Harvard, Yale, Princeton? You're in.

MIT or Dartmouth? Well, maybe not.  

That's the rather shocking recruiting culture among top employers, especially the pedigreed law firms, investment banks and consultancies, according to research by Lauren Rivera, assistant professor of Management & Organizations from the Kellogg School of Management (Northwestern University), findings of which have been summarized in a January article in The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Professor Rivera's study examines how educational credentials impact the real-life hiring decisions of elite employers and finds that while details of your academic qualification may constitute one of the most common information solicited for screening resumes, the final decision is more likely to be a function of where you have studied rather than what you have studied. In the abstract to her paper, Professor Rivera writes: Employers privileged candidates who possessed a super-elite (e.g., top 5) university affiliation and attributed superior cognitive, cultural, and moral qualities to candidates who had been admitted to such an institution, regardless of their actual performance once there.

What may be even more alarming for many students is the finding highlighted in The Chronicle article, which says that many universities that are considered to be among the elite - such as MIT, Brown or Cornell - may actually fail to cut ice with the most sought-after recruiters. A top consultant was revealed to have admitted that an MIT engineer may not even have a fleeting chance at a career fair or employer event unless he comes with a Harvard Business School stamp. Of course, what comprises the so-called super-elite league also depends upon the industry that one wishes to work in.

A second finding suggests that while attendance at a top university gets a candidate an inroad into the selection process, it may not be sufficient to influence the final decision unless he passes the second round of screening based on extracurricular accomplishments and leisure pursuits. What is heartening about it is that it redeems to some extent the cut-throat and rather one-dimensional image of the hiring process; however, what is not as heartening is the finding that not only do these employers look at what you have done besides poring over your books, but also the status and intensity of your accomplishments in these areas.

Just as a non-Harvard MBA may not be good enough, a hiker who has not scaled one of the known peaks, or a social worker who has not rebuilt a community in post-earthquake Haiti, might not be regarded as someone having an impressive extra-curricular record.

One reason that these employers may be setting such ridiculously stiff standards is also perhaps the craze among graduates to build a career with them. As David Limm, education writer at Vault writes, It's wrong and infuriating, but is it really all that surprising? You have to remember, this study (Rivera's) only speaks to a few of the top firms in the most competitive industries. It's not saying this happens at all companies. And these firms are the most likely to be the ones inundated with resumes and mobbed at career fairs. However, even so, the prioritization of brand repute over substance - especially in education - is something that might warrant a call for change and re-examination.