do employers really care where you went to school?

A reader writes:

Do employers really care where you got your degree? I’ve been told before that graduating from a prestigious school opens all kinds of doors and that employers will be more likely to hire someone who went somewhere prestigious. Is this true? Will such a person be more likely to get interviews and interships just because they went somewhere with a high ranking? This really bothers me because I go to a state school, but I’ve made sure to get involved in community, volunteer, and leadership activities. I’m worried that when I graduate, an employer may look down on where I got my degree and choose someone who went to a “better” school. Please tell me this isn’t true; I’ve heard it often enough from parents, counselors, and other students that it’s made me think there might be some truth to this after all.

Since I’m on the subject of school, I was also wondering if employers looked at grades. I know to get into grad school and med school, etc., grades matter, but do they matter to a hiring manager? I’ve been told if you want to work at a university, whether as a teacher or a librarian, they will ask for transcripts, but what about employers? Is anyone really going to care if I got an A in courses that aren’t even relevant to my major?

Yes, your school matters, at least in the beginning of your career. How much it matters depends on your field and your specific employer.

In some fields, like investment banking and big law firms, employers only hire from top tier schools. And while there are plenty of fields where that’s not the case, in most graduating from an elite or highly competitive school is still seen as shorthand for “really smart and hard-working.” And that’s something employers very much care about.

Where you go to school can pay off in salary too. One study found that the median starting salary for Ivy Leaguers is 32% higher, and after 10 or more years into graduates’ working lives, that spread is 34%.

But we’re just talking about patterns here. None of this is to say that you won’t be hired for a great job if you went to a less elite school; people from all sorts of schools get hired for good jobs all the time. (I went to a tiny school that lots of people have never heard of; it’s never been an obstacle.)

And it’s rare for an employer to look down on a mid-ranked school; it’s more about looking particularly highly at the top-tier ones. If you’re going to a solid school with a decent reputation and you do well there, your schooling is going to be just fine for most jobs. But it probably won’t be as much of a plus as, say, an Ivy. That’s just how it works.

Also, prestige aside, it’s smart to go to a school where you’ll be happy — because you’ll do better and be more likely to take advantages of the resources your school offers.

As for grades, they can matter in some fields — for your first few years out of school. At that point, you don’t have a ton of experience and accomplishments, so in some fields GPA can function as a rough stand-in, an approximation of what you might be able to achieve on the job. It’s a very imperfect gauge though — there are plenty of people with high GPAs who end up doing mediocre work, and plenty with unimpressive GPAs who excel on the job. But early in your career, without much of a track record to point to, some employers (although not even the majority) will use GPA as a predictor of how well you’re likely to do if hired.

So a high GPA isn’t crucial for getting a job — far from it, and plenty of employers won’t ask about it at all — but early in your career it can in some contexts open doors that might otherwise be closed to you. And it’s nice to have options, particularly in a job market where everyone’s options are already constrained.

{ 166 comments… read them below }

  1. J

    Personally, my experience as looking for (and getting! :D ) a librarian job, the reason they ask for transcripts are to make sure you actually have the MLIS degree, and to see the sort of classes you took. I’m sure they’ll raise an eyebrow if you got all B-‘s in grad school, but…for the most part it doesn’t seem like they care.

    For other jobs, the transcripts seem just like another thing they use for verification that you have a degree, not that you got a 3.15 vs a 4.0.

    (I went to a mediocre, small, Christian-affiliated school for college and got a 3.15, and I think I’ve survived just as well as anyone, if it makes a difference. I’m also not in banking though. ;) )

    1. Danielle

      I definitely agree about librarian jobs.

      And dean of the library I work in is an alum of my school, and so are many of my co-workers.

      1. J

        How neat that your dean is from your same program! I like that so many of us seem to end up working together… I actually got a job at a small university, but I share an office with a classmate from my year and another classmate is down the hall from us, and others who have gone through our program work here too. Small world!

        1. Ellen M.

          For library jobs, your degree had better say “ALA-accredited”! Without that it wouldn’t matter where you went or what grades you got.

    2. anth

      “I’m sure they’ll raise an eyebrow if you got all B-’s in grad school”

      And if you haven’t gone to grad school, that means your program was doing you a favor by not kicking you out.

  2. Sarah Fowler

    Just get as much experience as you can!

    I went to a state school and got a great job right after college where they didn’t ask about my GPA until I’d been hired. (Incidentally, I was on the Dean’s List, but I didn’t put my actual GPA on my resume.) I think the main reason for this was that I’d worked in small but well-known organizations before and during college where I was able to learn a LOT and rise to a management level because I’m a fast learner and there was often no one else to do the work.

    Work hard, learn outside the classroom, do your best to have a “real job” during college and you won’t have a thing to worry about when you come out because you’ll just be too awesome to turn down. :-)

  3. jmkenrick

    I went to a tiny school most people have never heard of, that doesn’t even offer grades (they do written evaluations, so I don’t have a GPA from college) but I’ve still managed to stay gainfully employed.

    Now that we’re 3-4 years out of college, it seems like a lot of career gaps between friends that went to really prestigious schools and friends who went to lesser known schools have kind of evened out. (Not that they are a representative sample, mind you.)

    Personally, I am a much better employee than I was a student, and so are a few other of my friends, whereas I’ve watched others struggle without the deadlines & clear structure that school provides.

    So I would say – ignore the statistics, focus on yourself.

    1. jmkenrick

      Incidentally, there is a Scrubs episode where Dr. Cox gives a great speech on this. I can’t find the clip, but the quote is something like “Statistics mean nothing to the individual.”

      (Did you take stats in college? I hope you did. It’s awesome.)

      1. Chris

        J.D. The kids’ not even been born yet and I’ve already screwing up his life. I just want him to be really happy and normal you know. Dr. Cox: Okay newbie, we’re talking about you so the whole normal part was never going to happen and… you didn’t mess up his life. J.D: But statistics show that kids whose parents stay together… Dr. Cox: Statistics show? Who cares what statistics show? Look at medicine. 80% of people with pancreatic cancer die within 5 years and 95% of appendectimies occur with zero complications but we both know cases of pancreatic cancer patients that lived and unfortunately appendicitis patients that unfortunately passed. Statistics mean nothing to the individual; you’re either going to be a good parent to that kid or you’re not.

    2. NonProfiter

      Shimer? St John’s does give grades, you just don’t need to pay attention to them.

    3. fposte

      You probably went with some of my high school classmates. I was in a high school program where we didn’t get grades, so a lot of graduates hit Reed, Hampshire, Antioch, etc.

      1. Natalie

        One of those is my alma mater!

        How odd to find so many people from similar schools on this blog.

  4. Anonymous

    The other piece of the puzzle is the network you develop at school. I was incredibly lucky bc my parents dug deep to send me to a “dream” school in my field. The people who went there were generally either extremely well-connected or were extremely talented, since the cost scared away a lot of people. After graduation, I was able to find work regularly in a tight market through my former classmates’ connections. Yes, other people did get these jobs as well, but our network was very strong and often I was simply called up and asked if I wanted a position, without even needing to apply. The unconnected people from other schools had to hustle to find the opportunities that were posted publically. I’ve come across one or two employers who were impressed that I went to my alma mater, but mostly it was the jobs I was able to snag through my school connections that were the biggest payoff. Those jobs truly give me more of a leg up than listing my school does now, but having them on my resume is directly related to having gone to that school.

    1. Anon

      True, alumni connections are huge — and that’s where the OP may actually have an advantage over Ivy Leaguers (of which I am one). The larger the school’s network, the more likely it is that someone who went there now works in the field you want to break into, and will be predisposed to ask you in for an interview. This is especially true if your school has a lot of school spirit.

  5. Chassity

    Something else to consider is that if a potential employer is so caught up on where you went to school, especially in the rare case that they deem this more important than your grades or experience, that may be a red flag that you don’t want to work for them. When my husband and I moved from MS to VA, he actually had a hiring manager tell him that his accounting degree was worthless since he went to a MS university, even though he had a decent amount of experience. The company wound up hiring a recent grad from a VA university with no experience, which the hiring manager relayed to my husband in a gloating tone. We were thankful that my husband missed out on this opportunity!

    1. Mike C.

      Yet I can see where a laboratory wouldn’t hire scientists from colleges that don’t teach real science courses. Liberty University is well known for teaching “Creation Sciences”, and in a real world laboratory such experience is useless.

      As far as the state a college is located in, that’s just stupid.

      1. Carrie (in MN)

        Eh, I would say that which state a state university is in does matter, because there is a huge range in the amount of investment states make into their university/college system. I went to a large Texas university and got a good education, but I wouldn’t send my kids there now because the state has been underinvesting in the schools for decades now and the politicians have been mucking about in admissions policy too.

        1. Mike C.

          Unless you’re talking about a private university, then funding is entirely independent.

    1. AD

      This study misses something big and obvious: many people who go to Ivy Leagues are from privileged backgrounds and would be earning a ton no matter where they went. George W. Bush did not become president because he has a Harvard MBA, for example.

      It’s the classic “correlation is not causation” error.

      1. Mike C.

        Let me preface what I’m about to say with a hearty, “yes, class and privlidge in this country have a huge impact on how successful an individual is that most people are incredibly uncomfortable talking about.” Yeah, I was a comfortably middle class kid walking through a parking lot full of luxury cars and the like.

        But the thing with this study is that there is still a whole lot of useful data here. The top school isn’t Harvard or Princeton, it’s Harvey Mudd, Caltech then MIT. While these are schools where a difficult private school program will give you an upper hand, they are schools that focus on engineering, science and mathematics. Mommy and Daddy’s money aren’t going to help you pass those “untimed, open book” exams.

        1. AD

          I think it would be interesting if they had broken up the majors at schools that have good engineering programs, but also other stuff. I’d be willing to be that, for an in-stater, an engineering degree from U of Michigan or a science degree from UCLA has an ROI comparable to some of the top schools listed here.

          1. Mike C.

            See, such a comparison would be way more useful, because you could then more directly compare the financial aid and graduation times, which factor into the ROIs in a very significant way. I know for me it was actually cheaper for me to attend a small engineering school out of state than the large in state school because there was way more financial aid available at the former.

            Also, if think many of us are simply forgetting the student in the matter. Some are going to do better away from home rather than close, others need a large or a small college experience to learn best.

            I wonder though – for colleges with really successful sports programs, how much of their ROI is influenced by the wages earned by college turned pro athletes…

          2. Judy

            I’d be curious too. A 2 person data point in my household says that a Purdue (#111) BSEE vs. a Rose Hulman (#36) BSEE at the same companies have virtually the same income after 20 years out of school, while Purdue cost $14K and Rose cost nearly $40K in the late 80s to early 90s.

  6. Janet

    I think a state school is always an OK choice. I will even say that back when I worked in journalism, I sometimes preferred to hire interns from smaller schools rather than the big J-schools because the kids from smaller schools were less cocky and had more hustle.

    I will say that I went to a very small private university and when I’m in my home state, it has been OK. But when I lived across the country? It hurt me. No one had heard of my school at all. I think they might have even assumed it was one of those internet colleges.

    1. class factotum

      preferred to hire interns from smaller schools

      My former employer deliberately sought recruits who were the first ones in their families to go to college and who attended land-grant colleges. They avoided the Ivies. They thought (and I think they were right, as the worst – and dumbest – manager I had there went to Princeton) that these students were smart, ambitious, and hard working but just didn’t have the money to go to an expensive, far-away school. They also thought they would work harder than someone who had had a lot of advantages.

      (And yes, I know there are hard-working, first to college kids in the Ivies, but in general.)

        1. class factotum

          Why? It’s not exactly like many of the students who go to the Ivies are dying to work in heavy manufacturing or live in Wausau, Wisconsin. Why not go to where you can get good people who are willing to take the jobs you have to offer?

          1. Mike C.

            What’s dumb is excluding someone from consideration from a job jest because of the school they went to while ignoring experience or other qualifications the applicant may have.

            Your generalizations are terrible and you’re harming your organization by following them.

            1. class factotum

              If you have limited resources to do campus recruiting, why would you waste time at a place where you’re not going to be able to get the people you want?

              I have a friend who was an HR director at a major food company. They didn’t recruit on the east coast because they had discovered that a lot of the students didn’t want to move to the midwest. So they focused their recruiting on schools where they got a better response.

              BTW, I know my company would never exclude anyone from an Ivy just because of the Ivy degree, but they didn’t do on-campus recruiting there.

              1. Mike C.

                That makes a whole lot more sense. I interpreted your original comment about “avoiding ivies” as “avoiding people who apply to us if they have degree from an ivy league school”.

                Sorry about that!

  7. KayDay

    My friend from college and I had a conversation about this same topic–basically, she regretted going into debt for a mid-level private school, and wished she had gone to a cheaper state school. I, on the other hand, was very happy I choose the school I did, but I didn’t rack up the kind of debt my friend did. So, in our discussions we came up with a few pearls of wisdom.
    1-going to a TOP (e.g. ivy or ivy-caliber) college is worth it. The prestige, the network, and the extra opportunities will probably pay off in the end (and many top schools also have very big endowments to provide scholarships for those in need).
    2-if you are 100% sure that you will go to graduate or professional school, you can worry less about your undergrad. In that case, it’s better to go somewhere where you can do very well, and then go to a prestigious grad school.
    3-don’t ever make the mistake of thinking a private school is always better than a public school
    4-internships matter a lot more than your degree (in most fields)

    Also, AAM is right that most employers see a top college as a bonus, but don’t look down on lower-ranked schools, UNLESS your school has a reputation for being a diploma mill or is unaccredited.

  8. Emily

    I went to a small midwestern school that a lot of people haven’t heard of outside the midwest despite it’s very good reputation and our list of high-profile commencement speakers. (Note: I LOVE my alma matter so sorry if it sounds like I’m bragging about it, I tend to – I had a GREAT experience, but I only brag with the best intentions).

    I’ve never had an issue with getting a position. At the same time, I wasn’t #1 in terms of G.P.A. but I participated in activities and have done a lot of volunteerism to round out my resume. Because of my extra-cirriculars and because I’ve worked really hard in the positions that I have held since college, I have great recommendations.

    I’ve found that work ethic counts much more then anything about my college. College did matter for my first position out of college (AmeriCorps) as school and activities were all I had to show for myself. That said, I’m far from the ‘corporate America’ type where degrees and where you got them do matter.

  9. Riki

    Yes, where you went to school can matter, but it’s definitely not the be all, end all. In my experience, employers are far more likely to focus on an applicant’s GPA (and major) than where they went to school. Regardless of what school you attended or what you want to do, make sure you get those grades!

    Also, it’s not just about rank. Regional pride can play a role. Some state schools like UCLA, U of Wisconsin in Madison and Ohio State get so much love in their regions and have enormous alum networks. I cannot say that a grad from any of these schools would automatically be better off if they went to an Ivy.

    That said, some industries are notoriously snobby and use schools as a way of cutting through their applicant pile. If you want to be an attorney, then, please, do whatever you can do get into the best school possible. A Stanford JD will always have an easier time landing interviews than a JD from a Tier 3 school.

    1. Any

      I agree with what you’ve written, but I want to caveat your last paragraph: while it’s true that a Stanford JD will always have an easier time than someone from a tier 3 school, it’s not always true that “the best [law] school possible” in terms of ranking is the right move. Once you’re beyond the schools ranked in the top 10 (maybe even top 5), you’re better off going to the best _local_ school you can get into. For instance, a JD from Northeastern is going to have an easier time getting a job in Boston than a JD from Fordham, even though Fordham’s law school is more highly ranked.

      1. Riki

        Very true. Being on your home turf can count for a lot, and rank is just one thing to consider when applying to law schools. There are definitely certain white shoe firms that are strictly T14 (T10? T5??) when it comes to 1st year associates, but if you want to practice law in X city, then attending the big school in that area will not hurt you. UCLA is my favorite example because I know so many alums who are insane about that school, even 10, 20, 30+ years later.

      2. Natalie

        That seems to be the case for MBAs, too. The top business school in my city is not top 10 nationwide, but if you are planning to stay in this city you will be better off at that school than you would at Yale Business or something.

  10. Anonymous

    I struggled with this when I was first applying to colleges. My parents were convinced that I needed to go to an Ivy, despite the fact that I didn’t have the grades! A college counselor had to sit them down and explain that it’s not the end of the world if I go to a public college. I went to a city school that is still well known (I’ve had interviewers remark that the people they hired from my school have been good employees). I went on a full scholarship and graduated without a cent of debt.

    Another thing to note is that a lot of my friends that went away to college had difficulty finding last work experience. Many would work during the school year but then they would come back to the city for summer break and noone would hire for a few months. They would essentially be coming back after college to their homes in the city where they would want to work all while going to college elsewhere. I’m glad I was able to go to college and gain work experiences in the city where I want to pursue a career.

    1. Anonymous

      Sorry for the long comment! I also want to add that while I went to a city school, I thoroughly enjoyed my education. A friend of mine that went to an Ivy absolutely hated it and couldn’t wait to get out. Keep in mind this is an extreme example!

  11. NonProfiter

    I don’t think it matters much to me when I’m hiring, especially if the candidate is presenting themselves well through the real means I have to judge them: resume and cover letter and then an interview.

    That said, I would be lying if I told you I don’t have my personal biases. And sometimes what school you went to has less to do with quality and more to do with fit. We have a variety of backgrounds on staff at my job, but I was hired by a SLAC grad and I am a SLAC grad and I also ended up hiring a SLAC grad.

  12. Catherine

    My husband does not have a college degree, and had a C average for the courses he did take a community college. And now he has an awesome job in the IT industry, making more than I do (with a near-perfect GPA and a bachelor’s), and enjoying his job much more. The difference was the field and experience. I work at university (same one where I got my degree), and HR automatically disqualifies applicants if they don’t have a bachelor’s for most jobs. In his line of work, experience counts for far more – only one of his coworkers has a college degree, and it was in something random, like biology. Point of the story is basically to reiterate what AAM said – it depends on your field. However, as others have pointed out, experience, in both work experience and volunteer, will count for so much more. I have looked at many applicants in the last year and while some had more degrees or more prestigious degrees, it didn’t make much of a difference to me if they didn’t have experience and good soft skills.

    1. Jamie

      Shhhhh….IT is a different animal and we don’t want the word getting out!

      Seriously though, she’s right. It seems to matter a lot less in IT and experience trumps a degree the vast majority of the time.

      The only time I’ve used stuff from college on the job is in the management end – so having a business major was helpful, but not sure I’d call it essential since 99%+ of what I needed I learned on the job.

      But if you tell people that you can make a very good living in IT without a degree the market will flood with job seekers and we don’t want that! :)

  13. K.

    I briefly dated a guy who was a corporate attorney who’d gone to Harvard Law (his firm was one that only recruited from tier 1 law schools), and he said that Harvard Law was code for “how dumb can you be?” Meaning people just assumed he had to be smart (which he was) for him to complete Harvard Law.

    I went to an Ivy and loved it (and got fantastic financial aid – schools with big endowments have money to give away), and I do think it’s helped me in my career; I’ve had a few eyebrows go up in interviews, and I make big use of my school’s alumni network. But as has been said, I don’t think people look down on state schools; they just look “up” at highly ranked, big name ones. (And not everyone does.) If you’re a hard worker, you’ll work hard no matter where you are. And believe me when I tell you: some of the dumbest people I’ve ever known, I met at my alma mater.

    I have never had my GPA come up, from undergrad or business school.

  14. Anonymous

    One benefit of going to a large state school is that there is a huge alumni network. Chances are, even if you move across the country from your school, you’ll eventually run into someone else who went there. It definitely helps, and it’s always nice to have something in common with a colleague.

  15. Lilybell

    My company rarely hires people that don’t have a degree from an Ivy, unless they are admins, mailroom staff or IT. It’s depressing; it’s only like this because our president is an elitist. For people going to law school or considering an MBA, I don’t think it’s worth it unless you can get into a top ten ranked school – there is a glut of law school graduates working as word-processing temps at law firms because they can’t get decent jobs. There are just too many people graduating for too few positions.

  16. Xay

    It really depends on your field and the specific workplace. I work in public health and although there is some favoritism towards certain schools, that has a lot to do with the quality of those schools’ networks not necessarily the quality of the education. If you can get through the door, you can build your own networks and relationships without the name on your degree. The main thing people look for in my field is if you received your graduate degree from an accredited school.

    I will say that there is a strong bias against for-profit schools in my field, especially for-profit graduate degrees.

    1. Catherine

      I would agree there is definitely a bias in many fields against for-profit degrees, especially in higher education (that’s kind of a “duh” statement). They are seen as diploma mills.

      1. K.

        I haven’t read anything but negativity re: for-profit “diploma mills,” no matter what the field.

    2. KayDay

      re: for-profit degrees. I’m sure this is a very industry-specific thing, but my experience has been that for-profit degrees are less looked down on when they are very career specific (e.g. an MS in accounting from a for-profit would be better received than a MS in economics from a for-profit). Although, the only people I know with for-profit grad degrees had them paid for by their company while they were working.

      1. Catherine

        “Although, the only people I know with for-profit grad degrees had them paid for by their company while they were working.”

        I think that’s the difference right there. Those people already have the skills/experience to back up the degree.

  17. Michael

    This is a difficult one and will greatly change by company, location, and hiring manager:

    I’m starting to see an increase in companies using the Co-Op programs as a means for finding new grads, especially in engineering, because it allows us to see how you actually perform. We would always hire a good Co-Op over a new grad from an ivy school who didn’t Co-Op with us.

    I’ve also seen many departments have an extremely large percentage of employees who are from the same university as the department manager. They know the school, it’s education system, and the kind of graduates they produce… they may not be the best in the industry, but he knows what he’s getting.

    I’ve worked in Virginia for my entire adult life, and I’ve noticed a great pride in Virginia’s educational system. It is therefore very common for a company to prefer a Virginia graduate over others, because again – they know what they are getting.

    In general, ivy league schools do provide an advantage, but it isn’t a guarantee for an exceptional employee. I had an MIT graduate pulled from my team and transferred to another group that had the time and lower risk to develop her, because she had horrible and dysfunctional team skills that I couldn’t afford in my current high-risk project.

    In looking at the OPs concerns – it doesn’t matter if you went to a state school as long as it’s a good one (especially a Virginia one), and it is properly accredited. The only killer I’ve seen in the work place is going to a college/university that is nationally accredited and not regionally accredited. – Regional accreditation is better.
    It’s all about reducing the risk of a new hire.

  18. Tracy

    I am in one of those fields where it matters (consulting, investment banking, etc) and I am the only one in my department who did not go to an Ivy, and they would have not considered me if I didn’t have a connection. I went to a state school.

    However, from working with all young colleagues who went to Ivies, I learned a lot. Their opportunities were MUCH different than mine. Their career services was excellent. They were all hired for their job in the beginning of their senior year during “fall recruitment” when all these top companies come to their student center and interview them there. Second round interviews were also done on campus! They didn’t job search via internet or the way I did. They just went to a big student center filled with top companies and submitted their resume face to face, right there! They said this helped a lot of students get employed a year in advance, feel secure in their future, and then out of those who didn’t get hired from fall recruitment, the career center worked directly with those remaining students for placement. I am speaking directly about 4-5 ivy or ivy quality schools. I can’t speak for all schools.

    My large state school had nothing of the sort. Of the class of 2012, stats were released that 50% is unemployed. Are we stupider or less employable at the state school? I don’t think so at all! But it is harder to find opportunities. Only the motivated sit online and google job titles and network. It is a lot harder to find opportunities.

    This is just my observation from my specific situation, so I hope not to offend anyone. I was just amazed about the quality of career services at the top tier schools, compared to mine.

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      Also, laundry detergent! Princeton provides (or at least used to provide) laundry detergent to students in their dorms (which I discovered with immense jealousy while visiting a boyfriend there).

      1. Tracy

        Princeton has about double the price tag of the school I went to. It better have been top brand laundry detergent :)

      2. JT

        Laundry detergent? Ha! What about gold?

        I went to an Ivy League school where the entryway to one of our dorm buildings was decorated with gold leaf. For real.

      3. What?

        Either they started giving the laundry detergent away after I graduated, or they stopped before I got there. Boo, hiss!

      4. Anonymous

        You mean that the students were expected to do their own laundry? Did they even have to make their own beds as well?

      5. Xay

        When I was applying to college (1996/1997), one of the perks of going to Davidson College was that laundry service was included in tuition.

      1. Anonymous

        My small private school (with an excellent science program) offered free maid service – they came in, vacuumed, and cleaned the uncluttered bathroom services once every two weeks.
        It was why I decided to go there.

    2. Melissa

      I attend an Ivy for graduate school and I have found this to be true with the undergrads I supervise. Many of them have job offers before the holiday break, and most get settled on something before March. And although many of them are wealthy and have family connections, many of them are not – I supervise a lot of middle-class kids here. They’re getting jobs on the strengths of the university’s network.

  19. Anonymous

    There are a lot of interesting economic papers on this.

    Basically: going to a top school, and doing well in school, allows something called “SIGNALING.”

    To give a simple example, compare Harvard to U.Mass.

    The value of Harvard isn’t that you necessarily learn more there than you could learn at U.Mass. There are some U.Mass students who are smarter and better educated than some Harvard students.

    But Harvard is, of course, a more competitive school. Here’s why that matters: When you graduate from Harvard, you have “signaled” your ability through the acceptance, continued attendance, and competition for grades. It isn’t a guarantee of anything, because there are still some stupid Harvard grads. But it makes it more probable that you’re highly qualified.

    This shouldn’t be viewed as an insult to non-Harvard attendees (and no, I didn’t go to Harvard, or anywhere like it.) U.Mass doesn’t have a negative signal, since there are plenty of smart folks at U.Mass. The problem is that U.Mass doesn’t have the equivalent positive signal (since it’s less competitive you can’t assume that “U.Mass. degree” = “usually very smart”.)

    1. JT

      I agree completely.

      Have to also mention that a college friend of mine actually transferred from Harvard to UMass, which we had a hard time understanding until we visited Ahmerst on a nice spring day and saw people studying outside, smiling, etc.

    2. Mike C.

      Yeah, having a four year degree in general is really more about having your “I’m a member of at least the middle class” club membership card.

    3. Jamie

      I love this phrase. That’s exactly what it is – signaling.

      It’s just kind of short hand for bright and competitive, so without the pedigree you just have to work a little harder to prove you’re bright and competitive.

  20. Anonymous

    In quantitative fields that require professional credentials, the school and GPA mean very little. You either passed that CPA exam or got your PE or you didn’t. However, Phoenix on your resume is a problem. Sorry.

    1. AX

      Well… it matters very little AFTER you get the credentials. I’m an accountant and when you’re a new grad, like the letter writer, your GPA matters A LOT.

      The “top” (Big 4 & large national) CPA firms generally weight pretty heavily on GPA for new grads who don’t have their CPA yet.

      However even in accounting where you go to school makes a difference. I went to a state school and got a Big 4 job because I busted my butt, graduated with honors had three jobs and was involved in professional organizations. People who go to the top accounting schools (BYU, UT Austin, USC) are practically guaranteed a Big 4 offer if the show up, manage a 3.0 and don’t get wasted at the firm open house.

      But not all accounting jobs are in the big 4, and once you get your CPA you have a lot more flexibility and it’s unlikely anyone is going to ask your GPA again.

  21. Anonymous

    I think the challenge is that every Hiring Manager is different as you can see from statements above. Some want to hire from small private schools, some want to hire the people who were the first to go to college, some want to hire from top tier only, so this will always probably be a debate to be had.
    That being said, going to a school that makes you happy where you can be successful is important. For instance, my husband knew he needed a smaller school b/c he learned better in small classroom setting whereas I was just fine in a large state school with lecture rooms over 500 students. To each their own.
    What’s important, and I think is mentioned above as well, is being able to network and build relationships with people in the workforce and community – that will end up helping you in the end. As you progress in your career, where you went to school really does become less relevant. Early on though, employers really only have your school to look at and some will want that small christian school and some will want the harvard grad’s. As long as you went to a school where you were happy and able to be successful and learn…I think you’ll be ok. Going to college, in general, is a life learning experience whether that’s at a state school, private school, christian school, or an ivy league school. Good luck!

  22. Anonymous

    From my experience yes, college and GPA do matter – in some cases in combination with work experience. In are of the IT field where BS and grad level degrees are required the minimum I’ve seen accepted is a 3.0 gpa. (I’m close but no cigar – 50+hr workweek + half to full time class load). And yes….especially in SW and central VA, graduates from VA schools are preferred and considered better candidates. This may have something to do with personal preference of hiring personnel, company loyalty or even corporate financial support of said college.
    I am going to go out on a limb and say that larger metropolitan areas might be more open-minded and less particular about what college a person attended or their GPA.

  23. Student

    Some jobs ask for your transcript. Some jobs require a certain GPA. Not all jobs do. I’ve run into minimum GPA requirements and transcript requests primarily in government jobs and university jobs. I haven’t run into many private companies that ask about GPA and transcripts. However, the private companies are a lot more (openly) focused on school prestige than the government and universities are.

    I imagine it also has a lot to do with company size. A small company with only 20 or so employees might be able to realistically only hire people from one favored school. Larger companies can’t always be so picky. I’m sure looking at where the CEO went to school will give you some proxy information on how the company views school prestige – a CEO from a state school probably runs a business that doesn’t care much if you’re from an Ivy or not.

  24. Anonymous

    I went to a non-Ivy but fairly prestigious private school in the Midwest. In fact it was ranked number 5 on one of those infamous lists the year I graduated. It hasn’t made one iota of difference in my career (editorial, comms, marketing, etc.). In fact, I think I’m further behind by state-school peers because I graduated with so much debt. The one area where it might have helped was applying for grad school–I know some of my former classmates definitely saw an advantage there.

    My sister had mediocre grades in high school and went to a mid-level state school (as opposed to our better ranked state school), and she’s working at a Fortune 500 company where they’ve identified her as a high-potential employee–and she’s in finance. This is because she worked in college, had great references, and did a fantastic job when she started working full time.

    Of course, I’m in the Midwest. It might be different on the coasts. I definitely think that if I had tried to get into publishing in New York it would have been different. But most of the editors at my publishing house went to state school.

    Unless you are going into law or finance, don’t waste your time worrying about this. Are you suddenly going to transfer to an Ivy? No? Then just do the best you can do where you are, make those connections, get the internships, and do a good job when you get that first job!

  25. Ally

    I went to a very small school that no one has heard of. It was difficult to get a job out of college so I started working for a temp agency and in 6 months was hired by an organization I was temping with – I worked by butt off to impress them. They only hire internally or of people they know so temping was the perfect way to get in the door, otherwise I’m positive I would never have been hired. This organization only takes interns from Ivy League schools and often hires from the pool of former interns, so most of my colleagues are from Harvard, Cornell, etc. In the workplace, my school has never come into question and I’ve never felt beneath or not as important as the others -although it’s sometimes really obvious in after work conversations how different of lives we had growing up (they come from much wealthier families than I), but it has never been an issue in the workplace.

    Back to the question, I do think that state school students may have to work a little harder in networking. I agree with what Tracy said above, my experience has been very similar.

  26. Victoria

    Speaking from the context of the small nonprofit sector (as in, the sector of small nonprofits – not Red Cross, Sierra Club, etc.):

    My initial reaction to the question was “No, it doesn’t matter, and I wish parents would stop worrying about it so much.” Of course I notice when an applicant has an Ivy League degree… but that’s it, I notice it, and I’m pretty sure I’m being honest when I say it doesn’t affect my thinking about the applicant (except, maybe, if it’s not a great application I might think “Huh. I thought this would be better”).

    I absolutely do not automatically think less of applicants who went to state schools, well-known small private colleges and so on. I’ll admit that I do flinch a little (and google) when I see a candidate from a school I’ve never heard of; it makes me wonder whether it’s an online program, or one of those for-profit, unaccredited schools.

    I do think that in any given region, managers are going to have a sense of the relative quality of the local schools. Their sense may not be accurate or fair, but it’s out there. This isn’t about published rankings or school branding – it’s their own experience with the schools (interns they’ve had, classes they’ve spoken at, conferences they’ve attended, staff they’re hired, etc.). Think about the schools in your town – you basically know which schools are “better” and which are “worse,” right?

    Lastly, I do think that alumni networks can be powerful. But don’t mistake a large alumni base (i.e., from a huge state school like Michigan or Minnesota) with a powerful alumni network. Some alumni networks – from a range of types of schools, i.e. Swarthmore to Penn State – are tight-knit and effective. Others aren’t. It’s about the culture they’ve built, not the number of graduates.

    1. NonProfiter

      My experience has been the same in hiring.

      Here’s one thing I just realized: when I was first out of school I spent just one short para in my cover letter describing my education and making my educational background there apply to the skills needed for the job I was applying for, just in case the hiring manager hadn’t heard of it.

      “I got my BA from Selective Liberal Arts College, which is known for its Chocolate Teapot program . . .”

  27. NonProfiter

    Such good advice and encouragement here. It’s nice to see this thread stay on topic, i.e. really addressing “Do Employers Care Where You Went to School?” I see so many discussions where colleges are the topic completely devolve in classist arguments.

    I also think it’s great that people recognize the difference between a more vocational degree (nursing, business, education, some of the STEMs) and the humanities or liberal arts and how those differences mete out in the job search.

    1. Catherine

      I think High Honors makes more of a statement than a GPA number. Even though I know a 4.0 is good (for schools that use a common GPA system), that number just doesn’t punch me like High Honors or Magna Cum Laude does. Maybe that’s because I’m more a word person (English degree here).

  28. Liz T

    I actually don’t KNOW my GPA–my school had it’s own way of calculating it, and didn’t emphasize GPA that I could tell–so I put on my résumé that I graduated with High Honors, which is true. Obviously that hasn’t ruined my job prospects, since I got great jobs right out of college, but I’m wondering if this seems weird to anyone?

  29. Jubilance

    I’ll relay my experience as a technical person (science/engineering).

    I went to a large Midwestern state school, the flagship school in the state, for undergrad. I then attended a flagship state school in the Southeast for graduate school. Coming from undergrad, my GPA was under 3.0, and my grad school GPA was a little above a 3.0, but not by much. I had a job secured 3 months before I graduated from grad school & am now in my 2nd job since grad school. My GPA has never came up – my first job only wanted a copy of my degree to confirm I graduated, but that was it. Since then, I’ve never been asked about my GPA, its all about my work experience & accomplishments.

    I also worked in University Relations, doing recruiting activities on campuses. The only time I saw GPA considered was during these events – for many of the “leadership programs’ the company offered, a minimum GPA (along with student involvement, internships, etc) were required. Generally the company said that they wanted students with GPAs above 3.0, but even that was flexible. I’ve always heard (and seen with my own eyes) that in the technical world, a candidate with a lower GPA & stellar work experience will trump a candidate with a higher GPA & little/no work experience.

    I agree with the comments that your university matters in terms of your ability to network with alumni. I was at the car wash recently & another person there noticed my license plates included the logo of my alma mater – turns out he’s a recruiter for a company I’ve been trying to get into & he also is an alum. Instant connection! I might not have had that opportunity otherwise.

  30. Anonymous

    If I have two resumes in front of me with identical experience and one says “graduated from __” and one says, “Graduated from ____, Magna Cum Laude”…. I’m picking the one who graduated Magna Cum Laude.

    I think GPA is a very good indication of how hard someone is willing to work and indicative of the quality of work you can from them. In school I was always determined to be a straight A student, and in the work world I always strive to be a fantastic employee. GPA can indicate if someone might perform their job so that they receive a performance evaluation of “meets expectations”, or if the person will be the type of employee who strives to receive an evaluation of “exceeds expectations.”

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      If I have two resumes in front of me with identical experience and one says “graduated from __” and one says, “Graduated from ____, Magna Cum Laude”…. I’m picking the one who graduated Magna Cum Laude.

      But I bet that’s not true if the other person has fantastic work experience and accomplishments and the other one doesn’t.

      1. Anon

        I’ve had bosses who have said they didn’t want to hire anyone with a perfect GPA (especially if they didn’t have work experience). The concern was that the person would be the type of person who argued with a professor over two points, or sought out easier classes they would do well in, or worse, would completely melt down the first time they failed at something or got less than perfect feedback. My brother the engineer had a conniption at his first A-, but he admitted that after that, the pressure to be perfect was off.

        I had a 3.2 GPA out of undergrad, but two internships, leadership experience, and study abroad experience (which matters, since I’m in an international field). I consistently beat out 4.0 types for jobs in my early job-hunting days.

        1. Kate2

          This seems ridiculous to me. I understand that experience really matters, most likely more than “just” a good a GPA, but your boss saying they don’t want to hire anyone with a perfect GPA? So getting a few B’s and C’s shows that you can handle disappointment and won’t “melt down” when given negative feedback? I would argue that the vast majority of people with stellar GPA’s got the grades they did because they worked extremely hard, NOT because they argued with the professors or only took easy classes. Having a good GPA actually hurting your chances at getting a job makes zero sense to me.

    2. Anon

      I was awarded a grant to do half of my undergrad degree in Europe at 2 universities. I was the first at my school to do this and when I left, there were still some things that were unclear to the admins at my home university and my first host university. This led me to being forced into Master’s level classes being taught in a language I didn’t speak, in areas I hadn’t yet covered in undergrad classes and I failed some classes.

      Ultimately, this hurt my GPA at home and there was no way to recover enough to graduate Magna Cum Laude. It didn’t mean I didn’t work hard – I had three majors, an additional degree from a top European business school and academic extra curriculars. I wasn’t Magna Cum Laude, though, but that doesn’t mean I don’t strive to be an excellent employee and exceed expectations.

    3. Mike C.

      I really disagree.

      First of all, the idea that an employee who is doing everything expected of them is just skating by is really silly. If that’s the case you need to change what is expected of your employees, not punishing them for doing what you expect of them.

      When I graduated from my college, there were maybe 10,000 degrees awarded in it’s 50 year history and only 5 of them had 4.0 GPAs. First semester for all students where I went was a Chem course w/ lab (3 units), Physics course (3 units), Complex Calculus/Diff Equ (4 Units), an intensive writing course (4 units) and many had an additional course on top of that. This was normal for your entire time there. You were busting your buns just to get a C or a D, let alone higher grades. Working 80 hours/week or more on agonizingly difficult coursework is a whole lot different than working 40 hours a week for a typical job.

      To say that these students would approach the work world doing the minimum required to keep a job is laughable at best, and incredibly offensive if taken seriously. Would you really take someone that took a bunch of easy courses for a 4.0 over someone with a much more difficult workload and work experience and a 2.7?

      I’ll take the person that failed a course pushing themselves past their limit over the person that has never failed at all.

      1. Michael

        2.7 – No (assuming I’m judging them on this alone)

        If coursework is overwhelming, then you should have taken a few easy courses. Someone who kept on going despite not fully succeeding at the task could mean two things: (1) That they didn’t fully learn what they were supposed to do their jobs effectively; and/or, (2) They could represent someone who will take to much workload on a work without informing their manager they are overloaded (because your manager may not know), and fail to deliver a quality product/service to the customer.

        Of course, if they interviewed well, had the team spirit, a steep learning curve, and there wasn’t another candidate with the weakness; I would be willing to take them on, mentor them, and actively make sure they don’t let themselves sink.

        1. Anonymous

          There’s a lot more to GPA than how hard you worked. My major’s department had a rule of 1 A/30 students (enforced) and a lot of the other departments had similar guidelines. Not to mention, you can learn a lot from your classes without necessarily wanting to spend all of your free time studying to cram in little details for the test. I mean, a high GPA can mean “always stressed out, more worried about test than content, difficult to deal with, can’t deal with failure” as well as “hard worker, intelligent, goal driven”. Also, there are (top tier) schools that do GPA inflation to help out their students.

          1. Michael

            Unless a hiring manager is familiar with the policies of your school, then it’s going to be impossible for him to evaluate a new grad and normalize GPA. A hiring manager is going to have a lot of applications for a new position, especially entry level, and he is going to have to set some guidelines to evaluate how well you will perform at work. First, hire those that Co-Oped, then look at grades and professional organization participation.

      2. Dan

        I agree. My current employment is transitioning from small business to medium business (same company, we’re just growing) and we’ve put in place some sort of structure to help manage compensation. There half-dozen or so different levels, and each level has an associated pay raise. They also talked about performance reviews, which had been in place for awhile.

        During an info session, I asked HR if an employee that “meets expectations” (level 3) could get promoted. She asked why the company should promote mediocrity. I’m sorry, but if you’re really telling me that the level 3 employee is mediocre and needs improvement, shouldn’t you really evaluate him as “needs improvement” and give him a level 2? Because ultimately, what you’re saying is that somebody who shows up and does their job reasonably well doesn’t deserve a raise. If he never gets a raise, he’ll have to quit because of inflation. So, the ultimate conclusion is that the company wants to get rid of people who do what they’re supposed to and mind their p’s and q’s. Not how I would choose to run a business.

        But all of this is for not. In the real world, performance evaluations are political. The company will promote who they want to promote, and give scores accordingly. If they don’t want to promote you, you will also be scored accordingly.

        How do I know this? Our performance evaluations start out by comparing ourselves with people in our peer group. There’s two problems with that: 1) I actually don’t know who is in my peer group (there are 5 levels of analysts in my peer group, and I actually don’t know who is at what level, and don’t think the company is just going to hand it out) and 2) Even if I did know who they were, I don’t work with enough of them often enough to know rate them with a reasonable level of detail. I’m not their manager, I don’ t know what they do well or what they do poorly, even when I actually work with them.

        Finally, even if I have to rate myself on a scale of 1-5, there’s no objective criteria that I can compare myself to. I do the best job I can on every project, given the budget and time. How do I know if my work 1) sucks, 2) needs improvement, 3) meets expectations, 4) exceeds expectations sometimes, or 5) significantly exceeds expectations? I don’t even know what the expectations actually are.

  31. Jill

    I think the region where you want to work makes a difference in whether a degree matters. I’m in Southeast Wisconsin and folks who appear to boast about their Harvard or Yale-ish degrees are actually looked at as snooty. It’s almost bizarre to boast about a top tier degree. We’re actually more impressed by folks who have gotten their degrees right here at local colleges & universities.

    I’m disappointed though, in the idea that the name on one’s degree is all that should matter. If this economy has taught us anything it’s that there’s a lot of folks with really good degrees – – who still cannot find work. Top tier schools are going to come with top tier tuition. Again, in some regions, the name on the degree matters not. Also the field you go into may not justify a top tier degree either.

  32. JP

    But the thing about Beloit College is that you find Beloiters in the places you least expect…I may have made an undignified excited sound when I hovered over the link! (Class of ’11!)

    1. Laura L

      Is that what you guys call yourselves?

      A few years ago, I was roommates with a Beloiter and tried to get her to call herself a Beloiterer, but she wasn’t a fan.

  33. Hello Vino

    From my experience, where you went to school can make a world of difference during the the first few years of your career. (FYI – I’m in design/advertising. Moved to SF right after graduation and to NYC a few years later.) I didn’t go to an Ivy, but I was incredibly fortunate to attend a fairly prestigious top 25 school. I received both comprehensive training in my field of study, but also a well rounded overall education. I got to know a lot of professors very well due to the small class sizes. My career accelerated quickly, despite the economy, because of my training and connections from school.

    I really hate to have to admit it, but it seems like the people I went to school with (or similar institutions) are doing much better career wise than people I know who attended state or community colleges. I have a group of very close friends working in similar fields even thought we have different educational backgrounds. We frequently compare notes when it comes to schools, jobs, salaries, you name it. It’s actually been very beneficial for all our careers to have this kind of honesty. We’ve all noted that where you went to school matters when you’re a fresh graduate. We’ve also come across many instances where a fresh grad from a prestigious school ends up with $10k more than a fresh grad from state school at the same company, same position. It’s definitely a bummer.

    I do want to point out that going to a prestigious school IS NOT a guarantee of anything. Both in school and in the real world, I’ve encountered people from top tier universities who are clueless and incompetent. I’ve also met people who didn’t receive any formal college education and training, but are absolute rockstars. The most important thing is to figure out what is a good fit for you and make the most of the it. 4 or 5 years down the road, where you went to school doesn’t matter anymore. What matters is your work performance at those first couple of jobs.

  34. Vanessa

    I attended a state university and was later hired as staff at an Ivy in the same state. I was pleasantly surprised to find that my fellow staff members (as well as many of the faculty) came from a wide range of schools, from community colleges, SLACs, public universities, and other Ivies. The only staff we had who attended our own Ivy tended to be current students who worked on a part-time basis.

  35. Marie Wiere

    I think a lot of it depends on what path you choose to take with your career and where you choose to live after graduation. I graduated from a top school (overseas) that consistently ranks in the top 20 colleges in the world. Had I stayed in my country it likely would have helped me land a good job or had I moved to a major U.S. city global alumni networks could have helped me.

    However, I ended up moving to a medium sized U.S. city where most employers had never heard of my school. It might has well have been from a diploma mill! I’ve actually had more doors open for me since I started doing a part time MBA at a public university in my city as employers know the school and the program. Good luck to the OP, make sure to take advantage of opportunities and your school’s career networks.

    1. JT

      Marie — I just looked at your schools and the non-US one should be known – at least I’ve heard of it. And just from the name I’d assume it’s the top school in all of Scotland. Which is an indicator that you are probably very smart.

      1. Anonymous

        And just from the name I’d assume it’s the top school in all of Scotland. Which is an indicator that you are probably very smart.

        Well, there is the one down the road in Fife…

        1. JT

          I’d heard of that other school but actually thought it was in England (and a good school too). Shows how little I know.

    2. Dan

      That’s funny. I actually looked at doing an MBA program at your school, but passed because outside of Nevada, nobody knows about UNR. And with an MBA, you *need* to graduate from a top school, unless you’re just trying to advance in your current work place. So I find it funny that the University of Edinburgh isn’t helping you but UNR is.

  36. Jeanne

    I know of one pharmaceutical company that still checks your GPA even if you’ve been out of school 20 years. If it’s not high enough you don’t get hired. But that is very rare. Most places just want to know you graduated.

    1. class factotum

      A lot of the online job application software asks for GPA.

      Of course, these are the same programs that want to know if I live in Afghanistan, New Guinea, Paraguay, or Uzbeckistan and are always surprised that no! I live in the United States! where the job that I am applying for is located!

  37. Joey

    I tend to look favorably at applicants that have specialized degrees like engineering, architecture, law, etc from highly ranked programs. I look down upon applicants that went to schools that are more known for partying. Ivies get noticed, but everything else kind of runs together.

    1. Jamie

      Does that apply once the candidate has work experience, or are you weighting the schools more heavily for recent grads?

      Just curious, as someone who went to a highly ranked party school.

      I’ve just always assumed that once you get solid career achievements under your belt college stuff becomes less and less relevant – at least that’s how it seems in my industry.

      1. Joey

        For me on the job performance overrides everything. That’s just in the absence of or with very little experience. Frankly after a year or two of relevant experience I could care less about your degree. For most jobs I just don’t find that college is a good indicator of a quality applicant. The exceptions being jobs that require a degree to take necessary professional exams. But then it’s more about the license or certification than the degree.

    2. Mike C.

      Wait, what engineering colleges are you speaking of that aren’t also know for parties? :p

  38. HiringManager

    As someone who hires a lot of recent grads, I actually prefer to hire from the local state school as opposed to two of the local, well-known private schools (non-Ivy but both of which count presidents as alumni) just due to experience. The candidates from the state school usually turn out well, have positive attitudes, and have no issue doing the grunt work to get ahead.

    The times we’ve interviewed candidates from the other schools, they’ve left an impression of being entitled and often have salary expectations out of line with our industry.

    Now, I’m not going to toss out someone’s resume if they’re from one of those schools but for me a candidate’s attitude, thoughtfulness, experience, and interest in the position matter a lot more than which school they attended!

  39. sam.i.am

    I went to Emory University, which isn’t incredibly well-known. In my first job interview out of college, the interviewer said, “I’ve never heard of it. Is it any good?”

    So, yeah…

    In the intervening years, my Emory connection has opened a multitude of doors for me and my experience there has been invaluable. But at that particular moment, there was a little internal panic.

    Like everything else, it is what you make of it.

    1. Xay

      That’s hilarious to me, because I work in Atlanta and people talk about Emory like it is Harvard. It all depends on where you are.

      Meanwhile, I mention going to Carleton College and get blank stares.

      1. Victoria

        Heh. Carleton is near the top of my local college list (along with Macalester). But obviously it’s resonance is super local.

          1. Victoria

            U of M alum here too!

            Also, I’m mortified by my incorrect “it’s” up there. That’s one that I’m a total stickler about!

    2. JT

      If that “any good” question was completely honest, there’s nothing wrong with it. It’s a lot better than them thinking “I never heard of it so it’s probably no good.”

      That said, if someone is in hiring with potential applicants from all over the country I would hope they’d heard of Emory.

    3. Natalie

      Maybe it’s just the med school, but everyone I knew was very impressed with my cousin when we was accepted to Emory for med school. We’re all in MN.

    4. Dan

      That’s funny. I used to travel from Los Angeles to Atlanta to see an eye specialist. Where was that specialist? On the medical faculty at Emory University hospital.

      1. Laura

        I am shocked. I consider Emory one of the top schools in the country. It is definitely close to “ivy -league quality.” wow. I am surprised that people don’t assume that. It definitely is almost as hard to get into.

  40. Cara Carroll

    No I don’t care about grades. I would rather some community college over an online degree. As AAM says it probably depends on what field you are looking to enter that will determine how important the type of school you attend factors in.

  41. Dan

    I once asked my HR person if where you go to school really matters. Response: “A lot.” Oh, funny. I was out of state when I was hired at my current job, but I actually went to a Top 50 local school. It was literally ranked 50th by Princeton Review this year, but usually flirts with rankings a bit lower in the list. They hired me any way. We have at least two people who went to MIT, and neither get the ground they walk on worship. I even make more than one of the MIT grads, and I’m a product of that Top 50 private school with an unfinished masters degree from a state school :)

    My work place is *not* littered with all kinds of flashy school names. In fact, I generally think that for a given degree level (we have BS, MS, and PhDs) everybody’s education experiences are the same.

  42. Dan

    Follow up to previous post:

    Where you went to school matters, but not in ways that you actually expect. It matters if you went to a diploma mill, because you won’t get hired. It matters where you went if you want an MBA or JD (but those are post-bachelors, and the question posed is almost always in the context of undergraduate schools). It matters for specific majors, or if you want to work for specific companies. But those specifics are such a small slice of the overall job pie, that they’re almost irrelevant to most BS/BA seeking students.

  43. Anonymous

    If you live in the Northeast, specifically the Boston area, unfortunately, it does matter. There is sadly, a negative association with state schools. And it is unfortunate, because hello – it makes more sense to go to Bridgewater State for 12K a year instead of Boston College for 40K a year.
    I hate to admit it, but I did go to “expensive private school in the northeast,” and I do have a bit of a negativity towards state schools. I know I know it is wrong, but when you live in Boston, there is just so much focus on education, you are expected to take a loan out for something that you can’t afford rather than doing the smart thing and going to an affordable state school.

    1. For-Profit

      I understand this, I am from the northeast (Boston area), and have since moved to the Southeast. I never made any sense to me! When I graduated high school, I went to a public college, dispite my grades and SAT scores, while many in my class went to Northeastern, BC, BU, etc. For me I would rather hold a BA with no loan debt, compared to a BA with a lot of debt. I am now a hiring manager for a major beverage company in the Southeast, and those are the types of things, that I look at.

  44. Victoria

    I just thought of a bias I do have (and perhaps is shared by others): I tend to not think all that highly of what I perceive as second-tier public schools or satellite campuses (examples: Minnesota State University as opposed to the University of Minnesota, or Penn State Abington as opposed to Penn State).

    1. mh_76

      Re: Penn State – what does it say on the diploma and do they use the same enrollment IT system and enrollment verification hotline? If so, is it necessary to specify “Abington”? I went to & worked for a Univ. that had various schools & colleges within it and the diplomas said “X University [new line] College of [example] Arts & Sciences]” but they were still X University diplomas regardless of school/college or physical location/online.

      1. Victoria

        Oh, I have no idea about what the degrees actually say or the enrollment IT system. Any verification system would definitely note whether a student was at a flagship campus or a satellite campus.

        Graduates could obviously just write “Penn State” in place of “Penn State Abington,” but that would be just as much a lie as writing “Harvard” and meaning “Harvard College of Topeka” (or whatever).

      2. Victoria

        BTW, I totally don’t mean to pick on Minnesota State University (which I can’t get used to saying – it’ll always be Mankato State or St. Cloud State, or whatever, to me!) or Penn State Abington. All I’m getting at here is that they aren’t the same school as the University of Minnesota or Penn State (Happy Valley).

        1. mh_76

          (didn’t think you were picking on anyone)

          Didn’t know that the Penn States were completely separate schools. Re: the Harvard example, good point -but- a degree from the Harvard Extension school is a Harvard Degree and I’ve been told that the diploma doesn’t mention the Extension school (I know a couple of people who went through the Extension and one who’s currently in-progress) and I’m pretty sure the registration & enrollment verification systems are the same.

          1. Victoria (The OP)

            Right, but Harvard Extension isn’t the same thing as Harvard University. Just because you can get away with claiming that something is the same (i.e., if the verification system doesn’t differentiate) doesn’t mean that it is.

  45. Alison

    Interesting comments. I think Ask A Manager’s article definitely gets it right. No one should gnash their teeth if they didn’t go to the very best schools, or have the highest grades. I’ve known too many people who have been successful despite that. (Although, I must say that most successful people I know who didn’t go to the best schools, did get good grades regardless).

    I did want to note, since I didn’t see many posters writing from this perspective, that I see the whole “it doesn’t really matter” debate differently. I went to Princeton, earned a high GPA and achieved several academic honors, and it has made a difference in every single job I’ve gotten since college, and in my being admitted to top tier graduate programs. That’s 20 years of influence, which says a lot, in my opinion. My transcript has never been specifically requested by a potential employer, but I have always put my GPA and honors awarded on my resume because they stand out, and to be frank, they should.

    They do “signal” a great deal about the skills, intelligence and work ethic I bring to the table for any position. Resumes are marketing collateral that are supposed to make your case for consideration for a given job, so why would I not reference what I’ve accomplished when I genuinely believe that it’s relevant and makes me likely (when combined with my experience) to be good at that job?

    What I’ve found as a hiree and friend of those who hire, when HR is screening hundreds, if not thousands of resumes, things like where you went to school and how well you did there can help place your resume in the “possible” pile. That does NOT mean you are guaranteed to get the job, and it also doesn’t mean that someone who went to a lower-tier school is guaranteed to end up n the “discard” pile, make no mistake. But my experience has been that it will often get you an interview, at which point the rest is up to you and how well you actually fit what the company needs. One thing for sure is that it’s always a topic that interviewers raise: they notice my alma mater(s) and my success there and always in an approving way, no matter the industry. At the very least, they know I’m serious about whatever I undertake.

    I also agree with in general with what others have said about the importance of networks, wherever one goes to school. I can’t speak to the networks of other Ivy League schools, but Princeton’s is outstanding. It got me my first real job, it has facilitated getting informational interviews, lunch meetings, recommendations and job leads over the years.

    My personal advice to people who ask me about schools, and many do, once they find out about the ones I’ve graduated from, is what my parents told me. Work as hard as you can in high school (and in truth, before that). Take the most challenging courses as proof of your willingness to push yourself, even if you don’t think you’ll get an A in all of them. Then research colleges thoroughly and aim as high as you can. Choose the best one that you also honestly believe you will enjoy attending, and that you can afford. Talk to alums if you’re not sure and DON’T be scared off by the false idea that people who go to competitive schools are automatically “unhappy.” If they are, it’s not because the school is too difficult. It’s because they are unhappy about other things and “school” is easy to blame.

    So, in essence, work hard wherever you are, take advantage of networks, both alumni-based and from internships, and then put your best foot forward!

  46. Allison

    I went to Beloit too! Been reading your site for a couple of months and so thrilled to find you are a fellow Beloiter!!!

  47. Max

    Sometimes but i like what this one person says about the matter. Kevin o’leary, possibly one of my favorite people on the planet since hes so realistic when it comes to stuff and hes not afraid to speak his mind. I remember in a conversation he had in the news they asked this question and he said that it doens’t matter at all. All the school rankings are based of marketing, from stuff like advertising and publishing, its not based on how good the actual school is. other wise we’d have varied levels of college and univerity, like university of toronto would be a “super university” and a school like university of windsor or other lower ranked schools would be just “university”. Instead they are all called universites or they are all called college because in order to be considered that, they need to met particular standards, stadards that don’t differ from school to school. I attend Trent University and some beleive it to be not such a good choice because of its ranking, but i’m learning the exact same stuff as my friends in Carelton and UFT except trent has a much better student to teacher ratio so its not a choire to get assitantance or to get office time with professuers, that and the fact that you can actually be known by your name and not a number.

  48. Visit

    I went to UW-Madison, took a job and the requisite break, and then finished out at a state school in the area. Applying for jobs, specifically in finance areas, I have often wondered if I should have returned for the post-graduate opportunities with employers. However, I really discovered my strengths and knocked it out of the park with the latter. It was a better fit, and I am looking at graduate schools, but there are definite tradeoffs.

    I’d get drunk, skip classes and show up for As and Bs at Madison, but I was floundering.

  49. For-Profit

    Where does the interview process stand in any of this discussion? For instance, I am planning on going to grad school for an MBA. I had a 3.0 GPA in undergrad (local public college), and have been in my line of work for 5 years, 3 managerial. Truthfully, I planned to attend a for-profit online school (RA). Should it matter the school you go to, if your professional experience is there, and via your interview you demonstrate your potential?

  50. Penny

    This “no one cares where you went to college in the job market” really only applies to white people and no one else. If you’re a minority then the way the job market is today the only way you’re even making it to the interview is if you went to no less than an Ivy, or MIT, Stanford, Cal Tech, Johns Hopkins, Oxford, Cambridge, Vanderbilt, Duke, or Northeastern. Anything less will get a minority treated like “she doesn’t have a degree at all” – I kid you not. That’s the kind of thing I got told by a friend that people were saying about me behind my back in Boston, back when I had “only” attended San Francisco State and not yet Yale or Johns Hopkins. Now with all three under my belt, things are little better. Now it’s like I have “too much education and not enough experience” because with less education no one would hire me once they saw me and saw that I’m not as white as I looked “on paper.” Yes, taking Latin at my college-prep high school in the suburbs obviously did me no good except, I guess, in law school. And in Biotech and now, or rather in the future, Pharmacy school. I know of a guy who went to Yale, got his BS in Chemical Engineering, and has wound up “only” as a public school Math teacher in the New Haven public schools. It takes no less than an Ivy League degree for a black guy to get a job that really, technically, only requires a Bachelors from a STATE university — or rather those would be the requirements of a WHITE guy. I kid you not: he’s on Facebook.

  51. yooo

    listen man attending a private university is the best thing ever! you GPA definitely matters! work hard play hard, you get what you pay for

  52. Rebeccah

    I am struggling with this issue right now. I got accepted to a private university and also to a state school for my graduate studies. Tremendous difference in price; however, I am able to finish my Masters in one year because it is an advanced standing program. Although one year of tuition gets dropped in this case, I am still looking at about a $30k price difference when compared to the state school. The state school has a pretty good reputation and I am finishing up my BA there, but it’s certainly not as prestigious as the private school. It bothers me to know that I would more than likely be paying for the name and not the eduction at the private institution, but yet I feel potential employers will place more faith in me if they see I went to the prestigious school.

  53. Aleera

    I understand the struggle in deciding where to go for graduate studies. I’m post-Bacc. mode did the first BBA (some reason our b-school degrees are bba) in accounting, taking math & accounting, likely starting cpa exam soon but more interested in applied math/stats/actuarial. The sticker price between state school, private university, and private Ivy have a considerable spread; at least 30k from least to most expensive comparing to the state school. I’m working on masters prereqs. for math/2nd BA at the state school. I think it is okay to do the state school for undergraduate and spend more on the graduate studies. I think if you want to work for a larger company, the better brand would be worth the money. Local employers seem to be okay with just the local state school(s) because they are alumni &/ tuition is known to be cheaper; but those positions pay much less.

  54. Donna

    As an employer, I DO care. A LOT.

    I will NOT hire anyone out of a religious school. Liberty University is a good example. I find the religious agenda so interferes with teaching critical thinking skills that these people can be VERY difficult to supervise.

    Anything that goes against their personal religious beliefs is rejected outright. I work in medicine, so this can be a serious problem. Credible science is rejected by those graduates based on the SOURCE. If the source is a credible scientific body, they reject it. It’s exactly the opposite of what it should be.

    So – when my assistant reviews applicants, she knows to file away ANY that are from religious schools. Period. We don’t destroy them as we are legally required to keep them, but she stamps “UNIVERSITY” across the cover page. That alerts us, if we are reviewing files, that the person is automatically unacceptable.

    I’ve had too many years and too many experiences with those people. The fact that I have to manage someone’s personal religious beliefs – some of which can get us into trouble (for example, we had one of those employees trying to talk one of our patients out of going for an abortion – we are a psychiatry office – we CANNOT do that). So for this doctor, NO RELIGIOUS SCHOOL GRADUATES. Period.

    1. Campbell Uni Student

      WOW! Can we say discrimination? I cannot believe that employers would discriminate against people based on where they went to school and on religious preferences…

  55. C

    Top schools get hired on wall street more than state schools. Wall street employees in the front office at mid rungs make more than very high level corporate managers. Harvard, Yale, Princeton etc. get jobs there. Region also plays a big impact, so staters on east coast may do OK, but statistically would struggle. Most people don’t correlate correctly that getting hired in corporate America is different than banking ad consulting. Big corporations hire people not on te bass of good degrees. There clearly are a lot of very high level corporate people from prestigous schools though. Wall Street hires from background, as they recruit at certain schools. Then after a few years, degree matters less. If all else equal though Harvard could get promoted faster. Nobody is really rich, even in upper augment in a corporation. Someone however could be a 30 year old trader at Goldman and make more than a board member of a corporation of 100,000 plus. That’s an outlier, but any banking front office employee has exit opps un reachable to a corporate manager. Contrary to popular belief not everyone at a top school is smart, and you don’t need to be rich either. Like getting hired, who you know helps make the transition easier. Also where you live is a huge bias. MIT is a sound investment no matter which way somebody goes. A surgeon pays off debt when they are 50, a trader from MIT, maybe early 30s.

  56. bman

    It matters in mechanical engineering, the thing i’ve started to notice is how people from different schools pan out in the workplace. The high level work is handed over after some time, lower tier people are never given the chance. This most often requires a sucessful person to have good personal skills and be a good manager. The expectation is that the person is smart enyough to see the next steps and understand the analytics as well as take risks based on experienced judgement (time and cost tradeoffs in terms of salaried people).

  57. Chris

    Everyone has given a lot of good advice. I wonder if someone can help me. I am currently pursuing a masters degree at a state college in VA. After I graduate I would like to work in a different state. My degree will be in computer science. It’s a state school and I know must employers will not have heard of the school once I relocate to a different state. I was thinking maybe its better to goto an Ivy school and finish my masters so when I graduate and move to the state I want to live in then maybe employers will consider me for the job even though I didn’t graduate from a school in their state. I can’t goto the school in the area where I want to move because the tuition is too expensive. It’s actually cheaper to goto the ivy school than the university in the city I want to live. Any advice ?

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