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Articles / Majors & Careers / The Horse Race From College to Work

The Horse Race From College to Work

Dave Berry
Written by Dave Berry | June 7, 2018
The Horse Race From College to Work

The sports pages are alive with yet another possible Triple Crown winner. That magnificent colt, Justify, has won the first two of the Crown's three legs, claiming victory in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness races. One more awaits: The Belmont Stakes.

Why am I writing about horse racing on a website devoted to college-related topics? Good question. The answer lies somewhere within the world of betting odds. When high schoolers make their college enrollment decisions -- that is, where they will go to college and why they want to go there -- they are really wagering on their future.

There's an old saying: Things are not always as they seem. From my experience, this is definitely true. As I was reading through all the hype and excitement about the odds of Justify becoming the next Triple Crown winner, I also received a very interesting survey from my friends at Zippia.com: The Best College in Each State for Getting A Job in 2018.

What Do the Results Say About Ivies?

This analysis falls nicely into the “place your bets" and “things aren't always as they seem" categories. A comment at the end of this survey makes my point. Someone who had just finished a review of the article's statistics notes, “I'd be very curious to learn why many Ivy League schools didn't make this list. It seems like most graduates from schools like Yale and Harvard have no problem landing a job and keeping one but the numbers clearly don't support that notion. …"

Reality, then, appears to rebuke common perception. In other words, what we may take for granted as being true -- in this case, regarding the relationship between the college from which you graduate and your prospects for landing a job -- isn't actually what you think it is. If you placed your “bet" (the total of your college costs) on what you may have heard about a school, then you may be disappointed with how things turn out.

Obviously, as with most everything these days, there are no ironclad guarantees. The examples I'll be citing below may not bring you the statistical success displayed in the survey. But getting back to betting and horse racing, your odds for job acquisition success just might be better at the schools listed in the article than they might be at seemingly more “prestigious" institutions. That's the “horse race" connection: Which school will allow you to finish higher up in the race for employment?

In understanding what has to happen for a college graduate to score a job (let alone a “dream" hire), keep in mind that there are perhaps way too many variables to proclaim absolutes and certainties. But the numbers speak for themselves. Thus, let's take a look.

Zippia's McLeod Brown Sets the Stage

Brown writes the following in the Zippia analysis:

As the unemployment rate continues to shrink to figures not seen for nearly half a century, it's becoming more and more important for college graduates to prepare for a competitive workforce. This means picking the right major, having great internship and work experiences, but most of all, choosing the right college to attend in the first place. ...

… Given that a new crop of recent grads just entered the workforce (welcome to the thunderdome, class of 2018), we figured we'd redo our analysis for the newest bunch, and see what schools set their students up for the best success after graduation.

For a comparison, if you're curious about last year's survey, you can find it here.

You may be wondering how these results were generated. Brown explains:

Using the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), we searched for the college in each state with the highest listed job placement ratings, looking specifically at employment levels at year 10 after students have graduated.

Then, we looked at the ratings themselves and ranked each state's top school according to their rating. For the purposes of readability, each school's rating was then rounded down to the last three decimal places, and we included the city each state's top college was located in.

I think this is an important analytical protocol. Numbers are dispassionate and don't respond to perceptions. Objectivity trumps subjectivity. Accordingly, then, be prepared for some surprises when you see these results.

As a snapshot preview, here are the top 10 schools:

  1. Pennsylvania – Lebanon Valley College
  2. Rhode Island – Salve Regina University
  3. Ohio – Ohio Northern University
  4. Oregon – Oregon Health & Science University
  5. New York – Hobart William Smith Colleges
  6. South Dakota – University of Sioux Falls
  7. Wisconsin – University of Wisconsin – Platteville
  8. Massachusetts – Endicott College
  9. Nebraska – Nebraska Wesleyan University
  10. Connecticut – Quinnipiac University

Speaking of betting, I'm willing to bet that you would not have named any of these schools had you been asked to give your recommendation for a college that could provide the best chance of obtaining employment after graduation.

Here are the stats for five of those Top 10:


- College: Lebanon Valley College

- City: Annville

- Placement Rate: 96.185 percent

- LVC tops the rankings as the best college in the United States for finding a job. With 40+ majors and just a 10:1 student-to-faculty ratio, career guidance is a big deal at LVC, and it shows with their ranking.


- College: Ohio Northern University

- City: Ada

- Placement Rate: 95.527 percent

- ONU consistently beats the placement rate national average for its graduates

New York

- College: Hobart William Smith Colleges

- City: Geneva

- Placement Rate: 95.447 percent

- Another college with a picturesque campus, Hobart and William Smith Colleges is one of the top liberal arts in the country. Many of their students take advantage of their reputed study abroad programs, as well.

South Dakota

- College: University of Sioux Falls

- City: Sioux Falls

- Placement Rate: 95.428 percent

- The private liberal arts university only has about 1,500 students, but gets the vast majority of those students jobs after graduation.


- College: Quinnipiac University

- City: Hamden

- Placement Rate: 95.172 percent

- If you start at Quinnipiac, you aren't likely to leave – the university boasts a retention rate of 90% from first to second-year students. The school is also among the best colleges for veterans.

That top 10 listing and these five highlights should make you curious for the entire list. Or, for a nice graphical look, check out the image of the map at the top of this page so you can see which college ranked highest in each state.

Two more doses of reality:

First, check the Bureau of Labor Statistics' Occupational Outlook Handbook: The Fastest Growing Occupations.

Why do I characterize these data as "reality?" Well, for starters, one of the occupations listed among this elite list is “bicycle repairer." I kid you not. I'm proud to say that I attended and graduated with honors from Schwinn's “A"-level mechanic's school back in the mid-seventies and managed a Schwinn bicycle dealership for six years. In fact, just last fall, I amazed my 12-year-old grandson by adjusting the gears on his 15-speed mountain bike in a flash. Seeing this job category among the “fastest-growing" group makes me feel secure because I now know that I have promising fallback work in case my writing career goes south!

Second, enjoy some very positive reality when you read about the US Economic Outlook for 2018 and Beyond. Summarizing this detailed review of what you can expect this year and going forward, the subtitle says it all: Experts Forecast Steady Growth.

Bottom line: By now, you should know (1) the job horizon looks strong, and (2) which colleges may give you the best shot at taking advantage of that horizon. Wrapping things up, then, let me make a bad pun that harkens back to my opening paragraph: In light of Zippia's analysis and the current economic conditions, it would appear that the means of certain college degrees more than Justify the ends.

Maybe I'll need my bicycle repair skills after all.

Written by

Dave Berry

Dave Berry

Dave is co-founder of College Confidential and College Karma Consulting, co-author of America's Elite Colleges: The Smart Buyer's Guide to the Ivy League and Other Top Schools, and has over 30 years of experience helping high schoolers gain admission to Ivy League and other ultra-selective schools. He is an expert in the areas application strategies, stats evaluation, college matching, student profile marketing, essays, personality and temperament assessments and web-based admissions counseling. Dave is a graduate of The Pennsylvania State University and has won national awards for his writing on higher education issues, marketing campaigns and communications programs. He brings this expertise to the discipline of college admissions and his role as a student advocate. His College Quest newspaper page won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award, the Pennsylvania Newspaper Publisher's Association Newspapers in Education Award, the Thomson Newspapers President's Award for Marketing Excellence and the Inland Press Association-University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Mass Communications Inland Innovation Award for the Best New Page. His pioneering journalism program for teenagers, PRO-TEENS, also received national media attention. In addition, Dave won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award for Celebrate Diversity!, a program teaching junior high school students about issues of tolerance. His College Knowledge question-and-answer columns have been published in newspapers throughout the United States. Dave loves Corvettes, classical music, computers, and miniature dachshunds. He and his wife Sharon have a daughter, son and four grandchildren.

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