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Study after study has shown that graduates of elite colleges tend to earn more later in life. Does that mean their sticker price of up to $60,000 per year is worth it?

Economists have researched this question for decades, and the answer is surprisingly complicated. In general, the better the college, the more money graduates make later in life. But because elite colleges are filled with academically talented students who disproportionately come from wealthy families, it's hard to disentangle cause from effect.

the better the college, the more money graduates make

Do elite colleges really change the trajectory of students' lives and earnings? Or are they just better at picking out students who were going to succeed in the first place?

The research shows that the answer to these questions depends heavily on who you are.

The scenario: You're choosing between paying full price at a prestigious college and a full-ride scholarship at a less prestigious college

Is it better to take the free education, or to pay much, much more for a more prestigious name?

Carolyn Hoxby, a labor economist at Stanford University, Shar 85 black suede sandals Jimmy Choo London GwJLZGJ2V9
for colleges with varying levels of admissions selectivity and estimated the return on investment for jumping up two selectivity levels — say from St. Lawrence University to Tufts University.Hoxby's data only include men, using lifetime earnings data for students who started college in 1982 to predict outcomes for students who entered college in 1997. In general, after taking students' college aptitude into account, she found that a more prestigious college still led to higher lifetime earnings.

Hoxby's findings made a free ride look like less of a good deal in some, but not all, cases. A student who turns down a free ride at a private college considered "very competitive plus" (St. Lawrence, for example) and paid the full price at a "highly competitive plus" college instead (Tufts) would break even after 15 years and earn more for the rest of his life.

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24. Wear a Red Cross on your chest, a leather jacket and sunglasses. You’re the cool aid man .

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25. Dress as a kid and cover yourself in flour. Sing peace songs all night—you’re a flour child .

flour child
Sarah Turbin

26. Lazy? Just put on bear ears. Say you’re doing the bear minimum .

bear minimum

Sam Corbin is a writer and performer based in Brooklyn. Her puns have been featured in The New Yorker, InStyle Magazine, Bust Magazine, Gothamist, and Huffington Post. Sam is also a multi-time champion of the Punderdome, a monthly pun tournament in Brooklyn, New York. She currently works at BuzzFeed. Twitter: @ahoysamantha.

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