How Elite Universities Leave Their Students Unprepared For the Real World


Elite universities boast low acceptance rates and high salaries for recent graduates. According to some studies, graduates of Ivy League universities can expect higher salaries than their peers – sometimes even up to 32% higher. While many graduates of elite universities are able to engage in discussions, write academic papers, and solve math problems, they are often left unprepared for the demands of the “real world.” This may actually put recent graduates of these schools at a disadvantage in comparison to their peers.

In order to prepare their graduates for the real world, Ivy League schools and other top-tier universities/liberal arts colleges need to give their students — especially seniors — more guidance in these areas. Students at these schools often discuss being held in a “bubble” of quality higher education, but what happens when that bubble pops?

Students at elite universities often graduate with job prospects and a degree, but no idea how to manage their money. A recent study noted that 79% of millennials felt personal finance should be taught in high schools, and 73% felt it should be taught in colleges. Some may argue that it is not a college’s place to teach their students about personal finance. However, universities, especially those with high post-graduate hiring rates , would be making an investment in their own futures if they taught their graduates how to manage a 401(K), make investments, and generally manage their money. My alma mater, Princeton University, offers “mini-courses” for seniors on a variety of topics every year. One of the courses was offered by LearnVest, a financial planning service, and discussed personal finance. This course was one of the most informative lectures that I have ever encountered throughout my undergraduate career. If schools like Princeton want their graduates to succeed (and give back!) they should consider offering a program like this that starts earlier on in a student’s career.

A second way in which elite universities may put their graduates at a disadvantage is through their lack of vocational majors. Top-tier universities in the United States often boast about combining a “liberal arts” education with a research focus. While a liberal arts education is valuable and useful to many, the lack of vocational majors at elite universities may mean that college graduates lose out on specific jobs to their peers. For instance, the University of Michigan has the Ross School of Business, which contains a number of different majors within different fields of business. Harvard, in contrast, only has an economics major. Harvard is ranked higher than Michigan on most top college lists. However, some have suggested if an employer wants a student who already has specific training skills in place, they may want to go with the Michigan student. The focus on the liberal arts means that students gain a breadth of knowledge in many different subjects, but this may be losing out to the practicality of vocational majors.

In today’s economy, it may be more practical for elite universities to switch their focus from a broad-based curriculum to one that better prepares their students for the working world. No matter how many papers you can write, one still needs to know how to file taxes and invest in a retirement fund. Elite universities that want to continue staying on top should consider educating their students about personal finance and creating classes tailored specifically for professions.