US Supreme Court Justices are from Harvard or Yale

Source: Bloomberg View, Feb 2016

… a Supreme Court composed entirely of people who had studied at Harvard and Yale law schools.

Northwestern University professor Lauren Rivera caused a stir a few years ago with her research finding that elite investment banks, law firms and consulting firms seriously considered candidates from only a handful of top schools. Andmultiple studies have documented that to get an academic job at a prestigious university you have to have an academic degree from a similarly prestigious university.

Google, which used to pore over the test scores and college transcripts of job candidates, did an analysis in 2010 that “revealed that academic performance didn’t predict job performance beyond the first two or three years after college,” the company’s head of People Operations, Laszlo Bock, wrote in his book “Work Rules!”

Part of the problem with relying on university admissions officers to select our meritocracy is that the admissions process, especially at the undergraduate level, isn’t all that meritocratic. Having very wealthy parents or parents who graduated from the school gives you a leg up in admissions at the most prestigious universities. Also, the whole process is inevitably tilted in favor of kids with affluent, educated parents.

Even an unbiased meritocratic selection system, though, selects for skills and behaviors that won’t necessarily turn out to be the most valuable ones later on. It beggars belief that a college or graduate-school admissions officer really can — based on grades, test scores, extracurriculars and an essay or two — reliably select the young people with the potential to accomplish the greatest things. People have different talents, and reveal them at different ages.

This seems like a good spot to mention that I went to Princeton and so did my dad, grandfather and two of my uncles. Also, this column’s editor went to Yale, as did her mom, brother, sister and uncle.

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