What the new Ivy+ admissions paper really shows
What we really need to do is just put a social stigma on hiring Harvard or Ivy League graduates.
I also think that Matt might focus a little too much on income, I suspect being a graduating or attending an Ivy League also increases the odds of getting an influential job.
For instance, I have a brother-in-law that runs a construction company that clears over seven figures, but he is not nearly as influential as say Matt is.
Matt has hired two awesome interns, but for whatever reason both of them have come from well to do families and attended Ivy League schools. I have to imagine that writing for Slow boring will give them a boost up if they decide to go into politics or public policy or writing. However, I also have to wonder if there are not more talented riders out there that didn’t attend Ivy League schools, that just didn’t have the connections to get the job.
No, I am not coming at Maya or Milan, they are hard driven talented young adults. Just pointing out how the world works.
Hierarchy is sustained by three powerful forms of inheritance-- genetic, cultural and financial. The combined force of inheritance+ is so powerful that policy tweaks will do little to curb it. Even communist regimes have disproportionate numbers of brahmins in charge-- Lenin was the son of an aristocrat, Ho the son of a senior civil servant, Che of a doctor and Castro of a haciendado. Even Mao was the son is a self made kulak. The only way to seriously curb privilege would be to stunt or ostracize those from good families, and, even if politically possible, it would give us a far less capable professional class.
The focus should be on providing good lives for people in the bottom half of the status distribution, not on obsessing about who gets into the 1% versus merely the 3%.
Man, I’m glad I never cared about any of this stuff. Even talking about it on SB seems exhausting. I realize it’s very important to some people who desperately want to climb the elite status ladder but I’d rather be that dealership owner in Idaho than a politician or newsmaker. Being wealthy without being famous is the best thing in life.
Brilliant piece!! Add to it that, that only roughly 1/3 of Americans actually have a college degree and so we spend all of our energy on a very small portion of a minority of the population rather than focusing on the 70%. We need to focus on alternative pathways to the workforce that provide social mobility to a far larger portion of the population.
The “elite/prestigious firm” thing seems to be a bit of circular reasoning.
It's worth pointing out that the US has a very distinctive culture of testing for college admissions compared to most other countries that have competitive college admissions.
The US uses standardised tests (SAT or ACT), which test - at least in theory - analytical skills rather than subject knowledge.
Almost every other comparable country uses subject-based tests where the students are tested on the specific knowledge they have acquired in high school. That's the basis of the English A Level, the Scottish Higher, the French baccalaureate, the German Abitur, the Chinese Gaokao, board exams in India, or the Center Test in Japan.
The way that this works - broadly - is that there is a national curriculum for each subject (say: mathematics) and students at high school study that subject. Then, instead of getting a class grade, they sit a standard national test in that subject and they get a grade on the test.
The details vary a lot from country to country: in some countries each subject test is independent of the others, and you can take as many or as few as you like, in whatever subjects you like; in others, there's a completely fixed list of subjects that everyone has to take. In most, there are certain required subjects (typically the national language and math) and then a required number of other subjects.
Having nationally-set subject exams (and the details of the curriculums are often heavily influenced by universities) means that university departments can assume a particular set of knowledge for students entering them, rather than having to create a 101 class to get everyone to the same point. So a class can have a requirement of having achieved a certain grade in a particular subject test at high school instead of having the requirement being to pass the 101 class for the department.
I think that Chetty’s intuition that the main advantage from attending an Ivy comes from the right tail of the distribution is roughly correct.
The median Ivy grad and the typical state flagship grad with comparable high school grades and test scores will have pretty similar life outcomes (a comfortable but not exceptional professional or managerial role if they go that route; a more financially precarious and probably somewhat disappointing life if they go into public service, academia, journalism, or the arts.)
However, Ivy+ grads have much better access to a pool of superjobs which turbocharge your lifetime income or influence potential. On the “getting rich” side, these are positions at a small handful of firms with really high revenue per employee and strong ties with other parts of the commanding heights of the economy. Most Ivy+ grads won’t get jobs at Citadel or Jane Street, but attending an Ivy+ dramatically increases the likelihood you’ll score one— and if you do, you’ll be on a glide path to affluence before 30, with a “call option” to make a lot more if you perform particularly well or leverage your connections to raise capital and a customer base for a startup. Roles at M&A/securities litigation titans like Skadden Arps or Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen, and Katz play a similar role for top law school grads.
In the cultural sphere, hiring for TV writers’ rooms and at the most prestigious legacy media publications plays a similar role.
Matt, if you really believe what you write, your next intern will come from a school like Florida, Syracuse, or UC Irvine.
Where I live in northwest Wisconsin, the housing shortage is accompanied by a severe construction labor shortage. Reputable builders are on a two year waitlist and they won’t return your calls for a project less than $20,000. Otherwise, you do it yourself or take your chances with a couple of derelicts working for cash.
Society is turning our way more college graduates than what there are suitable jobs for them that utilize their degrees. We should be turning out electricians, plumbers, framers and carpenters.
"71.4% of recent Supreme Court justices"
I'm not sure how "recent" is being defined here, and I couldn't get the precise percentage of 71.4% to work out. 72.4% would be all SCOTUS justices appointed by Eisenhower or later.
But among the past 19 Justices, all but two of them (John Paul Stevens at Northwestern and Amy Coney Barrett at Notre Dame) attended Harvard, Yale, or Stanford at some point. That's almost 90%! And if you take out Rehnquist and O'Connor from Stanford, that's 15 out of 19, or 79%, at just those two schools. That's really deplorable.
I fit the bill of a good test scores (2250, just about the equivalent of 1500 or so back during the brief period when the SAT was out of 2400) who got into decent enough schools (rejected from Yale, but in at Penn, Johns Hopkins, BU, UConn) and chose UConn because I was able to go for free.
9 years post graduation I am now about 96th income percentile for my age. Not top 1% certainly, and wow does that curve shoot up the next few percentiles, but yeah, I am doing well in the United States of America.
I grew up in Meriden CT which was an interesting place because it has a super poor urban core but a white, upper middle class suburban ring. The best thing I saw for economic mobility was the hard work of identifying talented kids in lower income brackets and getting them into higher level classes, providing them the test prep needed to get the scores, and good guidance counseling to help them navigate the college admissions process. It's just...slow boring of hard boards. No shortcuts.
On “the network” you mentioned, where it’s the most disadvantaged backgrounds that benefit from going to Ivy+. It seems likely that’s it’s not network effects, like, I have a friend who gets me in the door at Fancy Bank. Rather, I think it’s “people like me apply to Fancy Bank” or even simply “Fancy Bank is a job you can have.” This seems consistent with my understanding of other Chetty work on role models, plus just personal experience.
I’ve said it a million times, I’ll say it again:
Education reform suffered a “strange death” because most of the factors that undermine education outcomes - parents, funding, local opportunities, etc. - are downstream of exclusionary zoning AKA de facto segregation.
Broad upzoning and reform of development policies would be a massive pro-equality/equity move that would remove the most pernicious confounding factors from the education issue and allow us to pursue a reform agenda with far greater epistemic clarity.
A major reason why admissions policy at Harvard gains attention is the juxtaposition between the institution’s hyper exclusionary (somewhat meritocratic) nature and the whole faux egalitarian messaging about social justice.
It’s a whole the “emperor has no clothes” situation with one of the most culturally influential institutions in the nation.
I am 37 years old, attended a state flagship, and have worked in higher education my entire adult life. I was 30 when my salary finally hit the $30k level. There are people in these comments whining that $300k is suggestive of being disadvantaged?
As Logan Roy would say, you are not serious people.
Just a completely personal note first. The household income I grew up with is basically the at the right edge of the bottom of the dip (not entirely sure what parents made but it’s a decent estimate from what I know). Combine that with my last name being Chaudhuri and my initial thought was “wow I really got f**cked when it came to applying to colleges”. I’ve noted before that I always suspected that I “lost”* my spot at an elite school to Kushner McFailson not to a lower income applicant. If someone with an extremely similar academic background to me gets in over me I have way way less of a problem with it being someone with a more modest upbringing.
But this is something I’ve not seen noted and I’m wondering if anyone on here knows. Did the paper in question account for the fact that people from East Asian and south Asian backgrounds have higher median household incomes than population at large. In other words is that dip better explained by the bias against people from East Asian and South Asian applicants? Or did the study control for this.
Anyway, real thing I wanted to say is that Matt certainly wasn’t the first person to note that the real answer is to a) expand admissions at elite schools b) put more $$$ including private donations to less elite public schools. But he was still one of the earliest prominent pundits I saw beating this drum 10-20 years ago and I feel like just like with zoning Matt deserves credit for being ahead of the game on this.
*I’ll say again too. My admission at any college is not “deserved” or “owed” to me in any way.