted by xingcat at 6:03 PM on November 20, 2011 [5 favorites]


Well, it's not just financial and law firms.

I was a classmate of (but didn't know personally) David Mirkin, the "Simpsons" writer/producer/showrunner credited for, above all else, the "Deep Space Homer" episode...
In The Simpsons: An Uncensored, Unauthorized History (2009), John Ortved—using interviews with Kushell, Brent Forrester and Mirkin's assistant Charleen Easton—describes Mirkin as an "outsider" on the show because, unlike the bulk of the writing staff, Mirkin was not a Harvard University graduate. - Wikipedia
"The Simpsons" a hotbed of elitism... who'd've thunk it.

(He also executive-produced Bob Newhart's 2nd series but had nothing to do with its infamous 'dream' ending and co-created Chris Elliot's legendary show "Get A Life". He returned to Springfield a few times, most recently as one of the umpteen co-writers of "The Simpsons Movie", obviously so the Ivy Leaguers could have someone to blame if it bombed.)

The alumni magazine with him on the cover (drawn as a Simpsons character by Matt Groening himself) is the only copy I kept.

BTW, any and all creative people I actually knew in college went nowhere, as did I.
posted by oneswellfoop at 6:06 PM on November 20, 2011


"Financial institutions hiring rich people who are probably kind of dumb" is another factor ignored the late economic unpleasantness in favor of "poor black people are draining us dry".
posted by DU at 6:09 PM on November 20, 2011 [13 favorites]


The thing that bothers me is that it's so age-specific.

Yes, plus: it's age-specific in a way where it's assumed that your parents and/or peer group will be directing you to make the "right" choices, even outside of getting good grades and scores. If you have your heart set on one of those positions where going to, say, Duke won't be good enough, then hopefully your parents were able to lean on you to tell you that it's basically HYPS or bust.
posted by Sticherbeast at 6:10 PM on November 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


"Financial institutions hiring rich people who are probably kind of dumb" is another factor ignored the late economic unpleasantness in favor of "poor black people are draining us dry".

I find it somewhat reassuring that the late economic crisis is not due to malice or greed.
posted by Jehan at 6:16 PM on November 20, 2011


Due to my school's Admission Policies at the time, I didn't have to take the SAT.

I guess I don't exist then.

(University of Wisconsin - Madison, SAT and ACT were exempt for Wisconsinites. You only needed them if you were wait listed.)
posted by spinifex23 at 6:16 PM on November 20, 2011


Not even very, very bright people can just hunker down with some books for two weeks and come out a professional-grade person.

She maintained that in the long run I would be better off with people with no experience. Hire fresh grads and indoctrinate them to your company culture. A culture clash could make any experience a candidate may have if the are a pain in the ass. If I got a few clunkers I could fire them.

I don't know, programming as a profession is still a cult of knowledge and experience, specific knowledge of arcane details is highly prized.

She wasn't hiring dumb people with connections, she was hiring smart people , the kind who came from some no name high school and got in on grades and scores and got a scholarship. These people may have made connections along the way but not everyone who went to harvard relied on money and connections to get in.

As a matter of fact, I went to high school with the nephew of a prominent Massachusetts politician, everyone figured the kid was a shoo in. He didn't get in.
posted by Ad hominem at 6:17 PM on November 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


I find it somewhat reassuring that the late economic crisis is not due to malice or greed.

I don't think "rich, mediocre people" and "malicious, greedy people" are mutually exclusive sets.
posted by DU at 6:18 PM on November 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


getting a six figure entry level position at an "elite" law firm in not difficult, if that's what you want to do.

getting a good buy-side job really is hard, though, and those firms are more properly considered elite.
posted by planet at 6:19 PM on November 20, 2011


I don't think "rich, mediocre people" and "malicious, greedy people" are mutually exclusive sets.

Must I now consider that those in positions economic power are both stupid and inhuman?

Whatever next?
posted by Jehan at 6:23 PM on November 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


> Not even very, very bright people can just hunker down with some books for two weeks and come out a professional-grade person.

But those already "professional grade" could be writing production quality software in two weeks in any language you give them. Programming languages don't matter when you're hiring the kind of people who can design a language and write its compiler.

The Harvard suggestion is absurd because anyone who could get into Harvard could get into any of about two dozen less selective schools that are superior credentials for programming. Replace it with MIT, and the HR drone is right, but even then it only makes sense if you're looking for entry level.
posted by 0xdeadc0de at 6:25 PM on November 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


You know what's funny?

They let people with degrees from crappy universities (aka all the other universities) teach the students at those Ivies of Ivies. But like the summary said, they don't care what you learned, just that you did well on your SATs at age 17.
posted by jb at 6:26 PM on November 20, 2011


I didn't see 'white, male and from a wealthy family' listed, but I admit I only skimmed the article.

Eh, I bet that's not as relevant as you'd think. Oh, it's not irrelevant. But these peeps are using the Harvard et al name as a proxy for being smart, smooth operator who's incredibly driven and ambitious. In a way it doesn't matter exactly how smart you are --- anybody who got in is smart enough --- it's more that you've competed against the best and won. That's the commonality between the school and the extra-cirriculars which were effectively impressive --- a world-rank accomplishment. That's what they're ultimately looking for, and that's why the screening and grooming is as much social as intellectual. They're not looking for who can do the job. They're playing gatekeeper to the world elite. And in that sense I think the old rich white guy thing may not be as intrinsically appealing --- a dollop of international savoire faire goes well at Davos.
posted by Diablevert at 6:28 PM on November 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


Hire fresh grads and indoctrinate them to your company culture. A culture clash could make any experience a candidate may have if the are a pain in the ass. If I got a few clunkers I could fire them.

Bridgewater is a money management firm, managing money is essentially a process and culture business. If you are big enough as a firm you can afford to train people it makes perfect sense to find smart people whose ideas about investing are still being formed. There is nothing wrong with that. What's wrong with it is saying Harvard = Smart.
posted by JPD at 6:30 PM on November 20, 2011


But those already "professional grade" could be writing production quality software in two weeks in any language you give them. Programming languages don't matter when you're hiring the kind of people who can design a language and write its compiler.

I agree with you, I am relating the HR practices at a giant hedge fund as related to me by a woman I picked up in a bar and went on a few dates with.

Programming is an odd profession, we evaluate people based on writing code. Ultimately nothing else matters. She was trying to tell me that in building an organization I should evaluate on more than ability to produce code.

I simplified what she said, hire Harvard grads and teach them to program, what she meant was that I should find the type of person that would be a great programmer, hire them and produce great programmers.
posted by Ad hominem at 6:37 PM on November 20, 2011


They're not looking for who can do the job. They're playing gatekeeper to the world elite.

This sentiment seems to be peppered throughout this thread, but in my experience (in one of the three fields the article discusses), I don't really think it rings true. We're mostly talking about hiring 21 and 22 year olds for entry-level jobs--the turnover in these positions is simply enormous; very few people will be in the job even four years later. So they're not looking for the future "world elite" (although that would be nice); they really are looking for people who can do the job well. Now, the question is, are the only people who can do these jobs from elite schools? Of course not. This part, though, is very important:

Because professionals balanced recruitment responsibilities with full-time client work, they often screened resumes while commuting to and from the office and client sites; in trains, planes, and taxis; frequently late at night and over take out... [E]valuators tended to do so very rapidly, typically bypassing cover letters (only about fifteen percent reported even looking at them) and transcripts and reported spending between 10 s to 4 min per resume.

At one point, several coworkers and I had to whittle down something like 150 resumes from a school (not Harvard!) down to about 12 interview slots. Oh yeah, and this had to be done within a couple of days because the school's "resume drop" deadline and the deadline for our submitting the interview list were very close together. Naturally, you're still expected to do your full-time work, which in these roles is far past a 40-hour week, while you do this. So how does it get done? Well, GPA acts as a filter, and so does SAT. No one cares about whether you have an "elite" background, particularly because if you present a list of people who bomb the interview, you look terrible to your bosses, so you genuinely are trying to figure out who might pass through the interviews in a very short amount of time. These heuristics aren't perfect, but I really don't think it's class-perpetuation driving it, it's severe time constraints.
posted by dsfan at 6:41 PM on November 20, 2011 [5 favorites]


dsfan: I'm guessing there's a bit of "nobody ever got fired for buying IBM" as well? You pick someone from Harvard and they bomb the interview, nobody cares. You pick someone from Directional State Agricultural College and they bomb the interview, you look kind of stupid.
posted by madcaptenor at 6:43 PM on November 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


I used to work in the recruiting department of a hedge fund here in Chicago; the name rhymes with Shitadel. The only schools they even considered for their internships were the Ivy League top ten. They accepted resumes from anyone, but applicants without an Ivy League background were given a code in the database by one of the sorority girls/models (no, seriously) screening candidates: NCIH. No Chance In Hell.
posted by weirdoactor at 6:44 PM on November 20, 2011 [4 favorites]


Its exactly the same thing as "nobody ever got fired for buying IBM"
posted by JPD at 6:44 PM on November 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


The capital of Directional State is Up. They have a really vibrant downtown.
posted by DU at 6:45 PM on November 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


the world has probably moved on since I left the US/academia but what is the reference for the use of the word "Directional" when referring to the state universities?
posted by infini at 6:52 PM on November 20, 2011


dsfan: I'm guessing there's a bit of "nobody ever got fired for buying IBM" as well? You pick someone from Harvard and they bomb the interview, nobody cares. You pick someone from Directional State Agricultural College and they bomb the interview, you look kind of stupid.

Sure. I should note that I was just evaluating resumes from one of many schools from which my firm recruited, so there weren't any "Directional State Agricultural College" resumes in my pile (different people looked at those). I will say though, not that anyone tried this, but if you picked a bunch of people who bombed the interview and said "well, I passed over the engineers with a 3.7 because this guy only had a 3.2 but went to Exeter (or some other signal of being 'elite')," you'd look pretty stupid, which is never a career-booster.

By the way, I don't mean to say that I think this is a great system--it does amplify the effects of admissions decisions from when people are 17, and it may contribute to inequality (athough the economics literature on the effect of elite schools on future income is rather ambiguous as I understand it). But, in my experience, it's not any conscious desire to "perpetuate the elite" or something like that--it's simply people acting under severe time constraints trying to do the best they can.


On preview: "directional" is like Eastern Michigan University; rather than the University of Michigan; that is, on average, less prestigious universities (you often hear it in sports contexts, as they are almost universally weaker teams).
posted by dsfan at 6:55 PM on November 20, 2011


you often hear it in sports contexts

I didn't realize this! I hear it in academic-job-market contexts, as in the question "would you be willing to work at Directional State College for the rest of your life?"
posted by madcaptenor at 6:59 PM on November 20, 2011


I work for a second-tier consulting firm, a notch below McKinsey-Bain-BCG, with folks who have the right resumes for these kinds of jobs but who are, instead, normal, well-adjusted (albeit brilliant) human beings. (I, myself, managed to luck into this job after a sub-par performance at a shitty liberal arts college and a couple years of great work experience, but I digress)

As someone who's sort of an outsider to the elite education/career status game, I've learned a lot of things about it, and probably the first thing is that this insistence on only hiring from elite schools (my firm only recruits for analyst roles at HYS and a smattering of others, like Georgetown and Johns Hopkins) isn't consciously a matter of picking people from the "right" class, it's about a minimal heuristic for finding qualified applicants. There are brilliant people at places like NC State, and Virginia Tech, and Ohio University, but the chances are much smaller that you'll find them there (I hope most can agree on that). There's simply very little return to going out of your way to find diamonds in the rough, when there are diamonds aplenty without job offers at the Ivies.

Anyhow. Eventually, the gains accrued to the financial and consulting sectors in the last 20 years will be pared back, and when that happens, I suspect firms will have to get a lot smarter about hiring strategy. You hesitate to say something as cliched as "Moneyball for HR", but it might look something like that, where hires are judged according to a sort of behavioral fit-to-the-firm thing, rather than status games on resumes.
posted by downing street memo at 7:04 PM on November 20, 2011 [5 favorites]


I subscribed to Hsu's blog for a couple of months. Unfortunately most of the posts went along the lines of "it's been scientifically proven that you need an IQ higher than X to be a doctor/physicist/rocket scientist", where IQ X is several standard deviations higher than mine. I decided I didn't have a high enough IQ to read his blog and unsubscribed.
posted by miyabo at 7:05 PM on November 20, 2011


But, in my experience, it's not any conscious desire to "perpetuate the elite" or something like that--it's simply people acting under severe time constraints trying to do the best they can.

That may indeed be true, however when B-schools sell themselves to candidates, the network is certainly a big part of the sale.
posted by infini at 7:07 PM on November 20, 2011


On preview: "directional" is like Eastern Michigan University; rather than the University of Michigan;

Michigan is a particularly great example. There's Eastern Michigan University, Central Michigan University, Northern Michigan University, Western Michigan University, Michigan State, and the University of Michigan.
posted by kiltedtaco at 7:08 PM on November 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


it does amplify the effects of admissions decisions from when people are 17

I went to an "elite" private High School. The school acted as much as a PR firm when getting students into Ivy League school as an institute of learning. We had an entire staff willing to make calls and even visits on our behalf, including the headmaster whose entire job it was to schmooze admissions people. So people in the right position have a much better chance and if you have a whole staff to support you making a mess of applying to colleges is much less of a risk.

I did not go to an elite ivy, more than half of my graduating class did.
posted by Ad hominem at 7:09 PM on November 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


There's a facebook group for Southern Michigan University.
posted by madcaptenor at 7:10 PM on November 20, 2011


Don't forget Michigan Tech (or Wayne State University, located in stately Wayne Manor). Michigan gives you lots of options in terms of public university names. I don't think we have any bidirectional state universities though.
posted by fancypants at 7:15 PM on November 20, 2011


Now I'm feeling smug that I did my undergraduate at a university named after the county it is located in. (Okay, really it is just a regional/historic name, and Canadian universities aren't named after provinces, but it still sounds funny).
posted by jb at 7:16 PM on November 20, 2011


[I]t was not the content of an elite education that employers valued but rather the perceived rigor of these institutions' admissions processes.

So what philosophy should do, as a profession, is put out a lot of press releases about how rigorous the philosophy grad school admissions process is... and thereby make a philosophy graduate degree a money-maker.
posted by LobsterMitten at 7:18 PM on November 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Philosophy will have some trouble pulling that off, because all these people who know nothing about philosophy are walking around with "Doctor of Philosophy" degrees.
posted by madcaptenor at 7:19 PM on November 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Wayne State University is in Wayne county, by the way. Michigan wins again.
posted by kiltedtaco at 7:20 PM on November 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Michigan also has Oakland University, which is in Oakland County. If I didn't know better I'd think it was in California.
posted by madcaptenor at 7:24 PM on November 20, 2011


Speaking of philosophy, Average LSAT Scores for 29 Majors with over 400 Students Taking the Exam, Philosophy sits at #2. previous caveat
posted by porpoise at 7:26 PM on November 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


I do wonder whether the high rate of legacy admissions at the HYSPs affects the "perceived value of these institution's admission processes."

I wonder this because I had a good friend growing up who was kind of academically troubled, got into one of those schools as a legacy, and two years after graduating made it to CIO at a mid-sized company.

Tear.
posted by miyabo at 7:32 PM on November 20, 2011


I don't think the study really bears out the suggestion that firms hire from super-elite schools because admission to those schools is evidence of being smart. The study showed that firms were also focused on the nature of the candidates' extracurriculars which suggests firms are looking for people from a certain social class.
posted by jayder at 7:33 PM on November 20, 2011 [6 favorites]


There are brilliant people at places like NC State, and Virginia Tech, and Ohio University, but the chances are much smaller that you'll find them there (I hope most can agree on that).

Actually, I don't think that students at Virginia Tech are less smart than those at Harvard - but they almost certainly have less social capital, which appears to be what everyone is selecting for. And if that is what the job needs, then the hiring process is working. But if instead it is just people staying in their comfort zone and hiring mirror images of themselves, that's kind of shitty.
posted by Forktine at 7:35 PM on November 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


There's a facebook group for Southern Michigan University.

I guess if we ever reconquer Toledo we can put the campus there.
posted by nebulawindphone at 7:38 PM on November 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


Horace Rumpole, if you were standing in a different spot you might find that all of those lovely people wouldn't be quite so lovely to you. And the ire is rightly placed; it's not DePaul graduates aggressively promoting T-14 law degrees above all others. Rather, once that set infiltrates a given institution, it goes out of its way to ensure that few-to-no candidates from anywhere else can get in, irrespective of what other qualifications graduates of "lesser" schools might have. Prestige feeds itself and propagates itself.

As for the artifacts, fine: pillage, THEN burn.
posted by 1adam12 at 7:39 PM on November 20, 2011


I was going to say something about Moneyball, but downing street memo beat me to it.

Hiring real talent is HARD. Simply sifting through a bunch of well credentialed kids might be a nice problem to have if you're already an established destination company, but if you're trying to build something new, you've got to walk the line between people who can follow orders, and also innovate, and - somehow - aren't also looking to go hang their own shingle, too? Good luck. Destination firms, for the cost of being uncomfortably full of douchebags, benefit from smart, hard workers who also lack the imagination to go find new ground for themselves - which is a great position to be in if you're looking to just keep the cash cow producing. Turn that crank.

There are companies out there with HR who are actively looking for Moneyball like edges - thank god they're few and far between, cause the competition to find real contributors (as opposed to the merely well credentialed) is hard enough, already.
posted by NoRelationToLea at 7:43 PM on November 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


I've worked for four major money managers, and if there's one thing they all had in common, it was they hired people of privilege. If you wanted to be an intern, you had to be able to work 80+ hour weeks on a stipend while living and networking in one of the world's most expensive cities.

If you wanted your resume considered, you had to come from a top tier school and have serious family connections. (I still remember some poor kid from Fresno whose resume was laughed out of the room.) The constant running joke was counting the degrees of separation between newly minted reps and the first client business they booked. (Dad's lawyer, huh? Ha!) Of course there were times it was advantageous to send new blood to meetings, what do you think the AVP's were for?

The whole thing is so incestuous it's ridiculous. You can't 'smart' your way in the door.

The enduring wonder is how my tragic ass survived in the industry as long as it did.
posted by Space Kitty at 7:45 PM on November 20, 2011


Canadian universities aren't named after provinces

Several are: U of British Columbia, U of Northern BC, U of Alberta, U of Saskatchewan, U of Manitoba, U of New Brunswick, U of Western Ontario, U of Prince Edward Island, U du Québec à/en various places.
posted by stebulus at 7:45 PM on November 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


The whole thing is so incestuous it's ridiculous. You can't 'smart' your way in the door.

That's not so true in law, notwithstanding the prestige focus. I went to a good college for undergrad, but did quite well and got into an elite law school where I did very quite well, in the circumstance, and then went on to work at elite law firms. Neither of my parents came from money. My dad graduated without distinction from an unremarkable state school in the south; my mom dropped out of college after a semester. I don't think I knew any lawyers when I was growing up.

On some level, lawyering still is about being able to do something, though surely the things law school teaches (and the hiring process) don't equip you at all to do those things. Business seems (to me anyway) much more about relationships. Half the emphasis in bschool is on schmoozing.

I have seen dozens and dozens of applicants for jobs at the law firms where I've worked. I'd say close to 80% are from top five law schools, with the rest coming from all over the place. I don't place as much emphasis on the school as I do the grades (although that's a bit of a black box due to grade inflation--so who knows what that A- in torts means). I disfavor anyone who has gone straight through from undergrad to law school--these make up the bulk of applicants, but they're so green, often have no work experience whatsoever, and are the least likely to have the desire to power through the bad times (hint: it's all one long extended bad time).

Despite the study, whenever I see a resume that says "Climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro" or "18th-level black belt" or "Captain and Founder of the Open-Water Extreme Sailing Society," my immediate reaction is LOL YOU ARE A DOUCHE.

Bill Murray (as Herman Blume) in Rushmore:

You guys have it real easy. I never had it like this where I grew up. But I send my kids here because the fact is you go to one of the best schools in the country: Rushmore. Now, for some of you it doesn't matter. You were born rich and you're going to stay rich. But here's my advice to the rest of you: Take dead aim on the rich boys. Get them in the crosshairs and take them down. Just remember, they can buy anything but they can't buy backbone. Don't let them forget it. Thank you.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 8:05 PM on November 20, 2011 [16 favorites]


I'm not sure Ivy League degrees open up so many doors anymore. In my experience, they create more resentment than anything else. I guess it depends on the field.

You can't 'smart' your way in the door.

And that's a reason why those expensive degrees might not be as valuable as some people think.
posted by Yakuman at 8:11 PM on November 20, 2011


Destination firms, for the cost of being uncomfortably full of douchebags, benefit from smart, hard workers who also lack the imagination to go find new ground for themselves - which is a great position to be in if you're looking to just keep the cash cow producing. Turn that crank.

We're seeing the limits of the cookie cutter market assessment approach imho and the concurrent rise in preference for specialized firms.
posted by infini at 8:14 PM on November 20, 2011


Pennsylvania has Clarion University, in Clarion Borough, in Clarion County, beside the Clarion River. I went there years ago. You don't wanna.

Guy I knew there became a Powerful Executive in a Major Corporation. He was such an exception they put his picture on the cover of the Alumni Magazine and had him ride in the Clarion Autumn Leaf Festival Parade.
posted by tommyD at 8:23 PM on November 20, 2011


The whole thing is so incestuous it's ridiculous. You can't 'smart' your way in the door.

Yeah, not all that true in law, or at least not in the way you suggest. For better or worse, elite law firms still want really, really smart people, and employers' monomania about hiring only from elite law schools is a heuristic for that: you have to have something really, really special to overcome the prejudice that if you went to a lower-tier school you just don't have the intellectual horsepower to do the job. There's a reason why even in this market if you're in the top half of the class of a top 15 school you are still basically good.

No comment on how much it helps to be "white, male and from a wealthy family" to get into an elite law school, though I think the answer is probably "meh."
posted by eugenen at 8:24 PM on November 20, 2011


Despite the study, whenever I see a resume that says "Climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro" or "18th-level black belt" or "Captain and Founder of the Open-Water Extreme Sailing Society," my immediate reaction is LOL YOU ARE A DOUCHE.

I am heartened to hear that. I do think there is perhaps more room for idiosyncrasy among candidates for jobs at big law firms than in other prestige fields ... provided they went to a good enough law school. Perhaps because most of them won't make partner and are regarded as somewhat disposable? I have known lots of big firm lawyers who were pretty nerdy and didn't at all fit the ridiculous "work hard play hard" mentality you mock.
posted by jayder at 8:26 PM on November 20, 2011


The way to "smart" your way in the door is to get a lowly undergrad degree from Podunk U in math or physics and do well enough there to get into one of the HYPS for your PhD. Yes, this is hard to do, but you don't have to be from an old family or know anyone special or have much of any money at all. Once you're about to graduate you just have to study for a couple of weeks to do whatever sort of interviews your desired firm does. I know multiple people who have done this. No company that hires on prestige can resist a PhD in physics from a top school. They love mentioning their astrophysicist on their careers website.

That said, for a lot of people it might actually be easier to climb Mt Everest. And most people who manage to finish a PhD in physics have more interesting options.
posted by troublesome at 8:29 PM on November 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


I work for a second-tier consulting firm, a notch below McKinsey-Bain-BCG, with folks who have the right resumes for these kinds of jobs but who are, instead, normal, well-adjusted (albeit brilliant) human beings. (I, myself, managed to luck into this job after a sub-par performance at a shitty liberal arts college and a couple years of great work experience, but I digress)

There are brilliant people at places like NC State, and Virginia Tech, and Ohio University, but the chances are much smaller that you'll find them there (I hope most can agree on that). There's simply very little return to going out of your way to find diamonds in the rough, when there are diamonds aplenty without job offers at the Ivies.

posted by downing street memo



Kindly provide proof of the lesser average intelligence of non-Ivy League graduates.
posted by 200burritos at 8:42 PM on November 20, 2011 [4 favorites]


My experience is with finance, not law. I can't speak to how recruiting works in legal firms.
posted by Space Kitty at 8:57 PM on November 20, 2011


I would also point out that your finance experience doesn't jibe with anything I've ever seen. I suspect that you were working in the wealth management space which is actually sort of its own thing.
posted by JPD at 9:04 PM on November 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Speaking of the 1% perpetuating itself, it turns out there's a strong relationship between wealth and nepotism.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 9:13 PM on November 20, 2011


Kindly provide proof of the lesser average intelligence of non-Ivy League graduates.

Well, its sort of hard to do that, but I could produce the SAT scores and say that Harvard lets in people with higher SAT scores. Would that satisfy you? Its the only data we have.

Ohio State: Test Scores -- 25th / 75th Percentile

SAT Critical Reading: 540 / 650
SAT Math: 590 / 700
SAT Writing: 540 / 640

Harvard: Test Scores -- 25th / 75th Percentile

SAT Critical Reading: 690 / 800
SAT Math: 700 / 790
SAT Writing: 710 / 800

There is nothing inconsistent with Harvard both admitting students who are (in some significant sense "smarter"*) and also Harvard students have an additional advantage (beyond human capital) just because they went to Harvard. That is, even if the average student at Harvard is smarter than the average student at Ohio State, take some exactly identical student at each school, the Harvard kid will have an additional advantage.


*If you just dont think that an ordering like smarter makes sense, then I cant help you.
posted by shothotbot at 9:17 PM on November 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


There have been a few mentions of Moneyball but none for Liar's Poker, Lewis's memoir of his days working at Salomon Brothers. He discusses this very issue extensively. In particular, he says that in the early 80s firms like Salomon Brothers came to prominence in part because they hired minorities and people who were not of Ivy League background, and then faltered as they turned their back on that practice and moved to the all-Ivy model of their larger rivals.
posted by chrchr at 9:19 PM on November 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


But, in my experience, it's not any conscious desire to "perpetuate the elite" or something like that--it's simply people acting under severe time constraints trying to do the best they can.

I'm firmly convinced that most privilege is perpetuated this way -- not consciously, but as a sort of side-effect of unexamined habits and biases.
posted by twirlip at 9:19 PM on November 20, 2011 [13 favorites]


Rather than work at a sessional salary I once taught briefly at a *very* high end private high school. What I learned was that the whole selection process for the rich and successful starts so very far before high school that they should just do these studies for nursery schools and forget about looking at Ivy League institutions. By the time they get there most of the race has already been run.

(I should say that I enjoyed the job: a) I was paid really well and b) treated far better than a sessional at a university. (Not that that's hard.) Also the rich give pretty amazing Christmas gifts. And I have all the fondness for a good gift that only a combination of graduate school and being poor can achieve.)
posted by lesbiassparrow at 9:34 PM on November 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Not that this article doesn't make me burn with white-hot rage, but I wanted to respond reassuringly to this sort of thing:

"The thing that bothers me is that it's so age-specific. I took my SATs at 16, and the fact that this determines so much of my earning potential for the rest of my life is pretty sad. "

The thing about law is that (assuming you litigate) there are actual cases that people actually win and lose and an important quantity of your work is public, so regardless of where you went to law school you start to develop a scorecard and a reputation. I'm starting to see my age peer group (in "lawyers who went straight through") get to partnership age, and I've seen a number of folks who went to "lesser" law schools who started at small firms make the jump to partnership at "name" places. They start managing their own cases earlier, they're smart and do a damn good job, and they develop a book of business that follows them from Small Firm to Name Brand Firm. And I've seen top-15 grads go the other direction, being winnowed out in the "up or out" process at prestigious firms where young attorneys are given little opportunity to manage their own cases and, given the long hours they work, have little opportunity to develop clients if they're not already related to potential clients.

Which is to say, while the guy with high social capital who's at Harvard has an EASIER time succeeding, that was going to be true for him regardless because of his high social capital; there are multiple paths to success in most professions for smart and motivated people.

Especially once you start expanding your definition of success. If it's only "Lawyers at White Shoe NYC Firm," well, okay, you're a bit fucked. But if it's "Lawyers Making Six Figures," there's some firms in Des Moines that'll pay that to associates and you'll be a big fish in a small pond. And I mean, really, there's gotta be a Congressman from Podunk City, Square State, and you do not become the Congressman for Podunk City living in New York. That ain't legal. (And I know a couple of rising politicians who strategically positioned themselves within their states, after college graduation, to be able to run for statehouse seats within a decade of college graduation where they'd have a credible chance of winning. I mean literally calculating to the street where to buy a house.)

People who successfully become a big fish in a small pond find many larger ponds open to them. Not enough good is said of small ponds, IMHO.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:38 PM on November 20, 2011 [4 favorites]


Are SAT scores really a measure of "smart"? what kind of smart? does having a large vocabulary make someone a good problem solver? or does acing the logic problems tell you if someone is a good people manager or not?

I think the most interesting thing I've ever heard about intelligence is that IQ predicts academic success - and very little else in life.

I think the point about it being easier to find bright and - more importantly - literate and numerate people at an elite school than an average school is true. A friend who taught at an Ivy and also at Oxbridge said the students there weren't smarter than his students at a middle-ranked university - but that it was like teaching only the A and B students, like slicing off the bottom of the class. You don't get anyone who is truely dim, and you don't get anyone who is struggling with basic literacy and numeracy. (You do get people who don't know what a file format is, which I find utterly incomprehensible - I'm going to blame the fashion for hiding file-name extensions.)

So I do understand the laziness of restricting recruitment to certain schools. But it is pure laziness, since if you just looked for good grades* you would find plenty of diamonds elsewhere - and they would bring a variety of knowledge and experience your firm is currently missing out on.

*Yes, I am aware of grade inflation. In my experience though, the line often still holds at the A (though not A-) and Canadian schools suffer much less. Maybe the recruiters should come north of the border.)
posted by jb at 9:48 PM on November 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


mefi's own escabeche has written about how even though grade inflation makes the grade in any single course a bit less meaningful, you can still tell apart the excellent from the very good over a college career.
posted by madcaptenor at 9:52 PM on November 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


"Well, its sort of hard to do that, but I could produce the SAT scores and say that Harvard lets in people with higher SAT scores."

I'm picking math because the numbers match:

Ohio State: Test Scores -- 25th / 75th Percentile
SAT Math: 590 / 700

Harvard: Test Scores -- 25th / 75th Percentile
SAT Math: 700 / 790

So if you're in the top 25% at OSU you're smart enough to be at Harvard? So given that there are around 40,000 undergrads at OSU and around 7,000 at Harvard, that'd give us 10,000 super-smarties at OSU to Harvard's 7,000, would it not?

Given the appalling scale of OSU's enrollment, I'd sort-of expect to find more smart kids at OSU, frankly, in terms of sheer numbers.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:58 PM on November 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


We didn't need an in depth statistical analysis to determine that the FUCKING MORONS who thought they could heave financial napalm around without keeping notes on where they threw it aren't exactly in depth thinkers or analyzers.

They like quick, short answers/checkboxes that will validate themselves and their past/future decisions now and don't give a fuck all for the long term.
posted by Slackermagee at 10:02 PM on November 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Actually, 10,000 OSU super-smarties with 700 or above vs. Harvard's 5250 with 700 or above, but the point stands. Almost twice as many math geniuses at OSU!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:02 PM on November 20, 2011


The great thing about comparing SAT scores is that they're on a normal scale.

Harvard's mean SAT score is 1.21 standard deviations above Ohio State's. That means 11.3% of Ohio State undergrads -- 5,300 of them -- have better SAT scores than the average Harvard student.

If you swapped all of Harvard's 6,600 students for the top 6,600 students from Ohio State, the average SAT score at Harvard would rise from 2245 to 2315.

Almost exactly 2,000 students at both schools got perfect SAT scores.

Any firm that recruits exclusively from small elite schools is ignoring huge repositories of talent at all the other schools. Either because filtering out good students is too hard, or because they're just plain biased.
posted by miyabo at 10:11 PM on November 20, 2011 [9 favorites]


Actually, 10,000 OSU super-smarties with 700 or above vs. Harvard's 5250 with 700 or above, but the point stands. Almost twice as many math geniuses at OSU!

Mmmm. Doesn't tell you much about how they correlate, however. You could easily have a solid Ohio State 540 Crit Reading, 540 Crit writing, 700 Math, but that won't get you into Harvard.

In re the smarts thing --- people seem to be defensively focusing on the idea that smart people exist outside the ivy covered walls of etc., etc. Which is very true. But I think, as people have mentioned, a big part of the jobs measured in the study are dealmaking and/or talking to rich people. You have to be book smart for that, but also adept in the social mores of the class you're trying to woo and/or screw.

Harvard et al can give you that in a way that a big state university can't, simply because of the people in your class and the alumni out there in the world and the people you get a chance to meet. And most of all, these days, if your last name isn't already on a wing at your prep school, you have to hustle from Day -1 to get into an Ivy. It think it's the drive it screens for more than the intelligence.

I don't think anyone's arguing that there aren't other paths to success in life. What's interesting about the study is that it tells you how the elite grooms itself.
posted by Diablevert at 10:16 PM on November 20, 2011


Oh, and even if you don't believe SAT scores are an exact measure of intelligence (I certainly don't), the same logic holds true for any other reasonable measurement of intelligence. Ohio State almost certainly has more excellent musicians, excellent creative writers...Hell, it has more extremely good-looking people. Those are all normally distributed variables and Ohio State's bell curve is way, way bigger.

The one thing it doesn't have more of is rich people, because income is nowhere near normally distributed.
posted by miyabo at 10:18 PM on November 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


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.

These firms seem to believe a 17 year old is unqualified (and has morally failed!) for a job based on their school decision.
posted by garlic at 10:26 PM on November 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


Nobody should be evaluated based on the decisions they made at seventeen.
posted by madcaptenor at 11:10 PM on November 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


Oh, and even if you don't believe SAT scores are an exact measure of intelligence (I certainly don't), the same logic holds true for any other reasonable measurement of intelligence. Ohio State almost certainly has more excellent musicians, excellent creative writers...Hell, it has more extremely good-looking people. Those are all normally distributed variables and Ohio State's bell curve is way, way bigger.

If I wanted to find a thousand excellent guitarists, I'd go to OSU. (Actually, I'd go to the U of M, because GO BLUE etc., but whatever.) And then I'd need to hold weeks and weeks of auditions, because along with the thousand excellent ones there are likely to be five or ten thousand mediocre ones hanging around campus. It would be a long boring hard expensive job, but I'd get my thousand guitarists eventually.

If I wanted to find one excellent guitarist, and I cared about fairness and openness and diversity, I might still visit OSU and hold a ton of auditions. It would still be long and boring and hard and expensive and so on, but at least I'd have the heartwarming feeling of knowing that I'd given a fair chance to budding guitarists of all ages, creeds, colors, tax brackets etc.

But if I wanted to find one excellent guitarist and I didn't care about any of that fairness crap, I just wanted to do it as quickly and cheaply as possible? I'd go to Eastman and grab the first dude with a guitar case who I laid eyes on. Bang — done.

Unfortunately, I suspect the last scenario is the best analogy for the way that law firms look at hiring. If you need a small number of smart overachieving workaholic lawyers, and you'd rather do it fast and cheap than worry about fairness, then the best thing to do is still to hire from Harvard. It's a shitty set of priorities, but if you adopt those priorities, then acting like these law firms do is pretty rational.
posted by nebulawindphone at 11:23 PM on November 20, 2011 [6 favorites]


A significant percentage of The Huge University In Central Ohio undergraduates aren't equipped with the basic reading, writing, and critical thinking skills necessary to complete an introductory course in philosophy. To avoid flunking a third of the class, coursework can't be too challenging, and then the better students don't get challenged, which limits the amount of challenge that can be applied in upper level classes. Students at better schools get kicked in the teeth from day one and come out stronger for it.

/former The Huge U grad student
posted by Kwine at 11:39 PM on November 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


miyabo: "The great thing about comparing SAT scores is that they're on a normal scale."

That's a faulty assumption. The distribution of all scores among the entire population, perhaps, but certainly not of the actual student population at each school after the selection and matriculation process. There certainly aren't 2,000 Ohio State students with perfect SAT scores, because most schools don't have normal distributions of admitted SAT scores.

In fact, the SAT distributions at schools like Harvard is anything but normal (they're top-heavy with a long tail), due to gaming the rankings process. Highly selective schools take a lot of high-scorers (more than half) to keep their stats up for the rankings, then fill the rest in with special talents and legacies. You can say the 75th percentile Ohio State nerd is smart enough for Harvard, but he probably isn't also the Olympic swimmer squeezing in academics in between practices, or the heir apparent of a small European country, etc. that the 25th percentile at Harvard represents.

The problem is one of basic scarcity. Recently there was a mini-scandal when the instructions for MBA alumni interviewers at Wharton were leaked online, disclosing such nuggets as "80% of Wharton applicants are qualified for admission". The discussion is never who's "smart" enough to make it into the Ivies, because the answer is a pity "way too many". These days, elite universities are machines for turning out the most valuable alumni, period. And that's what the admission process selects for: valuable as in financial success, cultural capital, influence, and so on. Intelligence is a (usually) necessary but hardly sufficient condition.

An elite diploma is incredibly valuable to recruiters because there's a pretty good overlap between what schools like Harvard select for, and what many industries (such as financial services and consulting) are also recruiting for. Forget about education. One admissions consultant put it this way, about Harvard:
If they divided the class on the first day and told half the kids to disappear and show up at commencement and the other half to go through the program, the recruiters wouldn’t even care. Selection is everything. Admissions is everything.
Recruiters have figured out that it's much more efficient to simply let the admissions committees at these schools do the chump work of sorting out SATs and GPAs for them. And why not? Simply reading the names of schools on the resumes works just as well. When you've got 2000 applicants for 5 job openings at your firm, abstractions like "a diamond in the rough" are a waste of time. Let someone else do the heavy lifting. Be efficient.

In short: in many industries, recruiters and HR departments judge applicants solely by their school names because that gives them the best return on time invested.
posted by DaShiv at 12:04 AM on November 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


And most of all, these days, if your last name isn't already on a wing at your prep school, you have to hustle from Day -1 to get into an Ivy.

In this as in so many ways, our American elite is a direct transubstantiation of the Elect of Puritan colonial New England.

You are not of the Elect by virtue of good works, or of the elite by good work; it is simply who you are, your essence, established before your birth by God.

And the rest, the 99%?

Damned, irredeemably Damned, and cast into the outer darkness.
posted by jamjam at 12:12 AM on November 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


An excerpt in Bryan Caplan's writeup makes it clear is that you're not just being interviewed for your ability and potential; you're also being interviewed as a potential co-worker. So you would expect them to hire people from the same social background - one of the interviewers' unspoken criteria is that they're going to enjoy being around you:
[E]valuators believed that the most attractive and enjoyable coworkers and candidates would be those who had strong extracurricular "passions." ... [T]hose 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.
posted by Joe in Australia at 12:21 AM on November 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


In MBA/management/consulting/etc circles, the common shorthand for that is "the airport test".
posted by DaShiv at 12:27 AM on November 21, 2011


Karen Ho's ethnography of Wall Street, Liquidated, discusses this issue, too. This review by a Wall Street quant includes an excerpt from her introduction:

During subsequent recruitment presentations, I experienced much of the same: well-suited alumni declaring, “We only hire superstars,” “We are only hiring from five different schools,” “You are the cream of the crop.” In these sessions, I was struck by how proclamations of elitism (through “world-class” universities, the discourses of smartness and globalization) seemed foundational to the very core of how investment bankers see themselves, the world, and their place in it. Representing a world of “collective smartness” and exclusivity seemed fundamentally connected not only to the criteria for becoming an investment banker but also to the very nature of what they do.

The whole thing is a very good read, linking Wall Street's internal culture of "excellence" (or "brilliance"), "hard work" and flexibility with macroeconomic trends like "downsizing" in the 1990s.

HBS sociologist Rakesh Khurana also has a good book on the history of elite business schools that details how the rise of "agency theory" in economics and management since the 1970s has dovetailed with the self-interest of business school students and faculty to shape the financial industry we see today, displacing an older concept of management as a "profession" with some sense of social responsibility. (See also Ho's chapter on the rise of shareholder value.)

You could link all this to the apparent blindness of many Wall Streeters—documented in one of the most infuriating This American Life episodes I can remember—to any culpability in the financial crisis on their part. If you're the smartest guys in the room—indeed, in the world—and you've been taught from undergrad on that following your own self-interest in fact maximizes benefits for all, you pretty much have to feel aggrieved when some Washington pinhead or some idiot in Zuccotti Park talks about reining in your ability (and theirs! The fools!) to cash in on that brilliance.
posted by col_pogo at 12:29 AM on November 21, 2011 [6 favorites]


I did a lot of interviewing when I was an associate at elite law firms. The extra curricular thing rings true, but not really for the reasons they list here.

Usually, 99% of the applicants that we screened through to on campus interview or on-site callbacks were intellectually capable of doing the legal work we would need (contracts at Harvard is the same caselaw as contracts at State U., and doc review / due diligence isn't the hardest thing in the world). So when I interviewed, I didn't care if you were smart enough; only one thing mattered.

Being at a law firm means long long hours for long long periods of time. What I wanted was someone that I could be working with at 3 am on a 4th consecutive Sunday, having had no days off in a month, and not want to kill them. You had to be interesting but not an insufferable prick. You also had to have the patience of a saint and the ability to accept that life was going to suck really hard. If you were too interesting, or too engaging, this meant you were probably going to hate working at the firm after 3 months and bail in the middle of a case, leaving the rest of the lawyers in the lurch covering the work you were handling. In those cases, I was doing both of us a favor by nixing you.

This was generally the same opinion my fellow associates shared. We let partners decide whether someone had the "right stuff" in terms of legal thinking, smarts, whatever. All I wanted to know was whether I could count on you when stuff sucked the most. If I thought you did, I'd recommend you hard to the hiring board. If you talked too much about how awesome your winning moot court presentation was in front of a mock panel of 2nd Circuit judges, I gave you a thumbs down because you weren't going to cut it at a big firm for any amount of time I would need.
posted by shen1138 at 12:38 AM on November 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm surprised more people aren't responding to the observation that extracurriculars were the second most important hiring criterion. If it were just a game of "find the smart people" given limited time resources, then sticking to the Harvards and Princetons of the world makes some sense. It's a bit short sighted with regards to the benefits intellectual diversity, but hey, some people feel threatened by that. However, when they care more about extracurriculars like summating big mountains or athletic competition on the level that required lifelong practice, they ask one to have had a tremendous amount of time and/or money for training and equipment. It's only when you combine these two things does it seem like they are aiming to get folks of a certain cultural class, and one that comes more from a monied background than not.

In my experience with friends, the resources one has at an elite school allow humble, driven, curious people to do brilliant, creative things that would be harder to do elsewhere. Unfortunately, they also give the more self-centered of their students to further internalize their specialness with regards to the rest of the world, often by dropping the words "at Harvard" into far more conversations than merit it.
posted by Schismatic at 2:24 AM on November 21, 2011 [6 favorites]


Being at a law firm means long long hours for long long periods of time. What I wanted was someone that I could be working with at 3 am on a 4th consecutive Sunday, having had no days off in a month, and not want to kill them. You had to be interesting but not an insufferable prick. You also had to have the patience of a saint and the ability to accept that life was going to suck really hard.

Well, there's a whole different discussion to be had about why law firms, financial institutions, and consulting firms n insist that working horrifying numbers of hours is the very best way of gaining revenues. "Can bill more hours than anyone else" is really a shitty way of dealing with one's employees.
posted by xingcat at 4:45 AM on November 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


I disfavor anyone who has gone straight through from undergrad to law school--these make up the bulk of applicants, but they're so green, often have no work experience whatsoever, and are the least likely to have the desire to power through the bad times (hint: it's all one long extended bad time).

As one lawyer to another: if it's all one long extended bad time, you're doing it wrong. When you go in expecting something to be painful, it blinds you to the fact that the pain is a signal: it's telling you that something about your situation is wrong for you. Listen to the pain, and you'll be both happier and a better lawyer.
posted by gd779 at 5:16 AM on November 21, 2011


I was indeed surprised by the following:
What’s surprising isn’t that students from elite universities have a leg up; it’s that students from other colleges don’t have a chance, even if those colleges are what the rest of us might consider elite. Here’s what a top consultant had to say about M.I.T.:
You will find it when you go to like career fairs or something and you know someone will show up and say, you know, “Hey, I didn’t go to HBS [Harvard Business School] but, you know, I am an engineer at M.I.T. and I heard about this fair and I wanted to come meet you in New York.” God bless him for the effort but, you know, it’s just not going to work.
Essentially, there's a "super top 5" within the top 10. Didn't realize that.
posted by the cydonian at 5:18 AM on November 21, 2011


Well, there's a whole different discussion to be had about why law firms, financial institutions, and consulting firms n insist that working horrifying numbers of hours is the very best way of gaining revenues. "Can bill more hours than anyone else" is really a shitty way of dealing with one's employees.


Oh in fin services I think its even dumber than that. its "I did this when I was 23 so you need to it now that you are 23" its not even that its productive. Actual Investment Bankers (not the grand grouping of jobs that people call "investment banking" but actual deal guys) might have the lowest labor prouductivity of any profession in the world.
posted by JPD at 5:36 AM on November 21, 2011


"Well, there's a whole different discussion to be had about why law firms, financial institutions, and consulting firms n insist that working horrifying numbers of hours is the very best way of gaining revenues. "Can bill more hours than anyone else" is really a shitty way of dealing with one's employees."

I've recently become fascinated by this in terms of developing business at law firms, as I alluded to in passing above. I've been hearing some inside hiring/promoting/finances dirt from a Chicago firm, and with the recession they're pretty stagnant in clients right now, and associates are being pushed really hard to bring in business -- which is supposed to be part of the evaluation of them making partner, but it's being pushed REALLY HARD right now because the firm needs clients.

Well, it turns out when you work people 80 hours a week (and feed them all this gung-ho bullshit besides), they have no free time to join the local country club or the Rotary or serve on the local hospital board meet anyone but other lawyers. The wealthy, well-connected kids who were hired on name/connections have already exploited those for business or that business is held elsewhere; the kids from more diverse backgrounds who might have new business to develop were never given any time whatsoever to develop business relationships. That's what's creating this opportunity for lawyers from smaller firms who had a chance to develop a business book to come over as partners -- and the associates who played by the rules are getting let go.

While I think this one particular firm may spectacularly implode, I've been asking about client development and a lot of partners seem puzzled by why their senior associates just aren't developing any.

No solutions, just an observation adding to why it's an unsustainable model for the business as well as the individuals involved.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:13 AM on November 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


If you are using the SAT as a complete measure of intelligence, that means you are saying black people are inherently less intelligent than white people. Do you really think that? Could it be something else?

Wealthy people can afford the test prep tutors and the time needed to prep for it. They are also better prepared for the actual content of the test. White people have a cultural advantage when it comes to content interpretation.

I absolutely do not feel that the Ivy Leagues have more intelligent people than other universities--at least, not in undergrad. Students do get high grades at Ivy Leagues, but how much of it is due to grade inflation?

All I know about law school is that if your degree doesn't say Harvard or Yale, doors close with remarkable swiftness. If I were an aspiring lawyer who wanted a career as a judge, I wouldn't go to any other schools. Isn't that awful? I'm much happier to be in a field where some of the top graduate degrees come from state schools--any aspiring graduate student would be thrilled to get an acceptance letter from University of Washington, UT-Austin, or UCIC. Computer Science seems to be a field where absolutely nobody cares about your degree as long as you're great at your job and pleasant to be around.
posted by 200burritos at 6:30 AM on November 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Students at better schools get kicked in the teeth from day one and come out stronger for it.

I disagree. Undergrads in the Ivies get coddled, supported, and grade inflated to their hearts' desire -- but they also come in (on average*) with far better preparation than the students going to a regional state school. A significant percentage come out of elite private high schools, or from high-end public schools that offer courses in things like Latin, while most people go to underfunded schools that are struggling to even offer the occasional art class. I'm not saying that the students at the Ivies don't work hard -- many of them do -- but that their advantages come in the nebulous form that we might call "social capital" or whatever term you favor for things like knowing how to talk, behave, and act in privileged settings. And again, if those are necessary skills for the job, then using the elite universities as your hiring filter makes sense.

* The "on average" masks a really important split, which is that the elite schools also admit a large cohort of non-rich students, many from very poor inner city neighborhoods, who have all the raw smarts you can imagine, but who come out of much worse high schools and without all the intangible advantages of having educated and wealthy parents. It's way to simplistic to reduce Ivy League students to "rich, white, and entitled," particularly now that they are using their enormous endowments to subsidize tuition for the poor and middle class students.
posted by Forktine at 6:39 AM on November 21, 2011 [3 favorites]


My wife attended, and read applications for, an MBA program that is often mentioned as the top program in the US, and inarguably one of the top 5 (even top 3). As a rule, if one of her classmates said they "did a little X" where X was an athletic endeavor, they generally had either pro-level or varsity college level experience (almost never lower than Div II - often NCAA champions).

That program once had, and might still have, a question along the lines of "who is your hero?" or "whose life would you like to have/who'd you like to trade places with?" A shocking number of respondents said U2's Bono. After thinking about it with the rest of the readers for a while, Bono actually made a lot of sense. Bono appears to have hit all the checkboxes for "success" (whatever that is). In much as the same way as they dressed themselves or groomed their personal brands, Bono isn't a risky choice. He's good enough, without opening the door to inconvenient complexity of time inefficient discussions like "why?" Who asks why Goldman, or why Google?

After a while, high achieving, well-credentialed Bono lovers all looked the same. The readers were ultimately putting them all in a pile and picking the number they needed at random.

Wish I could say the response was better - but most people reading (and even admission staff) seemed to adopt a kind of reality show casting mentality. Show me you can do most or even all the stuff the generics can - but add in something novel or unique to you (at which you've also excelled). So even at these places: people will be bored by the mind numbing sameness - even if that sameness is fundamentally rooted in (some kind of) excellence.

Which alludes to my bigger point: this paper and the culture its studying all fall prey to the same assumption - which is everyone agrees on the same set of values. Harvard is good. Period. Partnerships at investment banking and white shoe law firms are good. Period. Not only is that totally not true - it signals very, very strongly that someone with that kind of requisite history has made a choice to waste their energies competing for existing scarce resources - instead of dedicating those energies to finding clever exploits or (heaven forbid) building something new.

This is, unfortunately, changing. There are some success zombies out there who've recognized that there are indeed multiple paths to - scare quotes - success. All that means is evaluators need to be a bit more insightful in terms of finding the people they actually want on their teams or in their institutions.

A lot of well credentialed kids get very far into adulthood without realizing (or never realizing) that you pretty much get to define your own measures of success. I hate to be the guy who quotes himself, but I said:

"I really wish kids were taught to evaluate their own efforts. People will judge you inaccurately, in both unfairly positive and unfairly negative directions - so it's important to be able to add your own self-diagnosis/self-evaluation to that equation.

I understand why we want kids to see value in academic or workplace evaluations, but there really are way too many adults out there who desperately want the approval/disapproval of others, when it's not nearly as necessary as they think."

...in this thread: http://ask.metafilter.com/169420/What-life-skills-do-you-wish-you-had-been-taught-before-becoming-an-adult#2436261 - and it's especially true for this cohort.
posted by NoRelationToLea at 6:41 AM on November 21, 2011 [3 favorites]


If you are using the SAT as a complete measure of intelligence, that means you are saying black people are inherently less intelligent than white people. Do you really think that?

You can believe that SATs are not a complete measure of intelligence and still be comfortable using them as a screening process, or really relying on someone else's screening process that uses SATs as an input. Not to mention that most admissions processes these days attempt to normalize for perceived biases in scores.

Its probably not going to return too many false positives if you set your threshold high enough. It is going to reject people it should be rejecting, but as long as your yield is high enough it just doesn't matter that much.
posted by JPD at 6:53 AM on November 21, 2011


er
reject people it shouldn't be rejecting
posted by JPD at 6:53 AM on November 21, 2011


Working hard for the sake of working hard, without paying attention to whether or not working hard actually increases the value of your output, is a silly idea. People are still applying 19th century economic theories to the 21st century.

A friend works for a major international company where working seven days a week, every week, always with overtime, is the norm. I asked her why the company would go to such extremes, when it would be cheaper to simply divvy up the work and hire more people. After all, overtime laws basically exist in order to disincentivize getting people to work seven days a week.

She said that the financial department echoed my concerns, but her own department didn't care. They just liked the idea of having people work all the time. They didn't mind the extra expense of overtime (since it's not "their" money) or the constant high turnover (since it just cemented their own view that their company was too hard for mere mortals).

She's looking for a new job. I wonder how many qualified employees they lose every year due to their work practices.

The company's doing well as a whole, but I wonder how much the company confuses the seven-days-a-week work ethic with all the other things that the company is probably doing right.
posted by Sticherbeast at 6:54 AM on November 21, 2011


Nthing that the elite funnel starts long before university.

I went to the private school that is the model for Rushmore. I graduated top 10% of my class and my counsellors really tried to get me to apply to Harvard. I mean, a huge, significant push that I really had to fight back against because I didn't want to leave Texas again (I'd just come back from living abroad and didn't mean to move out of Texas for a long time. I didn't until I was almost 40.) Rice University is a great school, cost a lot less at the time, and let me stay home, but it was very clearly a last-choice/fallback as far as the college counsellors were concerned.

As it turned out, Rice has a great regional network and being plugged in there has done great things for my social and business life over the years, so it was a good choice for me. I made the right decision at 16 in applying early decision to Rice. But this thread and links in the OP really put all the hassle I went through to do it in a new light for me.

(Also this puts the whinging some of my east-coast friends have about getting kids into the right preschool/elementary school into some perspective. Funnelling early to maintain those limited spots in the upper percentage tier is more important in a time of extended economic uncertainty and makes much more sense when you realize how much those decisions mean in the long run.)
posted by immlass at 7:00 AM on November 21, 2011


All I know about law school is that if your degree doesn't say Harvard or Yale, doors close with remarkable swiftness. If I were an aspiring lawyer who wanted a career as a judge, I wouldn't go to any other schools. Isn't that awful?

200burritos, I agree with much of what you've said, but this particular snippet is just not correct. I know lots of judges (my law practice keeps me in courtrooms every day) and I know just two who went to Harvard or Yale. If you aspire to be on the US Supreme Court, then yes, there seems to be a bias in favor of Harvard and Yale. But just a judge? No, you can become a judge just as easily from another school ... In fact, in most states I would say your chances of securing a judgeship would be greater if you attended the flagship state law school.
posted by jayder at 7:08 AM on November 21, 2011


In fact, in most states I would say your chances of securing a judgeship would be greater if you attended the flagship state law school.

Absolutely.

The elite schools--and the "elite economy" are something of a closed loop. If you want to be a partner at a white shoe firm, your path is much, much easier if you come from an elite school. However, as noted above, getting to be a partner at one of those firms is, ironically, almost harder from the inside--associates do a lot of grunt work along the way, don't typically appear in court, don't get a lot of time to develop business, and 90% get pushed out by the time for making partner. Then where to go? Here you are, a 7/8/9/10th year associate, accustomed to making $300K+ per year, with--in some ways--a lesser legal training than those of in your age group that started off smaller.

The elite groups keep the elite positions for the elite--but that's clearly not the best way to go. There is a lot more interesting stuff being done out there, provided that you don't care about having non-white shoes.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 7:16 AM on November 21, 2011


site? cite. I learned that from my "cheap" public school!

I'm so sorry, when I was learning useful society-building skills like engineering from ESL people who weren't being paid what they deserved, I must have missed that one.


I'm sorry your engineering college undereducated you, SomeOneElse. Mine valued communication skills as being inherently society-building.
posted by IAmBroom at 7:48 AM on November 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


The way to "smart" your way in the door is to get a lowly undergrad degree from Podunk U in math or physics and do well enough there to get into one of the HYPS for your PhD. . . No company that hires on prestige can resist a PhD in physics from a top school. They love mentioning their astrophysicist on their careers website.

Speaking as an astrophysicist: the funnel clearly is present at the top schools in physics as well. I was one of the few graduate students (somewhere around 10-20% in total) in my department who went to a state school - I think at least 50% went to either Harvard or Princeton.

It is still possible to work your way up to prominence - but to get a job in astrophysics, it's pretty universally necessary to at least do a postdoc, and preferably also Ph.D., at one of the elite institutions in the field.
posted by janewman at 7:52 AM on November 21, 2011


Thanks for the correction, jayder. I was speaking from personal experience with judges/lawyers from Harvard/Yale, not actual knowledge.

@JDP, the person that comment was responding to provided SAT scores as proof of the higher intelligence of Ivy League graduates. I was attempting to explain that using the SAT scores in that way really isn't fair or accurate. Of course smart people will often score highly on standardized tests, but factors such as economic background, social group, and test prep skew results quite a bit. You can improve your SAT score SO MUCH with work--some students can jump a couple of standard deviations with a bit of studying.
posted by 200burritos at 8:09 AM on November 21, 2011


What about McGill, the "Harvard of Canada"?
Yes, I'm being sarcastic.
posted by Premeditated Symmetry Breaking at 8:11 AM on November 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Speaking as an astrophysicist: the funnel clearly is present at the top schools in physics as well. I was one of the few graduate students (somewhere around 10-20% in total) in my department who went to a state school - I think at least 50% went to either Harvard or Princeton.

That really surprises me. Most of the grad students in my department seem to be from small liberal arts colleges, with 0-2 Ivy alums per year. I think "graduate school" as a destination is just not very common at Ivies.
posted by en forme de poire at 9:09 AM on November 21, 2011


Cool. So now when I'm arguing that burning those schools down would be the single best thing to do about the income gap, I can site this as a reference.

This conclusion is incorrect and if it were a question on the LSAT you would have gotten it wrong. The correct answer is to burn the law firms, including but not limited to their HR depts.
posted by polymodus at 9:43 AM on November 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


I have always found it interesting how obsessed people are with the Ivy League. The reputation of those schools seems to have been built largely on age, tradition, and aesthetics. I have read that as late as the fifties or sixties, those schools accepted most of their applicants. It was about as hard as getting into someplace like Villanova or Syracuse today. So it's interesting to me to ponder why the craze (among students and employers) for these schools now? Maybe there's another explanation, but it appears that their appeal snowballed because of the perception that the "elite" went there, even if the "elite" was just mediocre rich kids like you might find at a not-terribly-impressive private university today. Why did the strivers flock to the schools full of mediocre rich kids?
posted by jayder at 10:01 AM on November 21, 2011


en forme de poire: I think going to graduate school is very, very common amongst students at Ivies who major in physics/astronomy. There are relatively few other career paths one would get such a degree (as opposed to e.g. CS) for. Perhaps some of the difference from your own experience is also due to astronomy's past history as a "gentlemen's" field of endeavor, which probably still has some legacy.

This does vary from place to place (and time to time), still -- for a couple of years the chair of the admissions committee at Berkeley was rather prone to pinch pennies. Our prospective grad student classes in those years were filled with students from California, who could visit cheaply and wouldn't require subsidies to cover out-of-state tuition. The student distribution rapidly reverted to the mean after he handed over the reins, though.
posted by janewman at 11:03 AM on November 21, 2011


Students at better schools get kicked in the teeth from day one and come out stronger for it.

In an undergraduate history program at an Ivy League (IL) school, versus a large, solid state university such as the better Canadian universities (CU):

the reading requirement at IL was about twice as much in pages in some courses (80-200 pages, versus 40-100), but in the heavy reading courses, the students only read 1/2 of the required reading, so it's a bit of a wash.

the amount of writing required over the year was very similar, except that some third year Canadian courses got as high as 20 pages per semester (in one essay, even), and the IL maxed out at 15.

Exams were nearly identical.

I would say that at the CU, you have a lot of students who are not doing all of the reading as well - so they are reading maybe 10-20 of 40-80 assigned pages. And certainly, many are just not at the same level of skill or understanding, and receive lower grades accordingly. But for any student who strives to fulfill the actual course requirements, they are not much lower. The exception is in language requirements for non-language majors (less likely at a CS), and access to research experience (original research will be optional, rather than required).

You can tell that, academically at least, students who do well at other universities have learned as much as those at elite universities, because the academic graduate programs (don't know about professional programs like law) at those same elite universities actively recruit students from non-elite universities. Academic graduate programs only care about academic preparation; extra-curricular skills are irrelevant.

What they will not have learned are the soft-skills that have been mentioned - how to network, how hold their plates at a cocktail party, how to dress.
posted by jb at 11:19 AM on November 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


It is also true that the penalties for late work at an IL are less than at a CU --

of course, the toughest programs when it comes to attendance and late-work are the vocational college programs, where there is no mercy.
posted by jb at 11:20 AM on November 21, 2011



What they will not have learned are the soft-skills that have been mentioned - how to network, how hold their plates at a cocktail party, how to dress.
posted by jb at 2:19 PM on November 21 [+] [!]


Sorry - that sounds more trivial than I meant it to. I would also include that even stellar students from other universities may also not have the same drive or competitiveness, because it's not part of the institutional culture and they won't have had as much challenge from their fellow students.
posted by jb at 11:25 AM on November 21, 2011


Actually, I don't think that students at Virginia Tech are less smart than those at Harvard - but they almost certainly have less social capital, which appears to be what everyone is selecting for.

Or, for another, pithy assessment of this, read Paul Fussell's Class. He notes that if a school is known for its sports prowess first, it's practically a guarantee that their alumni are neither creating nor perpetuating the corridors of authority and influence.
posted by sobell at 12:48 PM on November 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


What they will not have learned are the soft-skills that have been mentioned - how to network, how hold their plates at a cocktail party, how to dress.

These were actually after class extra workshops at the second/third tier B school I finally attended
posted by infini at 12:57 PM on November 21, 2011


He notes that if a school is known for its sports prowess first it's practically a guarantee that their alumni are neither creating nor perpetuating the corridors of authority and influence

Because no one thinks basketball when they think Duke?
posted by JPD at 1:23 PM on November 21, 2011


You know what's funny?

They let people with degrees from crappy universities (aka all the other universities) teach the students at those Ivies of Ivies.


Well that's just not true. I'm not saying it's a Great Thing, but the vast majority of my profs attended Oxford or Cambridge, with a smaller spattering from Princeton, Harvard, Columbia and Yale. There was one from Michigan and one from Berkeley, if I recall.


The whole thing is so incestuous it's ridiculous. You can't 'smart' your way in the door.


Of course you can; I did. Grew up small town in the midwest, knew absolutely no one that had ever gone to anything fancier than the state university, and I worked my ass off because I wanted to go to smancy school on the east coast. Now - I was by far in the minority there, however, and there were lots of legacy people and people with donor or otherwise powerful parents, etc. But, I was not the only one there who smarted their way in the door.


I'm not sure Ivy League degrees open up so many doors anymore. In my experience, they create more resentment than anything else. I guess it depends on the field.


Yes. I pretty much hated my IL school by the time I graduated, was convinced everyone there was an asshole, just went OFF on the kid who came to my dorm senior year asking for donations to the alumni fund, etc. I still generally feel that way. If I ever had children I would urge them to go to *not* one of these places.

Look - these schools are not the issue. The path that leads these grads to all of the Wall Street type jobs was formed long before they got to Harvard. These are not kids, like me, who came from the working poor people in small towns and then got jobs at Goldman. These are kids for whom the Ivy League is just a stop along the way of something that was in place when they were born. I firmly believe, from experience, it is not the IL per se. It happens, sure. But, I don't have a job on Wall Street (not that I'd want one) not because I didn't go to the right school and get good marks, it's because I didn't put on a suit and snort coke off of pool tables with the right folks while I was there. You can have a degree from an IL and a 4.0 GPA, but if you want an internship on Wall Street, someone still has to make a phone call for you. I'm sure there are exceptions, but coming from a philosophy department at one of these places, it's basically the case, ime.

And I was ignorant of that, when I went. I had no experience with Wealth with a capital 'W.' I had no idea that not everyone worked their way into these places to learn. It was a rude awakening, and it made me pretty cynical. But, it isn't right to blame it all on these institutions. That's a scapegoat, that's too easy. It's way bigger than that.
posted by Lutoslawski at 1:29 PM on November 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


Duke was my first thought as well. They are very unusual in that they've pursued a dual track of excellence in athletics and the humanities, while relatively downplaying science and engineering -- supposedly because those fields are expensive to compete in at a world-class level. Here's an interesting article that talks about Duke a bit.
posted by miyabo at 1:30 PM on November 21, 2011


And I was ignorant of that, when I went. I had no experience with Wealth with a capital 'W.' I had no idea that not everyone worked their way into these places to learn. It was a rude awakening, and it made me pretty cynical. But, it isn't right to blame it all on these institutions. That's a scapegoat, that's too easy. It's way bigger than that.

And that's why Paul Fussell's Class is an eye opening must read in a way. In his introduction he bursts the bubble of the fallacy that its all a meritorious society with wide open upward mobility.
posted by infini at 1:34 PM on November 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


But, I don't have a job on Wall Street (not that I'd want one) not because I didn't go to the right school and get good marks, it's because I didn't put on a suit and snort coke off of pool tables with the right folks while I was there.

Totally, those 8-balls in undergrad are totally how I got where I am. No question. Thanks Bolivia!!!
posted by JPD at 1:43 PM on November 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Well that's just not true. I'm not saying it's a Great Thing, but the vast majority of my profs attended Oxford or Cambridge, with a smaller spattering from Princeton, Harvard, Columbia and Yale. There was one from Michigan and one from Berkeley, if I recall.

That may have been where they did their graduate work, but where did they do their undergraduate? The grad students at famous universities come from everywhere, from all sorts of undergraduate places. Oxbridge has a bias towards accepting their own, but the Ivies pull from all over.
posted by jb at 8:28 PM on November 21, 2011


(also, I was thinking of the grad students who do so much of the small group teaching and just about all of the marking).
posted by jb at 8:31 PM on November 21, 2011


We're in agreement, Lutoslawski - I wasn't talking about schools, I was talking about Wall Street.
posted by Space Kitty at 8:38 PM on November 21, 2011


To JPD'S earlier point, I should specify the wealth management side of the business.
posted by Space Kitty at 8:40 PM on November 21, 2011


Totally, those 8-balls in undergrad are totally how I got where I am.

I so totally picked the wrong school and department...
posted by lesbiassparrow at 8:47 PM on November 21, 2011


We're in agreement, Lutoslawski - I wasn't talking about schools, I was talking about Wall Street.

Sheesh you're right. I totally pulled that out of its context now that I look back. Shame on me.

That may have been where they did their graduate work, but where did they do their undergraduate? The grad students at famous universities come from everywhere, from all sorts of undergraduate places. Oxbridge has a bias towards accepting their own, but the Ivies pull from all over.


I think you're probably right about that. There did seem to be quite a few who did all of their degrees from pretty top tier places, and it seemed also that many did all of their undergrad and grad work at the same place, especially if they started at some place like Oxbridge or Yale or whatever, but I did also know a good number of folks who went to say state university and then on to some smancy place for their grad work, the trend seeming to be that to get a teaching gig at one of the ivies you had to have done your doctorate work at one (and I'm sure there are exceptions to that as well, but as a sort of general rule).

Part of the starting at state university and then going to grad school at a smancy place - especially in the humanities - I honestly think has to do with student loans, at least these days. PhDs at many of the ivies are funded, and the grads from state schools don't have near the loans from undergrad and so they don't have the same incentive to go for high paying finance type jobs and can do things like pursue a funded PhD (and the truth I think we all know is that an undergrad degree is what you put into it, as far as going into academia goes, i.e. doing a philosophy degree at Iowa can compete as far as PhD programs go on basically the same level as a BA in philosophy form Ivy University. At least that's sort of my takeaway from life). I had buddies in college who never wanted to go into finance, but did after undergrad in order to pay off their loans more quickly - and at least two of them have quit that shit after making enough to get out of debt, save a little money, and are now in med school (which I'm sure means some more loans, but more aligned to what they want to do life-wise).

I dunno, I've thought many times of going back to school for a PhD in esoteric this or that, and if I ever do, it will be at Minnesota or Michigan or Texas, for lots of reasons.
posted by Lutoslawski at 9:26 PM on November 21, 2011


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