A while back I wrote this as part of a response saying that the only way to get into a top consultancy was to got to Harvard, Yale, Princeton or Stanford. Having joined a top consulting firm from Princeton and Harvard, I thought some of their observations to be BS, but there is a certain core of truth. As I wrote then:
There is some rationality in this approach – it is not all mindless snobbism. Take Princeton. It screens something like 25,000 already exceptional applicants down to just 1500, and then further carefully monitors their performance through intensive contact over a four year period. This is WAY more work and resources than a private firm could ever apply to the hiring process. In effect, by limiting their hiring to just a few top schools, they are outsourcing a lot of their performance evaluation work to those schools.
Matthew Shaffer, via Glen Reynolds, write something similar about all college degrees:
Those of us who question the price and value of higher education don’t disagree that people with B.A.s do much better in life, especially in employment. We disagree about the source of that advantage: The B.A. may mostlycorrelate with and signal for, rather than impart important qualities. (Really we all agree it’s some mix of the three factors — our differences are of emphasis.)...
We skeptics think this: Since employers can no longer measure job applicants’ IQs nor put them through long apprenticeships, graduating college is the way job-searchers signal an intelligence and diligence that college itself may have contributed little toward. Employers are (to use a little economic jargon) partially outsourcing their employee search to colleges. This is a good deal for employers, because college costs them nothing, and the social pressure to get a BA means they won’t miss too many good prospective recruits by limiting their search to college grads.
I think this has a lot of truth to it, but it can't entirely be true -- if it were, your degree would not matter but we know engineering and economics majors get hired more than poetry majors. Though one could still stick with the strong skeptical position by arguing that degree choice is again merely a signal as to interests and outlook and a potentially even a proxy for other characteristics (to the latter point, what is your mental picture of an engineering major? a women's studies major? a politics major? an econ major?)