is how I financed college any of this employer’s business?

A reader writes:

A close friend applied for a job through their online resume/cover letter submission link. Then the company emailed him and asked him to fill out a separate application (which was not on their “apply now” link from their own site, but whatever). Most of the information the form requests was already answered on the resume and in the letter, but one stood out. In the section about education, it asks: “How did you finance your college education?” (This is not a company that offers tuition forgiveness, according to a current employee we know. This is not a company in the financial field, either–not banking or investments, not that I think that would matter, nor is it an educational institution.) Neither of us can figure out why this information would matter to a potential employer.

Do you think this is relevant information for a potential employer to know? Is it appropriate? Is this a usual practice–are companies doing this now? Neither of us has seen it, and we’re both inclined to think that this is no one’s business and irrelevant to the job, anyway. Why might a potential employer ask this? Can you think of any reasons why they might believe that they needed this information?

(The answer, by the way, is that he paid for college with a combination of loans and part-time work. He has not finished paying back the loans, though, partly because he got laid off several months ago.)

Nope, I don’t think it’s appropriate to ask that on a job application.

It is interesting to know if an applicant put herself through school by working, since it’s clear evidence of work ethic and drive. But it’s really no one’s business if you took out loans to pay for school or your parents paid or your grandmother helped out or you had scholarships.

Are they also going to ask how you financed your interview outfit? Or what you paid for your house?

I’d love to hear a defense of this from someone.

Related post: and we’re going to strip-search you before the job interview

{ 18 comments… read them below }

  1. Anonymous*

    OP here. Thanks for answering my question! I almost wrote back a couple of days later, though, because once I saw the entire application, it was just beyond ridiculous. Keep in mind, this is a position for an experienced professional with a college degree. My friend is 14 years out of college and has 16 years of related experience and an excellent reputation as a top performer in his field. The application asked for his high school class rank and the number of students in his graduating class. Also requested: his ACT/SAT score, GPA for both college and high school (I think asking for college is okay, but high school–really?), number of credit hours completed in college, favorite and least favorite subjects studied in college, and high school and college extracurricular activities.

    He asked around and found out that this company started using some kind of recruiting and interviewing software that a lot of other large, well-known companies use, too. It seems like this application form may have come as part of the package and that other places are using it. I really thought that the whole thing was ridiculous and am glad that you agreed. It is amazing what is going on out there.

  2. Rob*

    I go to school in Washington, and the thing that jumped to mind for me is that to obtain security clearance for certain jobs you need to reveal what kind of debts you have – because you don't want people willing to trade away state secrets because they desperately need to get out of debt. But unless this job was with someone like the Department of Justice or a defense contractor, I agree this seems *extremely* odd.

  3. Sabrina*

    I saw an application with that question on it once. I didn't answer it. I felt it was none of their damn business. And it wasn't for a banking or government position. I didn't get the job but I don't really care, they don't need to know how I'm paying for college, it's a job, I'm not marrying the jerks.

  4. Anonymous*

    Well, I once interviewed for a college counseling job to mentor economically poor college bound students. The question was relevant in this case because it showed that I could empathize with their students and their struggle to make ends meet while in school

  5. Anonymous*

    @Rob: I live in Washington too. Even the highest levels of clearance jobs don't require that you reveal debt information until the very last stages of the hiring process. They don't demand it on the application.

  6. Anonymous*

    The answer to this is the exact same as the answer to all the other questions about outrageous application and interview procedures – BECAUSE THEY CAN. In this economy, employers know they have the upper hand. If you refused to answer this question on the application, they can instantly dismiss you for not submitting an app that was "complete". The more arduous and intricate they make their application procedure, the more people will self-select out, thus making their job of choosing a candidate easier. I have been asked to submit _syllabi_ from my college courses my one prospective employer….and I was in college in 1989!!! Just remember, they do it because they can.

  7. Anonymous*

    A former boss was interested in interviewing one woman even more after he saw that she had put herself through college. He said it's easy to go to school if someone else is paying for it, but it shows real determination when you are paying for it yourself by waiting tables every night.

    Still, it is a question that could wait for the interview after otherwise qualified candidates have been selected.

  8. Anonymous*

    @Anonymous at 12:28-

    I've definitely earned brownie points in interviews from telling the prospective employer that I worked my way through college as a server (about 20 hours a week) while taking a full course load (15-18 credits) and doing internships in the last year and a half. But even that didn't cover all of my expenses- I still had to take out a few loans in addition to scholarships I received and my income from working.

    However, I agree, there is no reason for that kind of question to be asked on an application. Good grief. I do hope the pendulum swings back to favor the employees soon so crazy employers don't get away with these shenanigans as often.

  9. Anonymous*

    I put myself through school working 32 hours a week while taking engineering classes. It did affect my grades, and it did take me longer to get through.

    It did impress several potential employers, escpecially since at that time few women went into engineering. The feedback I received was that it demonstrated that I had a good work ethic, I could complete tasks even when given obstacles, and that I could manage multiple tasks at the same time.

    But that is something for the cover letter, not an application form.

    The only thing I can think of is that the employer might have been burned by someone that defaulted on a college loan, and had to deal with all the paperwork that goes with garnished wages.

  10. Anonymous*

    I'd hire the person with a lower GPA who worked their way through school over the person whose parents gave them a free ride any day. But you can tell if someone worked their way through school by their resume. I would never dream of asking about it. It's none of my business if you had to take out student loans.

  11. Class factotum*

    you can tell if someone worked their way through school by their resume

    How? I worked 15-20 hours a week while I was in school and 60 hours a week in the summer, but I no longer put those jobs on my resume, 25 years later. Working those hours took away from study time (I like to think I would have studied instead of goofing off) and affected my grades, so all you see on my resume is an undergrad GPA that is not as good as my grad school GPA, where I did not work.

  12. Anonymous*

    I should have been more specific. I was referring to recent grads. They would be putting their part-time and summer jobs on their resume if they had worked while in school. I wouldn't expect someone with over 5 years experience to list the jobs they had while in school or their GPA. In most situations your major wouldn't matter by then either. One of the best chemists I ever hired had a BA in French.

  13. Anonymous*

    Odds are this employer has or has seen a book my boss has called "101 Interview Questions". I was looking through it last week as he was preparing to interview some IT candidates, and it had that question along with others I wouldn't feel comfortable answering like "Do you encourage your kids to play sports?"

    It's an ancient little booklet with some really good questions and some atrocious ones that I'm very glad he didn't ask me in our interview.

  14. Anonymous*

    "I'd hire the person with a lower GPA who worked their way through school over the person whose parents gave them a free ride any day."

    ….so…you're willing to discriminate against people just because their parents have money? That's class bias, albeit not in the direction you usually see.

    1. Luna Souid*

      You only go to college once or twice in your life. You have the rest of your life to work.

      I worked really hard in high school and took AP classes. This earned me a 50% scholarship and 40 college credits. This really helped because I came in as a sophomore. I completed a BS in Bio-engineering and a BA in Psychology in 4 years.

      I’m not ashamed to answer that my parents paid the rest of my tuition–using a college savings account. I worked hard and my parents could afford it and planned accordingly.

      I wouldn’t drop one of my majors to wait tables to ‘show work ethic’. Work ethic doesn’t always mean work.

  15. Anonymous*

    "I'd hire the person with a lower GPA who worked their way through school over the person whose parents gave them a free ride any day."

    This is so wrong on many levels. You will bypass other people who might be more fitting for the position you would have available just because someone's parents were fortunate enough to pay for college? That's discrimination (and like someone said, in the opposite direction). It reads: To college students, If you are doing well in school AND your parents are paying for you, don't bother because people are not going to hire you.

    This sounds personal, as if you were the person who worked through college and maybe didn't get the job and knew others who didn't have to, get the jobs.

  16. Anonymous*

    People, I hope you realize this was a fake company and a fake application.

    It's a data farm collecting information about you for spam companies! They find out where you went to college, your interests, your address, your phone number, your email…all for marketing purposes only. They are all over the internet and rather easy to spot. They send you an email, usually an automatic form letter, that sounds very vague about a "sales position" or a "position with our company" and how you have a great resume, etc. etc.

    They lead you to a link requesting you to fill out their "official application" which will be suspiciously devoid of their company name or the name of the position, and won't be hosted on their official website. The financing question? He will probably start getting a lot of mail from shady student loan companies, for-profit career schools, etc. very very soon.

    Your friend was simply duped by one of the many, many companies taking advantage of our economic situation.

    Be sure when applying to jobs that you are on their OFFICIAL website — check the URL! Is it or some weird looking URL that uses the company's logo? Do you know how easy it is to spoof a real website? That's how thieves steal your identity, trick you into entering your banking passwords on faux websites, etc.

    Be careful!

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