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Does it matter where you go to college?
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Students who graduate from elite school get higher-paying jobs out of school, but that's not all there is to it. - photo by Lane Anderson
This month, high school kids across America will throw their caps in the air with an eye toward college in the fall. Many will head to community colleges and state schools around the country, and a select few will head to the country's elite campuses. But does it really matter where you go to college?

It would appear that the short answer is yes. Graduates from elite schools make more money an Atlantic report on the schools with the highest-earning graduates indicated that the top 10 were all selective colleges, including MIT, CalTech, Harvey Mudd, Stanford, Princeton, Harvard and some other Ivy League schools.

Grads from top schools are also employed at higher rates than those from community colleges, and at much higher rates than online universities.

In one study from the National Bureau of Economic Research, fake resumes were sent to employers on a large online job board, some of which boasted a bachelor's degree from an online institution and some from a non-profit public school. Those with an online degree were 22 percent less likely to get a callback for business jobs, and for health fields, online grads were 57 percent were less likely to get a call.

One-third of Fortune 500 CEOs went to elite schools, which may sound hopeful on first blush. Afterall, that means that 70 percent didn't. But Derek Thompson points out that "if a tiny share of college attendees account for a third of business leaders, that means graduates of elite schools are at least 10 times more likely than their peers to be Fortune 500 CEOs." So that Stanford or Harvard degree is still a big leg up.

"A world where '44.8 percent of billionaires, 55.9 percent of (Forbes's most) powerful women, and 85.2 percent of (Forbes's most) powerful men,' attended elite schools is not a place where college doesn't matter," says Thompson.

But there is a silver lining here. There is research to show that generally successful youngsters those with excellent study habits, grades and critical thinking skills succeed whether they go to super-elite schools like Princeton or less-elite state schools. In a 2002 study, economists found that students with "seemingly comparable ability" who attended selective schools and less selective schools earned about the same down the road.

Better yet, research shows that no matter where you go, college is still a long-term predictor of success. According to Pew Research, college grads age 25 to 32 who are working full time earn about $17,000 more annually than their peers who have high school diplomas.

On the whole, young people ages 25 to 32 with only high school degrees were more likely to live in poverty, be unemployed or be dissatisfied with their jobs, according to the Pew report. In contrast, nine in 10 college graduates ages 25 to 32 said that their bachelor's degree had paid off or will pay off in the future, even those who borrowed money to go to school.

"In today's knowledge-based economy, the only thing more expensive than getting a college education is not getting one," said Paul Taylor, Pew's executive vice president and report co-author.