Harvard, Prison, or McDonald’s: Which is Harder to Get Into?

I came across (saw something I wasn’t looking for at the time) a couple of statistics recently, although I’m not sure exactly what they mean. The first comes from an article in the Wall Street Journal about the California Prison Academy, which is the place where people who want to become prison guards go to get training (education).  Prison guards are like the police at a jail or prison – they make sure the prisoners (criminals) don’t escape (leave without permission). California has one of the largest prison systems in the world, and the prison guard union (group of workers who join together to protect their jobs and salaries) is very powerful in California politics.  Because of that power, prison guards get paid a lot of money – between $45,000 and $65,000 for their first year – relative to (compared to; considering) their level of education (you only need to be a high school graduate to be a prison guard).

Over (more than) 120,000 people apply (asked to be admitted) to the California Prison Academy each year, but the Academy enrolls (takes as students) only 900 people.  That means that only about 1% of the people who apply get in (get accepted; are able to study there).  Compare this to America’s best university, Harvard.  Harvard accepts 6.2% of the people who apply to be students there.  In other words, it is tougher (more difficult) to get into the program for prison guard training in California than the country’s best university!

Here’s one more for you: McDonald’s, the restaurant chain (group of stores or restaurants that all belong to the same company), recently hired 62,000 new workers in the U.S. after about one million people applied.  So doing the math (calculating), we find that the job acceptance rate (percentage of people who are accepted) at McDonald’s this year was 6.2% – precisely (exactly) the same as Harvard University.  (And remember: when you go to Harvard, you don’t get free hamburgers and French fries.) It’s even worse in other countries: Bloomberg News reported that getting into the McDonald’s training program in China was actually harder (more difficult) than getting into Harvard.

What does it all mean?  I’m not sure.  I didn’t go to Harvard, have never been a prison guard, and haven’t worked at McDonald’s, but I’m pretty sure there is something wrong with this picture (some problem with this situation).


Image Credit: McDonald’s logo, Wikipedia


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39 Responses to Harvard, Prison, or McDonald’s: Which is Harder to Get Into?

  1. Peter says:

    I do agree with you on that Jeff

    It is not acceptable
    The jobs you are referring are just lowly jobs with a minimum wage per hour
    A tentative position for mostly student or people who are preparing for sth big in the future
    Of all the people who get into Mac Donalked all of them look at the job as a tentative job
    It is not like they wanna build a career out of that
    If you are not accepted to work
    There,no big deal there are lots of this blue collar jobs with the same pay rate
    So,why do they make it so damn difficult
    Even that warden things a nerve recking job. Not that ecerybody is capable if doing it
    I personally never go guard a criminal. Because the minute I go there I wet my pants
    It is absurd

  2. Peter says:

    I won’t do the prison Guard job
    It is dangerous ,never recking job
    The job will psyche u out

  3. Hilario says:

    APPLES AND PEARS: It doesn´t seem these three aspirations as to be enough homogeneous things to compare as alternatives, all together. The aspiration to be hired as prison guard or McDonald´s counter clerk is quite heterogenous in comparison with to be accepted as student in Harward university. The educational backgrounds and social extraction haven´t got a lot to do. In terms of job performance and retributions the differences are also deluges. As prison guard apart of the good salary, you´re guaranteed for life boring, back and forth through prison´s corridors, and in the case of dispatching burgers at the counter, you´re having much more of the same, repeating once and again the same phrases, and much less salary. On the other hand, if you get entering Harward, what you´re almost guaranteed is to be successful in life, with an influential network social relationships and very good job prospectives.

  4. Peter says:

    You know what,
    I have an axe to grind,a bone to pick if you will.
    You know what the real problem is:
    You give it your all ,still people don’t appritiate you
    They take it for granted
    And act like it is your everyday duty to attend to them
    Some times it is too much
    All giving ,all loving ,all caring; yet Your life smacks of betrayal ,and treachery

  5. Peter says:

    Dear hilario
    Now that I come to think of it
    It so true
    They are totally different things
    Not even remotely related
    Nicely put Halrio
    Good thinking on your part
    Totally heterogenous
    But they are not kind of jobs you goiv 100 percent
    You can’t live off those Jobs
    Financialy they are not adequet

  6. Peter says:

    Both jobs are mind numbing ,life sucking jobs

    No specific expertise rewuired to reneged the service
    But warders don’t make good money at all

  7. Peter says:

    Not necessarily,eneteting to Harward does not guranty a fullfilling ,rewarding life
    I live in Toronto,I am a UFT (university of Toronto) graduate
    UFT is big here
    Very reputable ,prestigious university
    A world class university
    I spent 4 years of my life that I never get back studying hard to keep my grades up hoping to get a well-paid ,prestigious jobs right after.
    But ,what I ended up is a crappy life with a big student loan to pay.
    And it is life-afirming or promising by any means.
    All I am saying here ,what you have your eyes at is not always what you get.

  8. emiliano says:

    Sorry Jeff, but I think you are really a very bad boy asking us such an odd question.

    Like you I don´t know what is happening now all over the world.
    It seems that culture and educations means so little against the fact of having a job in
    such a bad economic situation for millions of people.
    Sometimes being under the skin of these people it would be more easy
    of understanding what is the real situation that these statistics show.
    Even so I think that it has nothing to do having a boring work, well paid, doing all the time the same
    unthinkable work and treating with prisoners in jail or serving all the time food or drinks with
    the fact of entering such an expensive exclusive university as Harvard.
    What all of these means? I don´t really know.

    By the way I think that the salary of the prison guards in California are
    incredible high, despite so unpleasant kind of work.
    Now I have a doubt to ask for
    Who pays them?
    The California government with your taxes or is there another way of financing
    the salaries and the costs of these public employers and penal institutions?

    If it is the California government it is not so estrange that the State has been broken
    for the last months despite being one of the most richest of the Union.

    Thank you Jeff, as usual you like to reactive our neurons.


  9. wislei says:

    Sometimes the language can be trick! When I read the title I thought Jeff was saying get into Harvard could be as hard as get into McDonald’s to lunch

  10. Mamari says:

    Thanks Jeff for this interesting topic.

    First, I think it’s not quite surprising with these figures.

    Actually, it’s abvious that for a position like prison guard there’re plenty of candidates. It’s because it doesn’t need any intellectual skills, or a Mike Mouse job, if you will. Plus they’re well payed. So it’s a good apportinuty for the member of American working and/or lower class. I guess also in US, like everywhere around the world, the landslide majority is in the two above-mentionned classes.

    For the Harvard, I was a bit surprised. I thought it was more than 6%, because for me, it’s clear only brillant students who had courage to apply to Harvard. Then they (Harvard administration) won’t get a lots candidate to the university. but I forgot that USA resemble more to a continent than a country!!!!!!!!!

    I think, there’s also the fact, young people don’t want to do long, classic studies anymore. With the actual conjuncture (cutting the education’s budget, teachers’ firing, etc), having high qualifications is not a guaranty anymore. And then, young people prefer more a professionnal job, with a low salary than spendding time for nothing in the universities.

    For MacDonalds, they are, as usual, swindler. Each one year or two years, they fire a number of employes and then they hire the same number and they declare “We hired XX number of employees and so on and so forth”.

    @ Peter,

    You said that you will never work as prison guard, then let me guess that you’re born with a silver spoon on your mouth, pardon my French. Isn’t that so?? The guys who want this job and cannot get it have a better choice, methinks.

    Thanks again!!!!!!!!

  11. Peter says:

    My thoughts are many ,yet life is too short

  12. Peter says:

    These two jobs it mutually exclusive
    It is not a Heterogenous solution 🙂
    But they are mutually exclusive

  13. Peter says:

    My friend Mamari,
    No berating(criticize Sb or speak to Sb in a angry manner) please:))) just joking my friend.
    You are yanking my chain,aren’t you
    You know better than me that these kind of jobs fall into blue-calor job category which means no set of skills required to get the job done which means a short period of on-the-side training makes you qualified.
    By that I mean,
    They don’t require a pile of university credentials and a certain amount of expertise to nail the job.
    On some cases ,a two hour of shadowing is enough to the knowledge necessary to get the job done.
    Thanks for the kind word ,but sadly I had a humble beginning ,so I pulled myself up with my boot straps.it is no picnic my friend
    However ,I don’t go for the warder job ,merely because I know I have options at that job level
    Please don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that is a no-brain job,or a lowly job
    All I am saying is that I m not capable of doing that kind of job because I am not a tough guy who can pull that job off
    Another word ,I can’t tough it out
    I just don’t see it in me
    I am a bit on the pantsy side which is euphemism for the word sissy:)))
    Some people go for it ,simply because they love the job. They love the challenge and the hardship attached to it.
    Another word,They have what it takes .simply ,I don’t
    Become a warder is not what you take to out of necessity.
    But ,it is a kind of job you can pull off out of love.
    If you apply for the job even If the pay is good.eventually ,the job breaks you.
    See,some times money is not an object ,but the capacity.
    Hope ,I have drown the right picture here

  14. Peter says:

    I m out on a limb here.
    Be a pal , come out an support my argument
    U have what it takes:)
    After all,you are eloquence to a fault
    I have your crowd against me ,and my stand on the tipic at hand
    So,say sth my friend

  15. Peter says:

    Dear Betty,
    I just realized that you thanked me for my two cents on the other podcast about marking time
    It is pretty much it Betty
    I mean
    You got it right
    The common use of the mark time
    Is what you do that is not important to you compare to what you are waiting to do
    I explained it on there
    But the second meaning of it about the marching on the spot that I didn’t know
    I found out about it just 10 days ago
    I usually check whatever words and expressions I come across to with Jeff
    I have done my fair share of searching for a reliable English Source.
    He is way above what I m signed on for
    However,it is not the point
    The point is I really appreciate the kind words
    I am glad that my two cents sometimes are helpful
    But ,it is a good thing that you go look them up the dictionary for the authencity.you do that my friend
    Never go by me Betty
    Always check the dictionary to make sure I m not off base
    Because in the majority of cases I m way out in left field 🙂 in simple words , I m a cuckoo:)
    Thanks Betty
    Truth to be told ,I have learned a lot from you guys as well
    Thanks plenty Betty that Your occasional kind words about us ,your classmates ,warm up our heart.

  16. Mamari says:

    Hi guys,

    @ Emiliano,

    I don’t know about the american federalism, but I was also suprised that there’s a big difference of salary between two prison guards of two different states in USA!!!!!

    @ Peter,

    It was cleary a joke. And quiet frankly I’m exactly like you. I hate all those miserable jobs even if it pays enough. In fact people say always that there’s no worthless job but I don’t think so. It’s a big discussion.


  17. Tania says:

    Hi! I do not watch the science fiction movies. But if you say they are extraordinary I have watched “The Robot” with Will Smith and “2001: A Space Odyssey” produced and directed by Stanley Kubrick.
    Movies for science fiction fans dreaming at an intergalactic travelling with modern technology and artificial intelligence looking for the extraterrestrial life.
    I had to read in Wikipedia understanding the end of the movie. “The astronaut is reborn as the Star Child, a fetus floating in space in front of the Earth.” I like the idea ” The two appear as newborn versions
    of Man and Earth ready to be born into a future of unthinkable possibilities.”
    Yes, our future is on a new planet.

    All the best for you all,


  18. Tania says:

    Hi! Most of all I admired the scene where the bone was transformed into a spacecraft ( the brain evolution), the visual effects and even the black screen. I think the black holes from cosmic space.

  19. Tania says:

    Hi! Interesting and the women’s suits. They are identical with our fashion.

  20. Tania says:

    Hi! I have an astonishment: the cosmic music and the association between the spinning motion of the satellites and the dancers of waltzes, The Blue Danube waltz by Johann Strauss.
    All technology, the spaceship Discovery are PanAmerica…and European music?

    Thank you for this “the greatest film ever made”.

  21. iwan says:

    Interesting topic Jeff, for me it is all about paradox and supply and demand. It might be same answer to why football player get more salary than doctor or engineer. Which is more valuable diamond or water. Its hard to explained or may takes very long and complicated explanation. But we know the answer right? Btw thanks for you and your team for the lesson through Eslpodcast. I really enjoy it.

  22. Betty says:

    Thank you so much, Jeff, for this interesting topic. It is nice to see our teacher admitting that he himself did not know what all the statistics meant.

    Yes, I can see why a lot of people want to work in Mcdonald’s. It offers people who want a quick simple job, a quick simple job. Simple is beautiful.

    Please don’t judge Chinese people by the statistics, I don’t believe Chinese people want to work in a low pay Mcdonald’s job in China more than in a high pay prison guard job in California. Those ambitious young Chinese might apply to five hundred positions when they can only take one job.

    Who has applied to Harvard University? I have not. I think not many people bother to apply to Harvard, that’s why the position/applicant ratio was higher than a lot of low pay jobs.

    Harvard is famously expensive, how about the California Prison Academy? How much does the California Prison Academy charge as annual fees? Was it because the fees are very low or you get paid to study there that many young people are attracted to study there?

    I am the same as Jeff – didn’t go to Harvard, have never been a prison guard, and haven’t worked at McDonald’s.

    I cannot see myself doing any of the three in foreseeable future, unless I win the lottery, then I will go to Harvard to study anything. I do mean anything as long as they accept me. I just want to be a once-in-a-life time happy carefree millionaire student. Or, if I become penniless, I may consider working in Mcdonald’s, I know they will not consider letting me cook or serve the food – too slow, but they might let me pick up the waste which some inconsiderate customer leave everywhere, at least I will get free burgers and chips. Will I get too fat eating them all the time? Hmm…. I’d better think again.

  23. Peter says:

    Every saturday morning, we shoot hoops
    Trying to keep my skills sharp although I haven’t played any serious badkeball games for years
    However,some times we happen to play a game or two
    After this morning game, I got into a conversation with one of my playmates who works in a Local McDonald
    He is my classmate at college.
    According to him , it is not that hard to get a job at Mac Donald’s as long as you are willing to slave away for a by-laws ,minimum wage rate of 10 dollars and 25 cents per hour.
    All I need to do is to slip pass my resume to him.
    He said that depending on the location the hiring percentage is way above that 4 or 5 percent
    So,if you are willing to work up some sweat, giddy up:)
    Just Fly here.
    Odds of landing a job is not against you ,but tottally for you
    Give it a shot palls
    You might stuck it rich:)

  24. Peter says:

    Holly crap,
    Today is as sucky as it can get
    It is pouring outside
    I m soaking wet already
    I m drenched
    When I got out of my place I felt a rain drop hit the top of my head.
    I said to myself
    Oh, it is summer time . It can’t turn into something serious. Just ignore it.don’t feel thretened by a rain drop . Who are you a sissy.
    Two hours after, there I am , Soacked to my bone!
    Seems like summer has no intention of coming land here.
    No offense ,but everytime you say sunny Beautiful LA,you have a condescending tune 🙂
    feels like you are rubbing my nose in it:)
    Just joking my man
    It is a sucky saturday morning
    Cracking some jokes may break the dismal feeling:))

  25. Peter says:

    Tit for tat Jeff:)
    I will rub it in
    The minute we get a beautiful snowy day down here 🙂
    Seems like God forgot to turn off a all-the-way turned on faucet up there.such a squandlering:)
    It is pouring dogs and cats
    Guys ,
    Good for us
    Seems like there is no water shortage up there:)

  26. Tania says:

    Hi! And the physicist Professor Stephen Hawking supports the same idea: leave the Earth, continue our life on another planet.

  27. Tania says:

    Hi! Thank you for the Al Capone’story – real case.
    I watched a movie dedicated to Al Capone. The idea was that a notorius gangster like Al Capone passed away in his own bed and not in a jail or killed.

    New phrases for me : He was called Al for short. Locked up – released. I hate to break the news.

  28. myoungwan says:

    Here in korea we have a same case!

    due to international and national economic crisis, we have shotage of available job. So many young job applicant including older group try to apply for any job such as blue worker

    the rate to be accpted in the mrmber of kina specially company is as high as the one to be nember of national big 5 company.!

    it has showen us that it is really tough to get a job in korea. it’s not a personal preferrence or choice but economic and systematic problem

  29. Betty says:

    Hi Tania, it is interesting that when I was reading your post earlier, I was thinking about Stephen Hawking, and then his name appeared in your latter post. What a coincident!

    I know someone who likes to talk about universe and things like that. I being quite daft can never understand all the talks. However, since I always hear news about the English theoretical physicist and cosmologist – Stephen Hawking, I came across a lot his ‘thinking’ although I could never truly understand him.

    Sometimes I wonder why some people love studying something so complicated. Having said that, our life would be very different and we would not have internet if everyone on earth is so brainless like me.

  30. chammann says:

    I think it should be taken into consideration what level of education somebody achieved before he or she applies for a job at McDonald’s or tries to enroll in Harvard. And I estimate, that 99,9 % out of those who apply to Harvard would have extremely good chances to find a job at McDonald’s. On the other hand: The rate of accepted Harvard applicants from a number of people who look for a job at McDonald’s should fairly tend to zero. So we can not say it is easier to get to Harvard than find a job at a burger restaurant, as there is a very strict applicant preselection.

  31. Peter says:

    Yesterday, I took in X men first class
    The movie is amazing in every angle
    As you know the movie is the epic
    By that I mean it is the account of how everything starts and how the characters form
    The whole premises of movie is great
    The best in the series of the X men movies
    The run time (the duration of the movie) is 2 hours and 17 minutes but it feels like 30 minutes
    No feels of dragging what so ever
    I strongly recommend even jeff to go catch the movie
    As y know him ,he is too analytical to get adrenalin rush by a fiction movie and a bunch of fictional ,far
    -reach characters
    But ever Jeff would enjoy it
    It is a movie for every age group and every taste out there
    I can go watch the movie like 10 times still it does not get old
    Still ,The suspense remains
    The movie is no Sucky at all.
    I am planning on catching it again with my friend today
    This movie is a money well-spent
    Like Eslpod that is a time well-spent

    Go catch the movie , and you thank me later

  32. Peter says:

    No bragging intended , but I m watching the movies with my hyphened Canadian cotizens friends because they don’t understand the whole dialog of movies
    So I go with them to translate the whole thing so they stay on track. Sometimes when they explain the plot of the movie ,like they have watched a whole different movie
    Surprisingly enough, some of them have been living here for 2 decades(20
    The problem is they are too lazy to get out of their comfort zone and take to ( start doing sth regularly) listening to Jeff.
    I was honest and caring enough to come out and say I picked up the language listening to Jeff . I plead to them to get to it . But they never listen
    They are happy with their level of illiteracy.
    What can I say, they are a bunch of nimrods:)

  33. Ziba says:

    Hi Jeff!
    The topic is very interesting and I want to thank you for encouraging us to debate/ talk about the topic.

    First about the Prison guard academy, I think the people who are not high educated and like to control others with force/ power, try to go to these kind of academies, plus they are paid high salary. But I’m curious that where the money comes from!

    Second about Harvard University, as everyone knows most university are good and efficient with their cultures and language in their countries. If an applicant wants to go to Harvard University with that little chance to enter it, it’s a good idea he/ she try to go to the university in his/ her country without waste of time and money.

    Third the MacDonald’s, I don’t care whether the statistic is true or not, but when it hire that number of employees, where do the others who are working there, go?

    I think the picture is like a shape of two gates that are connected to each other. From one gate the new employees come and from the other gate the old employees go out from McDonald’s. Maybe they are retired or fired.

    Thanks again,

  34. Tania says:

    Hi! Thank you , dear Betty. You a brainless person? Are you joking?
    An interesting article on Stephen Hawking we can read on “Something to read during June 2011” by Warren Ediger.

    I’ll try to watch and “X Men” movie. Maybe I start to prefer and the science fiction movies.

  35. Tania says:

    Hi! I know nothing on Bozo the clown and that every city has their own Bozo the clown.
    Thank you for the phrase : He is a Bozo.

  36. Tania says:

    Hi! Thank you for the song “Love Me Tender!”
    Every woman would desire to listen to this song…

  37. Tania says:

    Hi! Dear Ziba, very original and funny your poit of view regarding the symbol of McDonald’s.

  38. sara says:

    Dear Dr.jeff thanks for taking time to share it with us. These statistics has a meaning for me and that is: although it is our big challenge to get to a good university and continue our study as long as we can but still only “finding a job” is the most challenge for a great percentage of the world. I am not saying that finding job is not our concern but we have had time to think and try for it after some other major steps in our life.

  39. Ziba says:

    Hi Tania!
    Tank you for your kind reply, and your suggestion about listening to the song.
    Best regards

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