how do I convince hiring managers of the value of my degree?

A reader writes:

I went to a very rigorous master’s program in the UK. The acceptance rate is up there with the Ivy League’s, the name is fairly well known, and I did very well. Now I live in a big city in the U.S. and no one cares. No one. I don’t get a single question about my master’s at job interviews. The short-term job I have now I think I only got because I know Salesforce. I’ve been temping, freelancing, and interning for over a year since I’ve graduated (and of course, still applying to jobs). My industry is a hard one to break into, and my education isn’t on a straight track like engineering but did include hands-on skills learning. But dang. I feel so cheated. I was told that a degree from this university would open so many doors. The fact that I made it through my program with flying colors is my proudest accomplishment — it was much harder than any of the work duties I see in the assistant and associate level jobs I apply to.

How can I convince hiring managers of this without just sounding like an arrogant nerd? How does one nicely say “Listen, of course I can do this job that entails coordinating events, writing articles, and managing social media because I went to one of the hardest universities in the world and was top of my class?” I know, I know, academic skills and job skills are different — but mine was a management program that included a project with clients (which I list on my resume). It was hard work that challenged me and made me a better person. And I know it sounds whiny, but why does no one care about my degree? How do I make them care, instead of having to pretend that my proudest accomplishment was my run-of-the-mill coordinator job prior to returning to school? (As an aside, I went on a full scholarship, so luckily no debt!)

Reading this over, it sounds really arrogant and out of touch. Sorry about that. I guess it comes down to this — I was told I would get nowhere in my industry without a master’s, and that a master’s from that particular school was guaranteed to get me places. And it doesn’t. And even while I know academic knowledge isn’t the same, or as valued, as on the job know-how, I think my program proves I have the smarts and attitude to learn quickly and excel in high pressure situations, in ways that are directly relevant to my industry. But people care more about my very basic database skills (that I learned over a couple days), then the fact that I can live and learn cross-culturally, write and edit well, research and analyze large data sets, and work with clients, even though those are all relevant to my industry. I’ve been “paying my dues” and learning and listening humbly on the (two!) jobs that I’m working now, but I’m missing something. What am I doing wrong?

You’re still believing the hype that was fed to you even though you’ve seen that it’s wrong.

You have a lot of company in that boat (read the comments on this post, for example). Loads of people were told that if they went to grad school, they’d have no trouble getting work in their field afterwards, but it doesn’t work like that for many programs and many people.

Hiring managers generally care a lot more about what you’ve done than what you’ve learned about doing or what your potential might be. Going to a top university and graduating at the top of your class says that you have a certain type of smarts and a certain amount of drive. Those are good things — but they don’t always translate into the concrete work accomplishments that hiring managers are (often) looking for.

So where does that leave you now? Well, now that you know that what you were told about grad school was wrong, it’s time to let go of that — annoying as I’m sure that is — and start understanding what hiring managers in your field are actually looking for and where your current qualifications place you. In fact, that’s what I’d do as a next step here: talk to hiring managers in your field! Let go of your feelings about what they should value and find out what they really do value. (Without knowing your field, I can’t speculate on what those things might be, but they’ll be able to tell you.) That should give you much more insight into whether you’re doing something wrong (maybe you are, or maybe it’s just that it’s a hard field to break into), and what you can do to better position yourself as a candidate.

It sucks that you were misled about what your master’s program would do for you — seriously, it does. But you risk compounding that damage if you don’t adjust to the new information you’ve gotten since then. Doing that is what will help you figure out how to move forward from here. (And hey, no debt! That puts you in a better position than a lot of your peers.)

{ 350 comments… read them below }

  1. Bend & Snap*

    On the hiring side this is tough. Hard skills–not just job specific skills, but things like organization and time management–and experience really matter.

    I once managed a newly minted MBA with no work experience in an entry level role. She thought she was too educated to be working on the fundamentals. Unfortunately an advanced degree doesn’t allow you to move forward 10 spaces if you’re new to the working world.

    Keep plugging away at that foundational experience. You’ll get there.

    1. copy run start*

      This. I think there’s a misconception that grad school will not only make you more desirable for job openings, but also allow you to start at a higher level. This is so, so false. You still have to do entry level work, and it won’t fix a lack of work experience on your resume.

      My parents told me growing up that I’d have the rest of my life to work, so I shouldn’t do it while in school. The best decision I ever made was not taking their advice. I see my peers who graduated with little work experience but many degrees struggling 6 years on while those of us who built a resume did much better much faster.

      1. Blackhand*

        I was specifically excluded from some positions because of the grad degree. Some degrees can actually be hurtful.

        1. Joseph*

          In my industry (engineering), we have a similar industry-wide problem with PhD’s. Several reasons:
          1.) PhD’s with no experience are too qualified to be a true entry level staff engineer, but don’t have the actual experience to be in a more senior position. So many companies simply don’t have a reasonable level to slot them in.
          2.) A PhD usually takes about 3-5 years (plus 1 year for a master’s). However, most mid-level people have about 3-5 years experience, the relevant industry certification and either a bachelor’s or a master’s. So a straight-out-of-college 28-year old PhD very well might be a direct subordinate of a younger, less educated (but far more experienced) 27-year old person with a bachelor’s. Some people don’t handle this well.
          3.) There’s a perception that someone with a PhD wouldn’t be happy with the duties of a staff-level position – low-level tasks like writing safety plans, working from templates on reports, getting your hands dirty (literally) in our warehouse or field sites, etc.
          These are all broad generalizations and wildly unfair…but they are all pretty common beliefs.

          1. Myrin*

            Question from someone from a country where the academic as well as the working world are structured quite differently compared to the US: What does it mean when you say a PhD is “too qualified”? Does this refer to general knowledge (as opposed to “years of experience” which is how I would measure qualification)?

            1. Colette*

              I would guess there are multiple parts to the perception that a PhD is too qualified.

              The first one is Joseph’s point 2 above – more academic qualifications don’t mean much in most workplaces, and they may be reporting to someone with fewer academic qualifications.

              Also, they may in fact think they can start at a higher level and skip ebpntry level tasks, which is rarely the case.

              But also, academia values theoretical thinking, while the business world values practical solutions. So more training in theoretical ways of looking at the world is often not valuable.

              1. MK*

                Not valuable at best. It can also be very counter-productive. Many of my PhD-holding colleagues have to make a conscious effort to change their “let’s consider every possible aspect and answer to the issue”, because our job is to decided on specific cases and applications; they might have knowledge that is both extended and indepth, but they often don’t know how to apply it.

                1. Honeybee*

                  Yes! I have a PhD, and I always hated theory and wanted to do very, very applied work. I work in a corporate job that uses my PhD and even I have to constantly train myself out of going too theoretical – or wanting to tackle every interesting problem rather than focusing on business needs. It gets easier as I gain more experience, and I had practical internships in graduate school that helped. But PhDs specifically train you think theoretically and consider every possible aspect; you have to train yourself out of that in order to be successful.

              2. MyFakeNameIsLaura*

                “But also, academia values theoretical thinking, while the business world values practical solutions.” Thank you for this concise difference that I’ve been struggling to convey! Academic thinking can be really great for brainstorming and developing a topic for discussion, but less so when you’re trying to drill down into processes and solutions.

                1. MyFakeNameIsLaura*

                  Ha! This headline from the Seattle Times is relevant: “UW philosophers explore racial inequity with young students who are living it” =/

            2. itsame...Adam*

              I work in civil engineering and my boss joked with me that if I ever have to do an integral to get a solution, I am probably doing something wrong. To get an engineering PhD you have to do much higher math than you end up using when actually designing on the job. So an employer think, why should we pay more for someone when we can get the skills we need from an BA or MA.

            3. Joseph*

              Overqualified is basically a shorthand way of saying that a PhD brings a lot of additional qualifications which aren’t useful but *do* raise the level of expectations that the employee has in terms of salary, title, duties, speed of advancement, etc. Someone with a PhD likely expects to be paid more and have better duties than a 23-year old with a fresh bachelor’s degree. However, on my managerial side of the table, that PhD has little real value so there’s no real justification to treat you any differently.

              1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                Yes, all of this. Also, with some exceptions, most PhD programs in the United States are geared towards preparing a person to enter the academic market (i.e., university professor on the tenure-track). Even applied research, which may be common in some fields, still approaches problems from an interest in the pursuit and creation of knowledge, not from the perspective of solving a specific problem for a client within certain budget parameters. It’s certainly possible to move from a PhD into strategic research or R&D, but many employers will assume that a PhD-holder is not interested (long-term) in day-to-day work.

            4. SG*

              Also, from the hiring side- if you know someone who has spent 10 years getting an education might be unhappy with the basic tasks of a role (but they’re not qualified for anything higher because they don’t have actual work experience) you wouldn’t want to hire someone you think you’d lose quickly.

              1. Not So NewReader*

                A lawyer friend of mine often says that law school in NO WAY prepared her for the PAPERWORK. She went on to explain there is a huge amount of forms and documents that no one tells you about. You learn about it when someone says, “Where is the xyz document?” You learn to fake it and it’s exhausting. In an additional burden, the documents and forms are written in such a manner that even lawyers don’t know what the paperwork says.

                1. Brisvegan*

                  In my country we have pre-admission mandatory practical legal training for exactly this reason. We can’t teach every form etc, but we can teach that there will be lots of paperwork, how to find out what you need and how to do some very common transactional and litigation processes.

          2. blackcat*

            According to my engineering friends, this hugely depends on subfield and specific company. At least one friend (with a PhD) works at a company where there’s a clear ceiling if you don’t have a PhD. Similarly, they *only* hire PhDs in their basic research devision (he jokingly class it “the stuff of the future” department). The “entry-level” jobs are really equivalent to a post-doc, and they regularly hire people out of 2-3 year post-docs into positions that require 2-3 years experience. On the flip side, some employees quit after 2-3 years to return to academia. So there are definitely companies out there that have clear tracks for engineering PhDs.

            A PhD is really 2-4 years of *research* experience. If you get a where research is the main component, it’s relevant. If not… then it’s not.

            I’ve also heard from people who are at companies that require a PhD after a certain level… and then can’t get into PhD programs because their undergrad experience was too long ago. That entire set up seems really problematic, but weirdly common.

          3. AdAgencyChick*

            YUP to #2 — I have only a bachelor’s degree, and have been in the position of managing PhDs more than once. Most of them have been cool about the fact that they’re just getting started in advertising and I have years of experience behind me, but a couple of them have been pretty snotty about being asked to do low-level tasks or to revise their work so that it meets my standards. Those people didn’t last long.

            Because I’ve had mostly good experiences, I’m not immediately put off by an advanced degree when I’m hiring. But I can see how a hiring manager might be, if she’s had one or more really bad experiences.

          4. Roza*

            +1 to all of this. I’m a PhD who made the jump to the private sector after deciding in grad school that I was way more motivated when I was solving concrete problems for specific people than when I was “contributing to knowledge” more broadly. Getting my first job was an uphill battle because of the stereotypes described above. It can also be rough once you’re inside–by all accounts I’m performing very well, but apparently the company where I am happy bad experiences with PhDs in the past, and project managers will make snide comments about how “useless” people with academic backgrounds are…in the same conversation in which they tell me how thrilled they are to have me on their project because I’m the only one they can trust to do Complicated Technical Thing. I honestly think that since I’ve been there for a lot while now and have a reputation for doing great work, they forget that I have this background they hate so much. Rather than, you know, revising their opinions of said background.

            All that to say that I think that PhDs can be an asset for some research-oriented roles, provided the PhD-holder really understands what a private-sector role entails and is willing to learn from more experienced colleagues, regardless of those colleagues educational background. Even though you start at the bottom like anyone else, if your skills are as valuable as you think (and the company structure allows rapid upward movement), you’ll move up more quickly than people who don’t have the additional training and research experience. Hiring managers might also want to think a little harder about their assumptions regarding PhDs–plenty of people fit the stereotypes, but plenty don’t, and actually make for creative, hard-working, independent employees.

          5. Rana*

            These experiences with and assumptions about people with Ph.D.s are part of why I work for myself, for academic clients. It was just too hard explaining the value of my degree outside of academia.

            1. PhD lurker*

              This discussion is super interesting to me. I have a PhD but I sort of sent myself down two concurrent tracks. I joke that I have a fear of commitment because I didn’t decide between academia and industry, I just did both (consulting for industry clients during my doctoral studies, teaching part time at the Master’s level post-PhD while working for clients). I actually kind of love it. The teaching keeps me academically current because I have to be in order to teach, and the industry work is fun and interesting and relatively lucrative (and it also gives me a lot of industry connections, which lets me connect my students with opportunities).

              I know a lot of PhD advisors tell their students not to work during their doctoral studies, and I think that’s the worst possible advice. PhD students should ALWAYS make as many non-academic connections as possible and get some non-academic work experience as soon as possible.

              1. Rana*

                Agree on all points. There are definitely times when I wish I hadn’t bothered chasing academic jobs, and had leveraged the “fresh out of college” thing and gotten a few entry-level jobs right out of grad school. Otherwise you end up caught between being “over credentialed” and “woefully inexperienced” – something that’s tolerated when you’re in your twenties, but not so much a decade or so later.

      2. AMT*

        My wife is an editor. At dinner the other day with her coworkers, the consensus was that a master’s in publishing is actually a red flag when you’re hiring. Like many of these degrees, it shows that you’re a bit clueless about the job market and the skills you need to succeed in publishing (which these programs certainly don’t teach you).

        1. Is it Friday Yet?*

          I work in Digital Marketing, and it is similar. Getting a Master’s degree or anything beyond a BA is really not advantageous. This field changes so fast that furthering your degree would only put you behind because the curriculum cannot keep up with the changes.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            Fifteen years ago I read that a bachelor’s degree is obsolete by junior year. Yep, so by the time you in your third year of college what you have learned is old and useless, according to that author.

            I thought, “why do people bother?”

          2. Seattle Writer Gal*

            I also work in digital marketing and I’m confused why the OP thinks that having a master’s degree would make him/her automatically good at writing marketing copy and managing social media. Did you graduate from a digital marketing program? If not, then you have the same level of skill as everyone else starting out in the field.

        2. Katie*

          I used to be an editor, and at my old company, a master’s in publishing might get HR to give your resume another look, but only for entry-level jobs you could have gotten without the degree. I know a lot of people who got that degree and ended up with a low-paying job and a lot of debt- I’m so glad I didn’t get a master’s in publishing. (Especially since I don’t do that anymore.) But seriously, if anyone here is in the publishing industry or wants to be, don’t get a master’s degree.

        3. Mona*

          I laughed reading this. I work at an editorial office with a young woman with a masters in publishing studies and she walks around the office like she owns the place. I’ve been in my senior position for nearly a decade, having come in from an editing position, green about the publishing industry, but having learned on the job for years. That’s been the key to success here for me and everyone else. A textbook isn’t going to prepare you for working with irate authors (who, btw, she tries to palm off on the rest of us, because she thinks that work is beneath someone with a degree like hers).

      3. Marillenbaum*

        Absolutely! I got that same advice while I was in high school, and while I think it served me well then (I would never have maintained my GPA and courseload while working, and those got me my college scholarship), I ignored it once I got to college. After I graduated, I worked for a few years and it has proved to be an excellent choice. It meant that once I went back to grad school, I wasn’t burned out, and I had the professional skills that made it easier for me to juggle my coursework and TA position, plus I became more competitive for internships in my field because employers know that they are helping me with industry-specific skills, and not general “how to be in the workplace” stuff.

      4. KJ*

        Co-signed. I am so glad I took low-level jobs in my field in school. They allowed me to get my foot in the door, have credentials I needed and not spend another 1-2 years getting that experience before using my graduate degree. I always tell students and interns in my field they should be getting experience now, along with school and internship. Most tell me that entry jobs in our field are too low paying, so they’d rather live on loans or work as nannies. Guess what, they are not employable with just their MA and no work experience in their field. They have to spend that time at entry level sometime.

    2. Mazzy*

      I’m working with someone who got his MBA two years ago. He thinks he’s moved on from anything low level, but his idea of low level isn’t accurate. To do our work well, no matter what level, you still need to read customer files and click through hundreds of accounts in our system to get a feel for what’s going on, what’s good, what’s bad. He never does that. He also likes to complain how our data is bad, but it is only bad because he never does the low level work to understand how to use our data. I guess he expects ideas and interesting projects to be whispered in his ear by the wind or something since any of the work others do to create projects is below him.

    3. Koko*

      Yes, that’s so important to realize. There are no shortcuts.

      Every field will require you to spend time assisting and associating so that you can get hands-on experience doing the actual low-level work, because every decision you will have to make as a mid-level and high-level person later in your career will rely on you understanding how the “little people” do their jobs and what they need to do them well. That’s really, really hard to do if you haven’t been a little person yourself.

      Now, there is the possibility of acceleration. If you play your cards right you can advance through the ranks more quickly with your high-level degree, maybe only spending a year or two as a little person before TPTB see that you have proven yourself capable of growing beyond that initial experience. But you have to have that initial experience – the only real way around that is nepotism.

      1. k*

        This is a very good point. In addition to advancing more quickly, the degree may also allow you to advance farther down the line. Someone without the degree could hit a plateau at some point, where OP would continue moving up the ladder.

    4. KarenD*

      I definitely feel the OP’s pain because not only does the letter describe a dang prestigious degree, it ALSO includes a lot of that ground-level experience that everyone regards as “paying their dues.” (The OP held a communications coordinator job before entering the graduate program and participated in a very hands-on work program while completing the degree.) Yet it seems like the degree is doing very little to advance the OP’s career and might even represent “lost time.”

      However, I do see one thing the OP did not mention, that might be helpful. What about the connections made in this very prestigious program? Is the OP making every effort to leverage those? Because those are the people who will 100 percent understand the meaning of those shiny new letters after OP’s name, and many of them will be presumably very well-placed to provide a boost.

      1. cncx*

        I completely agree. Where i live, alumni networks are where new grads get their jobs and it is common for people to hire “from the same school.” Depending on the urban area in the US where OP lives, if there is a population from their school there, the alumni network should be a shot. I have a friend who did an MBA at Very Famous European Business School and even in her medium sized city in the southern US she had alumni willing to take a chance on her.

      2. Kimberlee, Esq*

        Yeah, totally agree. In my (not vast, lol) experience, the main reason it’s a boost to go to MIT or Harvard or whatever isn’t that the programs are so good (though they generally are), it’s that you’re spending your time getting to know other people who went to MIT or Harvard (and their parents, and your professors, and your visiting professors, and people who speak at your programs, etc)

      3. Englander*

        Problem may be that they studied in the UK and then went back to work in the US? It seems likely as they’re having to explain what the institution is and supposedly it’s prestigious, but UK companies would know that. (Unless it’s unfortunatley not prestigious.) I am wondering which institution it is?

        1. M-C*

          Yes, that’s likely to be a hindrance. Not only do most US managers not know a thing about the relative values of UK degrees, but education per se is much more valued in Europe. If I were the OP, barring some overwhelming personal considerations, I’d look for a first real job in the UK. The degree could be leveraged for a better job, which would serve well for the couple years experience really needed here. You can quickly come back in a much better position, and add to your advantages the immense help of looking while employed.

          1. Anna*

            If only! Thanks to nationalism on both sides of the Atlantic immigration policies in recent years make it nearly impossible for US citizens to get a (junior level) job in the UK and vice versa. Very very few companies are willing to jump the hoops of visa sponsorship at this level.

            Like the OP, I also graduated from a rigorous MA program in the UK, and then had to return to the US for work. I was offered 2 different jobs in the UK, both of which fell through once they realized how much they had to do to sponsor a visa.

            I got very lucky. I was hired into a small team at a big company, and the manager who hired me was *ding ding ding* BRITISH.

            Nobody has said as much, but I’m sure it made a huge difference. The majority of people would have absolutely no clue about my school. But Europeans? Interested in art? Its one of the most prestigious schools in the world. The difference in facial expression when I tell an American or European perosn where I did my Masters is almost shocking.

      4. Not Rebee*

        Because OP went to school at an Ivy League equivalent, but not an American equivalent, they may be having a hard time leveraging their contacts on this side of the Pond because there are likely fewer of those contacts with the ability to make headway in the American job market. Likewise, they may be having a hard time making it clear to hiring managers over here the prestige of the program and the type of work and standards it required. Quite honestly, there’s only a handful of schools outside of America that I would know of when hearing them – hiring managers may just not be familiar enough with the world’s prestigious univerisities to know the difference between UK’s-Ive-League-Equivalent-School-They-Haven’t-Heard-Of and Crappy-Beneath-Their-Notice-School-They-Haven’t-Heard-Of

      5. Cristina in England*

        American in the UK here. I haven’t done any higher ed in the US, but here we don’t have the same kinds of alumni networks. I mean, people will make connections of course like they do anywhere, but the whole alumni thing just isn’t A Thing here.

        Also foreign work experience matters little to many employers (unless your field values it specifically), and foreign qualifications just make it messy in a lot of cases.

        1. KarenD*

          I believe that varies by field, honestly. In mine, I’ve worked for and with people who got their schooling/started their career in England. There were definitely some employers who wanted “pedigreed puppies” and you couldn’t get in unless you had the right papers and friends; the most vocal co-worker on this issue was astoundingly good at her job but said she felt her talents weren’t really appreciated until she started working in the United States, where she climbed the ladder rapidly and now is a semi-well-known figure in our industry.

          That said, I do suspect British degrees don’t translate as well over here. If I were the OP and had the requisite degree of footlooseness and fancy-freedom, I would look into employment possibilities in the UK through whatever network (formal or less so) there might be.

    5. Brogrammer*

      As a vendor who’s worked with a few newly minted MBA’s in entry level roles (training and troubleshooting my company’s product), they’re hard to deal with from that end, too.

    6. Bex*

      I will admit to being biased on this one (I went back and got my MBA a couple years ago), but I think this is a HUGE difference between the top-tier MBA programs and the rest of them. A great MBA school won’t even look at your application until you have a minimum or 2-4 years of actual work experience and some major accomplishments under your belt. The premise is that you can’t teach someone management until they have real world experience under their belts and understand how a workplace functions.

      1. Sunflower*

        This exactly. Any MBA program willing to let you in with no experience is not one that is going to open many doors. Anyone in a top tier MBA program already had a pretty good job somewhere else in order to get accepted.

      2. Mena*

        Completely agree with Bex. People that move from undergrad into an MBA program don’t acquire any actual work experience (they’re just really good students!). I worked full-time for three years before entering my MBA program, and I chose a program (in a very, very good, Boston-area school) specifically structured for working professionals – the expectation was that our day-to-day work experiences would contribute to the program content.
        Please let go of the notion that this degree is your ticket – it just proves that you worked toward, and completed, a goal. You new goal is to acquire actual work experience.

    7. Bonky*

      I hear you. I’m in Cambridge UK, and I see a large number of applicants with graduate degrees. From Cambridge. (I’ve got one too; it’s never helped me in the job market.)

      Cambridge is one of the best universities in the world. But I don’t think I have ever hired someone into our organisation on the back of their postgrad qualifications from the university. The skills you learn doing an MA (or an MSc, a PhD etc. etc. etc.) just aren’t the skills I’m looking for in a new employee. Bend & Snap is on the nose here: it’s hard skills, skills learnt in the workplace, and experience that make someone stand out. I’m always looking for someone who is smart: but there are a million and one ways outside an MA from a good university to demonstrate that you’re clever.

      On the MBA front: I haven’t ever found that someone with little or no workplace experience and an MBA is any better than someone with little or no workplace experience and no MBA. But I have interviewed and hired people who have done Executive MBAs while they’ve also been working full-time, and they’re often very good; the combination of experience and study that’s relevant to that experience is much more valuable than the study alone.

  2. Jerry Vandesic*

    One of the issues might be the fact that OP has a UK degree but is living/working in the US. Many US hiring managers don’t know Durham from LSE, so could that be part of the problem? Maybe they just don’t know anything about the quality of your education since they don’t have any experience with your university?

    1. Anonymous Educator*

      In the U.S. here. Definitely don’t know Durham, but London School of Economics is quite well-respected.

    2. Liana*

      Another American here. I’ve found that we tend to know the big names (LSE included), but aren’t really aware of most of the smaller schools in the UK – I’ve never heard of Durham, for example. Although the same could be said for a lot of smaller US colleges; there are absolutely American universities that I’m sure are fine, but I’ve never heard of before because there are just so many of them.

    3. Marcela*

      Had a long comment but technology failed me. In short, in physics and chemistry, having a degree from a very well respected university abroad does not mean much in the US. We regularly saw new doctors from the top of the Ivy League get tenure track positions with less experience and less publications than older postdocs from European universities. It didn’t even matter that the advisor was a very well known scientist, something that usually matters a lot.

    4. MK*

      This was my first thought too; even if this degree would open doors for the OP in the UK, it might not be internationaly known.

      Most employers in my country have no idea what Ivy League is. Most people have heard of Harvard, some know of Yale, and that’s about it. Even if they were likely to be influenced by education, it would have to be something they altready recognise as having value.

      Also, depending on your field, even if something like this is well-known, it might not be as useful in reality. Everybody in the legal field here know that Harvard Law School is prestigious; but our legal system is wildly different that the U.S., so it’s really not particularly useful.

      1. Bolt*

        Some areas also just don’t put as much weight in school reputation – particularly smaller areas where one would not have easy access to prestigious schools. In my town we only have a college (no university) so typically AlL universities are considered equally and a masters would be strange.

        You don’t even need a degree for most career paths here since college is the only local option! The only reason most even pursue a university degree is for future out of town opportunities.

        1. all aboard the anon train*

          On the flip side, areas where there are a lot of top tier schools – like New England, for instance – don’t care because they see so many graduates from Harvard, Yale, MIT, etc. that a candidate from a prestigious school is a dime a dozen.

      2. That Would Be a Good Band Name*

        Even being from the US (midwest), I can’t name Ivy League beyond Harvard and Yale. I know there are others and may be able to come up with one more if I think about it for a while, but we tend to be more into whether someone has gone to one of the more prestigious schools in our state. Then again I’m sure Ivy League grads have much better places to go than out here with the corn fields, so we probably aren’t getting any resumes from them either :)

      3. Not So NewReader*

        Something for OP to consider, MK, good point. And going one step further some people who do recognize the names Harvard and Yale are just not impressed with the big name colleges for [reasons]. It could be OP that some people do recognize your school but they are choosing not to be impressed for whatever reason.

    5. ..Kat..*

      I’m an American. I know what the LSE is from watching Yes, Minister (a thoroughly hilarious British sitcom from long ago)!

      1. EE*

        Jim Hacker would get MUCH more respect in 2016 for having gone to the LSE. Although certain Sir Humphreys will never think it has that Oxbridge cachet…

    6. Katie*

      I’ve also got Masters degrees from two of the likely schools the letter writer graduated from (different discipline though, which is why I’ve got two), and I absolutely agree that’s the problem. There’s a rank of UK universities where as long as you graduate with a first (summa/magna equivalent), you will absolutely have a job when you’re done – in the UK. It doesn’t translate well to other places, especially the US where the tertiary education system is very different.

      1. Ninja*

        I’m not sure that’s true – at least not in my experience. I graduated with a first from one of those universities (the older, better one) and was a temp and then an entry-level secretary for the first two years after that (although it was during the early 90s’ recession). It all depends on your subject and whether there is a clear career path. If you don’t want to do law/management consultancy, a first-class Oxbridge degree can be a disadvantage as people don’t want to hire you for junior positions.

        1. Englander*

          Also depends on the recession.

          I read a depressing article that essesntially said that those graduating now are getting ahead of those who graduated in 2008 (regardless of the fact that people like myself have more work experience.) I’ve found it to be true, that those who graduate now (although many will face a hard slog) are likely to get quicker up the work ladder, than those of us who had to take any job, and then stuck those jobs out longer than they probably should, because either, it felt like, or there weren’t other jobs available.

          It does often feel like I’m 10 years behind those who graduated a little earlier or a little later than me, it’s hard to figure out how to make yourself seem more appealing in comparison when they got the better jobs/better duties and better experiences due to the different economic climates. (I know there are also likely to be other differences but the economic downturn was a major factor for me being unable to find work for a very long time – as there were so many people out of work who were far better qualified. This meant every job had very high standards – as it was an employers’ market – therefore you were more likely to do non-graduate work. To then move from that to something else was a struggle. Now these high barriers to work seem to have lowered a little, if you are a new graduate. You then get fast-tracked through, as you get the better experience and opportunity to showcase your skills.)

      2. Bwmn*

        I completely agree with this.

        I got my Masters degree in Ireland and graduated with a first – and while I know that no school in Ireland technically ranks quite as highly as the most likely schools being written about in the UK, it was a completely “huh”.

        My only advice for this is to keep plugging through with networks and accept that largely you’re not going to have the application moment of ” wow, Harvard” in the US. That being said, during my year following my course work, I worked through a part-time job that eventually got me a number of internal interviews and was ultimately successful in getting hired when someone was like “wow, I know what it’s like to go to school abroad”.

        Following all of this, I lived/worked in the Middle East and heard at one point that an American friend of mine who went to Boston College “just barely” was hired by a group that was largely staffed by those educated in Britain. They had never heard of Boston College and were skeptical of its reputation. (Mind you, this staff wasn’t entirely educated at Oxford/Cambridge/LSE at all) So I do think this cuts in different ways. When you’re relying entirely on the school’s reputation it’s best to be swimming in the ponds where that matters.

        1. anon for this*

          To be honest, as someone with a Harvard degree, you don’t get a lot of “wow, Harvard” moments in the US either. A lot of people mostly assume you have money or are overqualified for the job you’re applying for, so it’s a similar problem.

          It took me a long time to break into my field because I was constantly told I was too overqualified for the entry level positions I had been applying to. I had better luck when I took my graduate work off my resume. Though, to be fair, I did my graduate work because I was passionate about my research, not necessarily to get a leg up in the professional world.

          At this point it’s moe a footnote on my resume than something employers ever care to talk about (not that I want to, but my point is that even in the US, there are a lot of people who don’t care about Ivy League schools).

          1. Bwmn*

            Thank you for that – you know, even thinking about it now….I have a friend who’s recently been applying for programs at Columbia. And at first, I couldn’t quite tell if it was an MA program or JD program. And when I was thinking about it, my primary assumption was “well if she’s trying to get into a law school program, that’s going to be hard – but for an MA degree….that’s just a way for Columbia to cash checks”.

            Not to be snide about what it means to get a Masters (as someone who worked very hard for hers….), but unless you’re in a specific world – how competitive those programs are to get into vary wildly. And how much people know about that will also vary wildly.

    7. Miaw*

      This. Many people in my country don’t know much about the USA Ivy leagues. For example, Brown University sounded like a run of the mill school until I specifically googled it and found out it is quite prestigious.

      1. Brogrammer*

        I was born and raised in the US and I didn’t know that Brown was a prestigious university until I was ready to apply to college and got all those fancy brochures in the mail (I had a good GPA and test scores).

        1. MashaKasha*

          Haha, agree, I learned about a lot of the American top-tier schools I hadn’t previously known about, after my sons had taken their PSATs and gotten high scores, and next thing we knew, we were getting all those fancy booklets in the mail. (They both ended up going to state schools in our area.) I still have the brochures! They can double as coffee-table books, they are that pretty. People usually only know HYPS and have no idea there are more, unless they know someone who’s applying to colleges.

        2. turquoisecow*

          My sister went to Brown. Before she applied, neither I nor my parents had ever heard of it. I still encounter people who don’t know it’s an Ivy.

      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        When I was in high school, a mentor recommended that I apply to UPenn. I very sincerely asked her why it made sense to apply to an out-of-state public school and pay out-of-state tuition instead of going to my home state’s public university. So yeah, that became a slightly embarrassing conversation.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          It shouldn’t have been embarrassing. That’s the counselor’s job to explain that stuff. No where in any of my course work was any of this stuff explained, going to the counseling office to find out about higher ed was daunting at best. There were thousands of catalogs and the counselors just said, “Here ya go. Let me know if you have any questions.”
          I had no idea, none. I was totally overwhelmed by the amount of reading material.
          From what I am hearing locally, this is still going on. And it’s almost 40 years later. I am getting the idea that many libraries are trying to fill in the gaps for students.

    8. Jessesgirl72*

      I have seen this attitude in the US from those who hold Ivy degrees too, though. Or other prestigious schools. Going to Stanford is useful on a networking level- in theory, you should have contacts in your industry to get you an interview- but hiring managers don’t care how fancy your degree is. They want someone who will do the work! And too often, people with fancy degrees are no better prepared than those who went to a state school- and sometimes come with an entitled attitude that the guy from Iowa State doesn’t have.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Yes, this. I returned to school with kids from public schools and kids who’d gone to Ivies, and the public school kids really flourished because they all knew how to hustle and took nothing for granted. Even the kindest, smartest Ivy grads experienced real roadblocks over really simple things, like expecting the registrar to meet with them personally to sign them up for classes or a professor to reach out to them for office hours (as opposed to showing up during office hours).

        And now, having supervised interns and hired entry-level attorneys, my best interns/new-attys are almost always from “non-name-brand” schools (including lesser known private schools), while my Ivy interns often know how to work the system but do not consistently deliver high-quality work product. It does not help the Ivy kids that their universities also tell them they’re G–‘s gift to the world.

        1. Dahlia*

          Weird! I teach at an ivy league school (one of the ones you would immediately think of) and I would never reach out to a student for office hours. If they want help from me, they know how to reach me. And they do… I didn’t go to a ivy league myself and I don’t recall me or my fellow students being as highly motivated as these kids are.

    9. Nye*

      In my field (biology), there’s also the issue of UK/Commonwealth degrees being structured differently. BS degrees are not liberal arts, which can lead to poorer writing and other necessary skills. PhDs are shorter and often involve less coursework, teaching, and truly independent research. So even if you have a hiring manager who is interested in academic skills, they may be leery of hiring someone educated abroad because it can be hard to know how that degree and experience translate to the American system.

      NB: I know systems and schools vary. This is my impression based on having attended universities in the US, UK, and NZ, and having known many fellow students who studied overseas.

    10. HRish Dude*

      Pretty much. Outside of Oxford and Cambridge, I would guess that most Americans couldn’t name other English universities. I spent a semester in the UK and I only know Durham, Lancaster, and York (and Edinburgh and St. Andrews).

      1. halpful*

        I left England as a child, and I only knew of Cambridge and Oxford too. :) My dad went to one, and I’ve no idea where I heard of the other. Probably books.

    11. GirlwithaPearl*

      It’s funny, I’ve worked with two people who got masters at LSE and both think it should have granted them much better positions than what they are actually qualified for. It’s been a challenge managing them.

  3. Writer*

    This comes with the territory when you go to school in one country and work in another. I went to a top school in Canada, and Americans assume it’s a fake school because they’ve never heard of it. Frustrating, but just get the work experience that proves you can do the job.

    1. Jill*

      “Americans assume it’s a fake school because they’ve never heard of it.”

      So much said about ethnocentrism in so few words!

  4. Anonymous Educator*

    Not trying to attack or gaslight here, but are you absolutely sure it hasn’t opened doors?

    When I finished grad school (went to a very prestigious-for-my-field one as well), I had a really hard time finding a job. Eventually one place took a chance on me, and I’ve worked my way up from there. Once I got more into the hiring side of things, I saw that hiring managers in my field really did care about where you go to school, and that probably gave me an edge up (perhaps that one place that took a chance on me might not have otherwise). What it didn’t give me was a floodgate of people banging on my door to offer me a job.

    In certain fields, going to the “right” school may give you a second look over another candidate or even a first look that wouldn’t otherwise be warranted. Having an alumni network may give you tips about jobs you wouldn’t otherwise know about or even an introduction that can get you an interview. But I don’t think going to the “right” school will result on people saying “Oh, my God! Can we hire you right now?” with you swatting away offers like flies.

    1. enough*

      I have to agree you may never really know got you in the door. I really think what made my son’s current boss take a really good look at his resume is that the boss grew up and has family where we live and if my son had gone to public school they would have graduated from the same high school.

    2. Bend & Snap*

      This is a great point. I once had a client that hired almost exclusively from MIT. Sometimes it does matter.

      1. Blackhand*

        She hired from MIT, not because of it. All capable candidates from MIT were still competing against each other.

        A degree isn’t a union card, but we’ve all been told it is.

    3. Rob Lowe can't read*

      I agree with this. There are a lot of colleges and universities in my city that offer the graduate degree I obtained (my BA is unrelated to my field), but the program I graduated from is generally considered to be near the top of that long list, and – maybe just as importantly – alumni of my program work for a broad range of area employers, so I feel it’s safe to say that the quality is pretty widely known. I am certain that my university name got me a few second looks thanks to the program’s reputation or having alumni on staff, but I still had to present a good application first and make it through the interview process, and when I had limited experience, that was a harder sell. When I job hunted for the second time after graduation, with a year of experience, I had five times as many interviews as I did right out of school.

      1. Kimberlee, Esq*

        Yeah, I feel like there was a time (maybe the 80’s and 90’s? maybe it never existed at all) where you could impress an employer with your gumption and your creativity (the origin of all those awful things you can do to “stand out”) and get hired by someone who wanted to give you a chance. Now, we live in a world where there are lots of data and metrics around hiring, where most people work for bigger corporations (where you have to get your prospective hire approved by 4 people above you), rather than small businesses where you interview with the owner and that’s it. Not to mention that the above avenue of getting a job was basically only available to white men! The amount of people we’re competing with for jobs, and the difficulty of getting hired at any given job, make it a bit preposterous that any university program could credibly claim to give you a significant leg-up in hiring.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          But big-name schools do give you a leg up in hiring in many/most fields. They open doors and often get your resume looked at more closely than it otherwise would be. It’s absolutely a factor in many cases. (It is also not that common to need to have a hire approved by four people above you!) I think that if you haven’t personally seen this at play (or realized you’re seeing it), it can be easy to think it’s not a thing — but it really is.

          1. Bex*

            Absolutely agree about the door opening. If an alum from my school calls me about an open position, I can’t just give it to them. But if they are qualified, I can send their resume & cover letter directly to the hiring manager and ask the manager to at least do a phone screening. After that, the candidate is on their own. And I’m willing to make the recommendation because it was a rigorous program with high entry standard that turns out excellent graduates, so the chances of the alum embarrassing me very slim.

    4. AvonLady Barksdale*

      This is a very good point. I got my master’s at a university that’s respected but not super top tier, but the school where I did my graduate degree is big currency in its field. It took me 8 months to get a job– an entry-level job, even with my three years of work experience and my stellar internship– but I got that job through networking. There are a couple of companies in my industry that lapped up people from my master’s program, and while I didn’t get a job there, I networked through it and interviewed with several people, and one of those people helped me get the (again, entry-level) job that launched my career.

      I, like the OP, had been told that my grad program would open so many doors, and I took that to mean I would be hired at the director level right out of school. Didn’t happen to any of us. I ended up being one of the highest earners of our cohort, 5 years out, and I didn’t make that much (granted, it’s a field where you don’t get the big bucks until you’re at certain levels).

      I did my undergrad at a university that is very well known in some circles and completely unknown in others. It helped me get an interview for my first job out of college because the head of HR saw my resume and said, “Oh, wow, she went to X, that’s like a Harvard, we have to hire her!”, but that job was as an admin assistant. (Great job, just entry-level.) It opened that door for sure, but I was the one who had to make the decision to walk through it.

    5. TyB*

      I have to agree. Going to a good school will get you at best a solid look at your resume if you are cold applying. If your resume and cover letter aren’t good nothing more will come from it. And good in this case means “good for what the job needs”. Those good schools can be great for networking with other alumni or just as conversation starters at networking events (provided you don’t come across as stuck up or holier than thou)

      1. SouthernLadybug*

        I agree as well. In my field, schools such as UNC, John Hopkins, Harvard, Emory etc have top-tier programs. It captures my attention when reviewing applications, but it isn’t necessarily enough on it’s own to get an interview. And it wouldn’t automatically put someone above someone else with a degree from a different school that isn’t as highly ranked but still very solid.

    6. blackcat*

      I wouldn’t have gotten my first job out of college (teaching at a fancy prep school that normally hires teachers with 10+ years experience and/or a PhD), if I hadn’t gone to a fancy-pantsy school. Fancy undergrad + nepotism got me an interview that I was otherwise not remotely qualified for. A good interview got me the job. So the degree really can be a foot in the door, but actually getting *through* the door takes more than that.

      That said, this is likely only true within countries–my degree wouldn’t do much for me abroad.

      1. Anonymous Educator*

        As someone has worked in and been involved in hiring for fancy prep schools, I can definitely confirm that having gone to another fancy-pants prep school will definitely give you a leg up. A number of fancy prep schools even have paid internships for new teachers who have no teaching experience, but they’re looking for a certain pedigree (Ivy League and/or prestigious liberal arts bachelor’s and/or fancy pants prep 9-12 or K-12). Sometimes they’ll specifically target HBCUs. Very rarely will they take an applicant with no teaching experience, no private school experience, and a public higher ed degree.

    7. Honeybee*

      This is true, too. Having a name-brand school can get you in the door for a phone interview or such, but it won’t necessarily get you the job.

  5. Anonymous Educator*

    Also, only tangentially related, but I think this is a symptom of a larger problem—the master narrative many folks get of “Work hard in school. Get good grades to get into a good university. Get good grades to get a good job that will earn a lot of money. Get married. Have kids. Live in the suburbs. Make sure your kids go to a good school. Make sure your kids get married and give you grandkids.”

    Good grades at a good school don’t necessarily get you a “good” job. And most of the rest of the master narrative is phony, too.

    1. Bend & Snap*

      I went to school in one of the wealthiest towns in the US, and babysat for local families. Lots of hedge fund money, and in the late 90s they paid more than today’s minimum wage.

      So of course I thought my hard work would get me hedge fund money and a mansion.

      I have a liberal arts degree. Lol.

      1. copy run start*

        I grew up in a similar town. I had no concept of money. None. My family made less than most others there, but we were still very wealthy by normal standards. Evidently regular people don’t drive brand new Hummers to school or go to Mexico for Christmas and spring break each year! I resented my parents for not funding those things for me growing up. Talk about a post-college reality check… I totally get it now. I’m still thankful I can afford to live alone.

        1. Oryx*

          Ha, same thing here. I knew we had money and lived in a wealthy town but had zero concept of budgeting and saving money and didn’t understand why everyone else got to on fancy vacations every spring break and we were stuck staying home.

        2. AthenaC*

          Yeah – that’s us right now. We got our house “on sale” in about mid-2011 and paid literally half of what our neighbors did to live in the same neighborhood. Consequently, my kids are going to awesome schools, but their peers are kids who have gone to Disneyland multiple times and get the newest iPhone pretty regularly. And I’m very happy for them! But it did get a little old to be asked for an iPhone a couple times a year.

          What fixed it (for now, anyway) was telling the kids what things cost, how much I make, and how our budget works. Kinda boggled their minds a bit!

          1. MsChanandlerBong*

            Great parenting! Your kids will be better for it. My parents are very frugal and wise with their money, but they never talked to us about money at all. Their only advice was “don’t spend any money,” which obviously isn’t all that realistic. I just recently started doing a budget and putting some money in savings. A little financial education when I was a child could have saved me a LOT of heartache.

          2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            That is seriously great parenting. My parents came from the “we don’t talk about money; it’s uncouth” school, which I think was really a disservice (my sibs and I are all pretty good money managers and are fine, but it would have been nice not to have to figure this out from scratch). I’m also a fan of kids getting part-time jobs and being responsible for the costs of doing that job because it reinforces how to budget and how difficult it is to break even on minimum wage.

            1. AthenaC*

              I had that unfortunate mix of: 1) no money talk growing up; 2) criticism as a young adult when I didn’t magically know tips and tricks for managing money.

              It does seem like the “don’t talk about money” culture is fading, and good riddance! Really, the only way to figure out what’s normal with regard to salary, life expenses (car, healthcare, etc.), and big transactions (like, say, buying a house), and anything else … is to talk about money and compare notes with each other. Among our friends, the amount of things we all know about each other’s financial situations would be scandalous in a “don’t talk about money” culture, but that’s the only way we can help / advise each other.

              1. Honeybee*

                Yeah, same. I didn’t grow up in a “don’t talk about money” culture, but most of the talk that did happen around me was pretty useless. My friends and I and we talk very openly about money – I know all my friends’ salaries, how much their rent is/how much they bought their house for (and, in the latter case, how much over asking they paid and how much over their original target they paid), how much they owe in student loans and credit card debt, etc. – and they know that about me. We share money-saving tips and stuff all the time.

                But I’ve also noticed that my generation is just a lot more open about sharing these facts and figures with each other pretty early on. Even when I first meet people in their late 20s and 30s I feel like we start talking about salaries, house/rent prices, and the like pretty early, before we know each other really well. And when I serve on career panels, if students ask I freely share my salary – because otherwise how will they know?

            2. Pommette*

              My parents are both graduates of the “money is an obscene topic that one should strive never to think, talk, or care, about” school. My father, in particular, made it clear that it was crass to consider things like pay, or even job stability, when choosing a career. The idea of the job market was itself suspect, since, you know, markets=money; as such, I was heavily discouraged from assessing prospects for employment in different fields. Only passion and talent should guide my choices.

              As an adult, I realize that my parents could afford their attitude because they were rich. Passion and talent guided their choices…. but luckily for them, there were jobs to be had in the fields they studied, and those jobs were secure and paid well above the median wage for people living in our region.

              I’m in my thirties, and still struggling to find a professional footing. My earnings put me below the poverty line. (Luckily, I live with my partner. As a couple, our combined income brings us just above the poverty line. Had I been alone, I would have faced bouts of homelessness over the last few years). We have to think about money, because we can’t afford to waste it; I still feel this residual shame from my upbringing (“what a base concern!”) whenever we work on our budget or discuss whether we can afford something. It’s been an educational experience.

              I’m so glad to see the “don’t talk about money” culture is fading. It’s a reality of life in our society; we should give kids the tools they need to talk and think about it! Hey kids: Being poor is hard! Cobbling a living together from short term and part-time contracts is exhausting and scary! Don’t put yourself in this position if you can avoid it! And if your society is going to be structured in such a way that some people, no matter what, will be poor and un/precariously employed, make sure that there are systems in place to make that situation a livable one!

          3. turquoisecow*

            My mom told me a little about what things cost, but it was more about day-to-day things than big things like housing prices or utilities. Which is odd, because she specifically mentioned a class when she was in high school (1960s) where the teacher gave the kids a “salary” and told them to imagine they were adults who just got married and had to furnish an apartment. They looked through newspapers for apartment pricing and then went furniture shopping and grocery shopping, and figured out what they could afford on that “salary.” And sometimes she told me about things like what her and my dad’s first apartment cost, which was waaay cheaper than anything you could get nowadays.

            1. AthenaC*

              That’s a fantastic exercise!

              When I was in 4th grade, the parish priest visited our Sunday School class and one of the students asked him how much money he made. He said, “About $800 a month.” Our 4th grade minds were blown – we had no idea priests made so much money! He MUST be rolling in it. Shortly after he left the room, our very-uncomfortable teacher swooped in, “Now wait just a minute – he has to pay for X and Y, which would be about $Z and $A … so really it’s not that much.”

              1. turquoisecow*

                Yeah, if you have no idea how much things cost, salary is kind of meaningless. Any amount seems like a lot.

          4. Honeybee*

            I wish my parents had done this…I was the product of warring factions when it came to money, with my mom being in the “spend it all! every last cent!” faction and my dad being in the “save it all! no wants, only needs!” faction. My mom has flat-out said she’s surprised that the three of us came out with relatively healthy ideas about money given the circumstances we grew up in.

          5. Candi*

            Whoot! You are awesome.

            I grew up with a no-money-talk mother and a discuss-all-the-finances-openly father. I came to the conclusion transparency within the family about finances is important.

            Ever since the kids were little, I’ve taken them shopping and discussed budget with them. This had a rather amusing result last spring in one of my son’s classes.

            They did a week-long exercise in which they were given on paper the equivalent of two months salary. (My son didn’t specify what job.) The kids had to budget household expenses (rent, food, etc., even entertainment), with 10% of each “check” automatically going into “savings”.

            Several of the kids wound up asking the teacher if they could declare bankruptcy because they were that badly over budget.

            I heard about the exercise on a Thursday because my son was not only under budget, he had about $400 still available. The teacher had told him he neede to do something with it to complete the assignment. He wanted advice.

            I was so proud. I know he’ll be okay on that front.

            (I advised splitting it, part in savings, part for a fun thing.)

      2. Elizabeth West*

        I remember when I changed my major from Criminology to English and my favorite English instructor told me that having that degree would open lots of doors because I can write. Hahaha, sure I can write. But writing doesn’t pay anything. Actually, neither of those would.

        You know what pays? Math. I know just enough math to see that I’m screwed for life.

        1. Pennalynn Lott*

          Sales pays really well. Or, it can. I suck at math, but made a comfortable six-figure salary in tech sales.

        2. Candi*

          On the other end of the reaction scale, I was told English was a soft or joke degree unless you were going to teach it.

          Amazing how often “they” are wrong.

    2. T3k*

      God, I learned that lesson rather late in school. To be fair, I have a parent that is Asian, and like most of them, the mindset was that grades would get you far, so by the time I realized it does not work that way, I was almost done with college.

      1. JB (not in Houston)*

        Yep, grades are not an automatic door-opener. But to be fair to your parent, depending on what career you want, grades can matter a lot. They just don’t automatically equal great employers knocking down your door with offers for fabulous, non-entry-level jobs. And when you are just graduating from college, some employers do look at GPAs. But good GPA + job experience will generally serve you better than stellar GPA and no experience at all.

    3. Dan*

      My thought process as an 18-year old selecting colleges (in the late 90’s, as tuition was starting to take off but wasn’t a newspaper headline yet) went like this:

      It doesn’t matter all that much how much school costs. I’m going to be an engineer, and engineers are always at the top of salary charts based on major. So if an engineer can’t pay back the loans, who can? They’re certainly not going to lend money to people who can’t pay it back. I didn’t go hog wild — I ended up graduating with about $45k in debt. While that doesn’t sound like a ton, I let $15k of interest capitalize, and made a very conscious choice to borrow $30k for grad school (was worth every penny) so ended up with about $90k in the hole all said and done.

      Keep in mind this was the late 90’s, and I’m on the tail end of the Gen X or early (translation: old) millenial. Tuition was starting to increase, but extreme debt loads and no job prospects weren’t a national conversation yet.

      I’d like to think that if I were in that position today, that I’d have enough sense to figure out what a budget is, and how those loan payments would fit in it. If I do have kids, I’d like to educate them enough so that they can be better prepared to make those decisions too.

      1. Oryx*

        I have a worthless Bachelors degree, just because of my area of studying (creative writing). But my parents knew it was what I wanted to study and had the means to pay for it so they did, back in the very early 00s.

        If I was graduating now, with crippling debt and this economy, I have a feeling they wouldn’t have been so keen to fund my four years of scribbling.

        1. turquoisecow*

          Fellow creative writing degree holder here! I entered college with this vague idea that I would learn to write better and then graduate and spit out a few books. It wasn’t until senior year that I realized that wasn’t a really good plan for the future. And then I figured I could probably get a job in publishing.

          What would have been a good idea, and which I wish someone would have told me about as a Freshman? Internships. I graduated and had zero experience in anything related to publishing, so had trouble even getting my foot in the door. I ended up getting a job in the corporate office of the retail store I worked at, which had nothing to do with English whatsoever – they hired me based on my experience in the store. Plus side, I paid off my loans with that job! :)

      2. AnotherAlison*

        What’s great is that when you go to freshman recruiting events, you hear how great engineering graduate salaries are. . .it makes sense that you might “hear” that you’ll have “no problem repaying loans.” Then, in Freshman Engineering 001, you hear “look to your left, look to your right, only one of you three will graduate with an engineering degree.” That’s the biggest problem with student loans; a high percentage of people who take them never graduate.

        (All that said, I went to school at the same time as you and was still pretty freaked out about loans and was fortunate to get scholarship money to cover things. My parents were definitely a big influence on me, as taking out loans was never on the table as an option–you had to get scholarships, use your whopping $8,000 college fund, or work through school. My parents also really never factored value into the equation, i.e. an MIT degree might cost $100k but it opens more opportunities than the $25,000 in-state degree, but that probably worked out in my favor.)

        1. Honeybee*

          Well, it’s not even that they never graduate: it’s that so many students go to college thinking that they will major in X and they end up majoring in Y. I hear a lot of parents and others giving high school seniors the advice about where to go and how much to borrow on the basis of what they think they’re going to be when they’re 16 or 17 years old, but you learn about new fields and change your mind so much! A fairly large percentage of STEM majors change to non-STEM majors sometime in college. There are lots of pre-med students who decide not to go to medical school, and lots of engineering students who are lured into the field by the promise of good career prospects and high salaries but quickly realize they don’t actually like engineering.

          The other thing is that the conventional wisdom isn’t even true. Even if you graduate as an engineer and get a good first job making $50,000, if you borrowed much more than that to go to college you still will struggle to repay them. And nowadays it’s a lot easier to go more than $50K into debt – that hardly covers a full year at some places.

          1. AnotherAlison*

            Yup, my younger sister (another 2008 college grad) was pushed to be a biology major by my dad–“pre-med”. . .she had to be the doctor since I already filled the engineer slot. Two more degrees later, she got an RN job in 2014. Before that, she was a medical office admin and substitute teacher.

    4. Allison*

      I graduated high school in 2007, and we were told that as long as you went to a good school, picked a major you were passionate about, and achieved a good GPA, you could turn your passion into a career that could give you a decent life. You wouldn’t get wealthy with a degree in communications or political science, but you could still buy a house and raise a family. The economy crashed soon after, and ever since then, it’s been possible to get a “passion career” that pays decently, but not without at least a handful of internships, co-ops, leadership positions in college, volunteer gigs, and really good connections.

      1. Honeybee*

        I graduated high school in 2004, and college in 2008 – lucky me! – and I remember that, too. For a time in college I wanted to be a high school guidance counselor, and that wasn’t viewed as weird or low-rent at all – it was rather a solid job that would provide a middle-class standard of living.

        The upside is that there wasn’t tremendous pressure to pick a specific type of major, nor was there the proliferation of “The Top 10 Most Worthless Majors”-type articles there are now (which I despise). I much more infrequently hear kids talk about wanting to be teachers or social workers now.

    5. Marillenbaum*

      Some of the best career advice I ever got was to hold off on a master’s degree until I knew exactly what I wanted to study and how it would further my career. I ended up taking four years between my BA and going back for my MA, and in that time I was able to figure out what I wanted to study, where, and how I wanted to use my time in school to network for a better job once I graduated. It ended up going even better than I hoped–I received a fellowship that guarantees me a job in my field for five years after I graduate, but I wouldn’t have been remotely competitive if I hadn’t waited, and learned how to position myself in the professional world.

  6. Jeanne*

    I think you’re smart and probably good at what you do. You’re obviously ambitious. While your master’s isn’t a magic bullet, it still may be a good thing. Be proud of yourself for doing well. Keep working hard and look for opportunities to show your skills. You need time to get through this initial stage. Then you’ll have both the work experience and the master’s degree. Good luck!

  7. Louise*

    I took classes, hard hard classes, worth half an American B.S. degree, but overseas. When I moved stateside, one college after another refused to transfer the credits, or even recognize them. One particular nasty college recruiter told me to drop the silly fake accent and the lies about computer science credits because “everybody” knows that there’s no electricity in Africa so how could there be computers, let alone college courses.

    (Good news… after several years, I was recommended to go talk to Regents College now called Excelsior and they transferred everything and gave me generous credit hours and even recognized that a score of a C in a Cobol class overseas at this particular institution was the equivalent of a 3.5 stateside. )

    No, I am not a shill for Excelsior but I did take a few more courses slowly while working fulltime and they issued me a B.S. in three concentrations and showed all classes and credits as under their umbrella so I no longer get the appalling ignorance thrown in my face. Excelsior specialize in migrant students tied to migrant military families stationed worldwide. They were good to me.

    1. Liana*

      That recruiter … Jesus. As an American, the general ignorance surrounding Africa is really, really embarrassing sometimes.

    2. SL #2*

      Holy… I’m so sorry and appalled that you got a response like that from a recruiter. The ignorance and disdain for an entire continent is disgusting.

      1. Marillenbaum*

        As a former international college admissions person, I’m embarrassed on that person’s behalf. I’ll freely admit I wasn’t an expert on African institutions, but I knew whom to call if I had a question, and I certainly knew that is NEVER how you talk to a prospective student. What a jerk.

    3. Kate*

      Funny story about how it can go the other way too: I have a master’s in public health degree from Johns Hopkins. When I went back home, the registrar at my university told me off, saying “I don’t know who this John Hopkin is or if he knows anything about health, but I doubt it’s very much!”

        1. AvonLady Barksdale*

          And not just that! I hear “MPH from JHU” and I go, “Ooooh…!” But I’m from Baltimore and my parents are physicians, so maybe I prove the point, that recognition can be such a regional, subjective thing.

          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            Fwiw, I think anyone in the U.S. who is familiar with medicine will find an MPH from JHU impressive :)

    4. LS*

      I live in Africa. When I visited the US in 1999 someone asked me how I had got there because she had “seen Africa on National Geographic and there aren’t any cities”. Obviously this wasn’t and isn’t the norm – but it shows that many people are not looking beyond their own very narrow horizons and will make foolish assumptions.

      Also, it might be relevant that industries are different in different countries. Your qualification may well be a game changer in the UK but not elsewhere.

      It is frustrating though :-/

      1. Rob Lowe can't read*

        When I came back from living in southern Africa, someone asked me if it felt weird to wear clothes after being naked for three years, cause everyone in Africa is naked all the time, right? (Answer: Is that a real question?)

        None of the foolish assumptions I have ever heard since then seem nearly as foolish.

          1. ggg*

            Obviously you would walk to work with a basket on your head, right?

            That’s a pretty funny question. Appallingly ignorant, but funny.

            1. SouthernLadybug*

              I was in the Peace Corps in a sub-Saharan country. People are always disappointed to hear that the only animals I saw regularly were goats and chickens. And spiders. Very big spiders.

              1. JB (not in Houston)*

                The spiders are what has kept me from visiting there (and Australia). I wouldn’t say it’s to the level of a phobia, but it’s more than a rational level of fear.

        1. Mints*

          My friend from South Africa (who’s white) says sometimes people are like “South Africa? Black people, am I right?” and just assume he’s cool with racism. He also said that it’s worse in the UK than the US

      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        I know this is insufficient, but I apologize for our collective ignorance. From talking about Africa as if it were one country to constantly discussing it as though it were “backward” a la Heart of Darkness. I don’t know if it’s any consolation, but there’s a similar level of abject ignorance re: Native Americans/American Indians. It seems to all be part of our master narrative and colonial fever dream.

        1. Honeybee*

          Well, it’s because nothing in U.S. history or social studies classes teaches anything about sub-Saharan Africa besides the transatlantic slave trade (and even then, all you learn is that Africans were kidnapped from Africa in general – but no discussion of where, or how, or what impact that had on African tribes and culture). Certainly not anything about Africa after the fall of colonialism in the 1960s. Really, I didn’t learn anything about African civilization until I went to a historically black college for undergrad and they made a point of weaving African history and culture into the curriculum.

          And the books we read about Africa in literature classes are largely either Heart of Darkness or Things Fall Apart, which is a great novel but mostly discusses colonial and early post-colonial life in Nigeria. And that’s it. Chinua Achebe has to the the singular voice of Africa…for every country.

          Same treatment is given to Native Americans. You learn about their history in the U.S. pre-1492, and then after that they cease to exist completely.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            I remember in the 60s we were taught that not much was known about the history of Africa or the history of the original Americans. We also pretty much ignored China and Russia, although there was mention of them in colleges courses. I assumed/hoped they (schools/historians/others) would try to figure it out at some point. I see that I can just keep on hoping. (This disgusts me to the nth degree, you cannot have the so-called well rounded education and still ignore entire parts of the world.)

          2. Candi*

            And this is why I did my darnedest to instill a love of history into my kids.

            I’m a bookworm and love history. There’s so much to learn -and so much has been lost.

      3. Candi*

        I adored the Cracked article a few years ago squishing the ‘no cities’ stupid into itty bitty pieces.

        1. ggg*

          Most of what I learned about Africa in school came from a ’70s era French textbook, in which everyone in Cote d’Ivoire was always going to the discotheque. It looked pretty fun.

    5. Liane*

      Oh, how stupid. Sounds like somebody could have used Mr. C’s 7th grade Geography class, where we not only learned that electricity–and lots of other stuff–existed outside our 1970s-era USA, but got remedial education in stuff that middle schoolers find really hard, like not insulting others.

    6. axiothea*

      when I first started using the internet in the early 00s and met a bunch of Americans online, it turned out that they knew so little about my country that I’d get questions like, ‘do you have electricity?’ (obviously because I’m using the internet) or ‘what kind of house do you live in?’ not in a curious way but as though they were expecting me to describe a grass hut. They didn’t seem to believe me when I said that New Zealand is actually pretty similar to the States. I can’t imagine how awful Africans have it :(

  8. Stellaaaaa*

    I have a master’s degree from a second-tier school. I figured out a long time ago that it wasn’t going to land me the highest-paying jobs, but it was helping me get comfortable jobs with flexible schedules. It boosted my overall lifestyle and quality of life even though I’m certainly not getting any richer. Don’t knock the database skills either; you wouldn’t believe how many doors opened for me once I randomly got trained in Quickbooks on the job.

    Is OP from the UK or did she just go to school there? If she’s British, I’m wondering if she’s being knocked a little off-kilter by the normal stuff that American grads are already used to. American 20-somethings simply aren’t getting the jobs that someone from the UK might think they are. OP should look around at Americans with similar degrees and see what jobs they’re getting. It’s entirely possible that in the UK job market, OP really would be getting the jobs she was told she’d get.

    1. fposte*

      I think she’s American and is being knocked off-kilter by the normal stuff that American grads are already used to, because she thought her degree was a way around the crap.

  9. Student*

    If the job duties are too easy for you, maybe you need to apply to more challenging positions.

    You don’t need to have 100% of the qualifications listed on a job post’s requirements and “nice to haves” to have a decent chance. You usually only need something like half of them. That’s another thing no one tells you when you’re job hunting. It sounds like you’re consistently aiming too low.

    1. Joseph*

      That’s normally a good idea, but here, that’s probably not feasible. Those more challenging positions generally require actual work experience and real-world skills. Maybe you don’t need “3-5 years of experience in chocolate teapots” but there’s a world of difference between “well, she does have 2 years with vanilla teapots” and “fresh grad”.

      1. Overeducated*

        Yeah, but if OP does have a couple years of work experience from before or during the master’s, that isn’t erased by graduation. I worked part time and contract jobs throughout grad school and that experience did get me above the “fresh grad” bar (thank goodness, because I couldn’t get a single call back for the really entry level stuff…yes, my name is tongue in cheek).

  10. FTW*

    Consider leveraging your school’s contacts and alums. The program may open doors easily in the UK, but in the US (or any other country) you will likely need to seek out the situations where it is a differentiator.

  11. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    OP, I think it may help to take a step back to evaluate what you’ve been told and how it’s measuring up.

    First, it’s important to know that information may be lost in translation—describing a program as the “[Harvard/Ivy League] of the UK” probably won’t help with folks’ understanding (also, everyone says this about their school if the program is not as well known, which makes it kind of an empty analogy). It can have weight in academia, but I haven’t seen similar benefits for the non-academic workforce.

    Second, as others have noted, your degree might actually be opening doors, and you may not realize it. Folks who attend grad school often make the leap that “grad degree” = “starting higher than entry level.” That’s often not the case, even if you had received your degree at a prestigious U.S. university. Whether you’re in law, engineering, education, social welfare, city planning, or any other “professional” school program, your first job is still going to be entry level. Particularly in big cities, a lot of jobs require a master’s or comparable work experience just to enter the “professional track.” And in some professions, your grad degree may make you marginally more “promotable” about 5-10 years down the road, but it won’t change the fact that you have to start near the beginning (read: entry-level).

    Finally, as you noted, the skills required for academic achievement don’t always translate to job skills (and be careful not to proxy degrees/school-brand-name for intelligence—many extraordinary minds do not receive the opportunity to pursue higher and higher higher ed). Excelling at university doesn’t really require the same skills for coordinating events, managing social media, or writing brief articles. And mastering those skills is an important part of becoming promotable; generally employers are not going to take risks on employees who want to jump up the chain without mastering their “low-level”/fundamental entry-level job responsibilities (I call this the capable but careless problem). It’s kind of like asking to take Calculus before demonstrating that you understand Algebra and can solve problems completely while showing your work. You have to build a track record of success with your employer before your employer can promote you.

    (Aside: It’s important to let go of the idea that client projects undertaken as part of your degree program are equivalent to “in the trenches” work experience. They’re really not, but they can be useful foils for talking about what you learned and how you approach problems.)

    With all that in mind, you may be subconsciously telegraphing your frustration over your degree in your interviews. And I think the best way to avoid that is to do some serious reframing. Unfortunately, you’re not too experienced for entry-level positions in your field (or at least that’s what the market is telling you). So instead of looking backward, consider your degree a launching pad into your future. If you take your current opportunities seriously and really put time into being the best darn [entry-level position title] you can be, it will fuel your career progression. Who would you be more excited to mentor and move up: An employee who’s enthusiastic and does their job exceedingly well, or one who indicates that their work is beneath them because of their talents?

    Good luck, and let us know how things progress for you. I have a feeling that if you can find a way to be ok with starting at the beginning, you’ll be pleased with your overall career trajectory in the next 3-5 years.

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      OMG, I’m sorry that that post is so long. New Year’s resolution: be concise.

      1. Marzipan*

        It’s a really good post! I definitely didn’t read it thinking ‘looooooooooong’, I read it thinking ‘good point, yes’ all the way through.

        1. Liane*

          Same here, and I know what long looks like because I write that way. May I please share/borrow your resolution, Princess CBH?

        2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Oh whew, thank y’all! I’ll still try to get it shorter, but it’s good to know I’m not trampling commenting etiquette.

    2. Koko*

      “Excelling at university doesn’t really require the same skills for coordinating events, managing social media, or writing brief articles.”

      I am living proof of this. I dual-majored in undergrad with an additional concentration and went on to get my Master’s before deciding academia wasn’t the life I wanted and going into marketing.

      One of the early jobs I held included a lot of non-marketing responsibilities that fell to me (small shop), one of which was planning our quarterly board meetings. I’ve thrown many successful parties in my life and even that didn’t translate into being able to flawlessly execute a corporate meeting. It was my third or fourth board meeting before I didn’t make any mistakes at some point. And even after that, events still terrified me and I always feared I was forgetting something or had scheduled something wrong or hadn’t anticipated something.

      Event planning has all of nothing to do with most academic study.

      1. blackcat*

        On the other hand, as a PhD student, my advisor delegates a huge amount of project management to me. I organize and handle several dozen moving pieces within a $300k/year research project. My advisor is fantastic in many ways, but he is not detail-oriented and is bad at managing projects with lots of little parts.

        Item #1 currently on my agenda: proving to him that we have the funds for a post-doc to do all of this, so I can go write my dissertation instead of ordering equipment and managing and training younger grad students and undergrads.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Oh, jeez—why doesn’t he hire a lab supervisor?? Or is that part of the “not detail-oriented and bad at managing projects” problem?

          1. Marcela*

            Ooh, because that’s how academia is. They underpay us, and pretend scientists do all kind of other jobs at the same time they do research full time. And do all of them perfectly. I used to believe the familiar tale of being always short of money, until I learned my boss was paying 100k yearly to a physicist working in quantum computing he didn’t want to lose to Google, and to the other software developer working with me, while paying me 34k for the same job. Or when my former boss in Europe insisted he could pay me while I was in the US, but never wanted to say what was decent for him while telling me he could not pay something like my current salary in Silicon Valley, and when I told him he needed someone to work with his systems because I wasn’t doing it anymore, well, he replied that it didn’t matter anyway, for he could assing my duties to one of the newest postdocs or students. Mind you, a full time software developer job, responsible of the core of his lab administration. They are simply cheap people.

            1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              I’m sorry, my question was semi-facetious. I agree that there’s a great deal of abusive hiring/management practices between professors and the PhD candidates they supervise. The part that stuns me the most, however, is how willing professors are to throw their candidate’s career under the bus by making it impossible for them to get their dissertation out the door. Sadly treating people like cogs and exploiting them seems to be equal opportunity across sectors.

        2. Koko*

          I have no problem with project management, actually. I can juggle deadlines and coordinating the labor of multiple contributors and all that. It’s specifically event planning that is totally overwhelming to me. Which makes sense given that I’ve probably worked on more projects in my life (hundreds) than I’ve worked on putting on events (a few dozens at best).

    3. Marillenbaum*

      “Capable but careless” is such a real problem, and it’s a big part of why I waited for four years to go back for my masters. I knew I was really good at school, but I had this intense fear that I would drown in the working world because I didn’t have the same skill set there (I had worked, but only part-time stuff). Doing a fair amount of boring scut work (and reading this blog) really helped me become a good employee, which made it a lot easier to be viewed competitively for more challenging positions.

    4. M-C*

      Mmm. I was going to suggest precisely the opposite of the Princess . The generally arrogant and out of touch tone of the letter made me feel that most likely the glittering degree was the centerpiece of the resume. My thought was that perhaps it could be re-written with the actual job skills and experience to the forefront? That might have the salutary side effect of adjusting the attitude and allowing for a follow up less catastrophic interview. But it might also help raise initial interest, giving the idea the OP knows what work is about and won’t whine if required to break a fingernail over say dumb paperwork?
      That said I generally agree with the Princess’ advice..

  12. TeacherNerd*

    Oddly, it was my particular graduate degree that allowed me to get the job I got (having a Master’s in a uncommon-as-compared-to-literally-everyone-else-in-my-department content-specific area as opposed to education made a tremendous difference). But education as a field is weird and, until the got my job, I struggled seemingly more than nearly every other teacher I knew in the length of time it took me to get a full-time teaching job (eight years). One takes these things – that is to say, how easy it is for YOU vs. how easy it is for others – with a grain of salt.

    I wonder if there’s an attitude difference, too, between what folks are told in the U.K. and what we’re told in the U.S.? I went to a pretty solid public university (hello, SUNY!) and never once heard that my degree, or that a graduate degree, would open doors. (Yes, apparently many others have. Not I.) There are class systems no matter where you go, but they may manifest themselves differently in different countries, and I wonder, if the OP is U.K. born and bred, thought that American attitudes might transfer in ways that they don’t.

  13. emma2*

    I think the LW is just not familiar with how intense the competition for jobs is in the U.S., especially in the big cities that attract the best and the brightest not only from all over the country – but all over the world. In my particular field, a Master’s degree is required, but it is the minimum required for entry-level jobs. I graduated from a prestigious university, but as the U.S. (and the world) has more than one prestigious university, it didn’t surprise me that I faced a lot of competition in the job market once I graduated, from people with prestigious degrees AND more experience. My advice is to be proud of the education and skills you have gained – these are opportunities not afforded to everyone. However, the working world is a whole other ballpark and your credentials don’t exempt you from having to prove yourself. I, and a lot of people like myself, are still stuck in the contract/freelancer phase of our careers despite our educational credentials and technical skills. Things will work out eventually but you have to pay your dues (at least in the U.S.)

    1. emma2*

      I should add that I do get a lot of job interviews, and I am pretty sure my degree/school brand helps with that. But at the interview stage, I still face a lot of competition, and my interview skills can always be refined.

    2. Blackhand*

      A lot of lower and middle class people get sold this lie as well. Hence all the debt for degrees that don’t pay off bc the grad is bright but either doesn’t have contacts or can’t do unpaid internships for “experience.”

      1. Dan*

        Are there any hard stats on the amount of unpaid vs paid internships? I’ve actually never interned for free — all of mine have been paid, and quite well too. That said, my background is in STEM, and my international affairs/political science friends had their fair share of unpaid labor on Capitol Hill. It was very interesting seeing some very different worlds. (Even more so because my family doesn’t have money or connections.)

        1. Milton Waddams*

          If you made it out with no debt, you lucked out, as all that is gone now is your time. Better to find out the fool’s gold you got for free is worthless than to have taken out a huge loan to purchase it. There are scammers and schemers in every country.

          Do you play up the Ye Olde England stereotypes? There’s a certain type of U.S. company that absolutely loves that snobby stuff — I sort of see them as the American equivalent of the Chinese companies that hire Europeans to pose in their commercials as a sign of success. Might be a way to make the best of it, at least. :-)

        2. krysb*

          According to, according to survey results, 61% of internships and co-ops are paid. I assume that means that 39% are unpaid. People who participate in paid internships are more likely to get a job than those who participate in unpaid internships. Apparently not doing an internship at all is almost as likely to land a person a job than doing an unpaid internship.

          The problem with unpaid internships is, if you read the Department of Labor rules for unpaid internships, legal unpaid internships are surprisingly rare unicorns in the world. (Never mind the fact that a person pays a university for credit for unpaid internships…)

        3. Junior Dev*

          Unpaid internships are illegal in many circumstances but until a few years ago they were common in some industries, like fashion and media. There was a legal crackdown that ended most of those in the US.

          I believe there are exceptions for things like nonprofits and political campaigns.

          In 2008 I interned on the local Obama campaign (I turned 18 shortly after the election, so I couldn’t vote in it). I didn’t get paid, but the whole office was volunteers except the directors.

          I did AmeriCorps after college (2014) which is kind of a weird gray area. They jump through a lot of linguistic hoops to say that it is not a “job” and you are not “working,” so they can pay you a stipend that comes out to less than minimum wage. This is not an internship but it’s an example of a work opportunity that looks impressive but is really not feasible for someone with bills to pay–nearly everyone I know who did it had family or a spouse helping them pay for things, or savings from a previous job.

          I did a web development bootcamp in 2015 and got an internship with a startup right out of that. It paid $25 an hour but was only 15 to 30 hours a week. (I ended up doing the lower end of that as I was having health problems) I don’t know if that was representative of bootcamp grads though, that startup was really weird and I negotiated salary very aggressively because I didn’t think there was any chance I would actually get it.

          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            The DOL guidance doesn’t exempt nonprofits from paying/not-paying interns. The difference is that nonprofits are allowed to accept volunteers while for-profits cannot, and some nonprofits are kind of dodgy about it. Political campaigns are also often nonprofits, even though they’re not (c)(3) organizations.

            The DOL looks at six criteria to determine whether an intern is covered by the FLSA (and thus, must be paid at least minimum wage): (1) the internship is educational for the intern; (2) the internship benefits the intern, not the organization; (3) the intern is closely supervised by staff and the intern’s tasks do not displace what would otherwise be a paid, regular employee position; (3) the organization providing the internship receives no immediate advantage from it, and its operations may actually be impeded; and (5) the intern is not entitled to a job after completion of the program; (6) the employer and intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for time spent on the internship.

            Basically you can have an intern, but you can’t use them as if they were employees, and their contribution should kind of be a wash (i.e., the amount of time spent supervising them offsets any benefit from their work).

            AmeriCorps is a different beast because it’s technically a volunteer program in which they pay you a stipend (not a salary/wages). They get away with it because the federal government often is not bound by the same labor laws that apply to everyone else.

        4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Historically no one tracked internships or the percentage paid/unpaid, they only reported whether a person who had interned was later hired. Right before the Department of Labor issued additional guidance on internships, the estimates were that 50% of internships were paid and 50% unpaid (note: business fields, banking, STEM all tended to pay, while “creative” fields like advertising, publishing, etc. did not).

          After the DOL started enforcing the internship rules and as of 2015, paid internships comprised about 61% of all internships. There’s also some data out there suggesting paid interns have a higher likelihood of being hired, but I don’t think that information distinguished between types of intern programs. For example, many paid internships explicitly provide their alumni with priority in hiring or with an employment offer at the end of the internship term.

          Interning for the federal government is a totally different scheme (you’re technically volunteering, and you sign an agreement saying that’s what you’re doing). Their paid internship programs are extremely difficult to get into and are usually reserved for grad-level students.

        5. Marillenbaum*

          I don’t know about hard stats, but I couldn’t afford to do unpaid internships, so I didn’t. I worked as the student assistant for my minor in undergrad, and now that I’m doing internships as a grad student (poli sci/IR), my fellowship provides a stipend, so I’m still not working for free.

        6. Candi*

          I was hopping mad back in the late 1990s after reading some articles about how unpaid internships were being used in place of minimum wage entry-level jobs at some companies. (I think Reader’s Digest had an article at the time.) “For the opportunity!” was the unpaid intern’s equivalent of “for exposure!” SO glad they tightened up on what makes an intern.

    3. Overeducated*

      Yes, this. My field is similar. The only exception to master’s being a qualifier for professional track jobs that i am seeing in my specific large organization is that people who go to local schools (prestigious or not, it doesn’t really matter) and intern part time throughout their degree, even at the BA level, are often given preferential, non competitive hiring consideration.

      I sort of wish I had a) known about the org’s intern program and b) pursued that option years and years ago, when it could have made a big difference. (I interned and worked too, i’m not saying I expected to be handed a job, but for small nonprofits that couldn’t really hire anyone, or even offer minimum wage in many cases.) Anyway, my point is that more apparently successful people with less education may have come in through a specific door that isn’t open based on school prestige.

  14. Blackhand*

    A degree without contacts and context is, at best, an edge up when in a pool of applicants.

    Even a degree from the toughest school on the planet won’t “open doors” in and of itself.

    DH is an alumnus if Caltech. It is unequivocally the hardest school to get into and as a fairly high attrition rate. I’ve met Nobel Prize winners who have said “Oh, I wasn’t smart enough to do my undergrad at Tech.”

    Yet I know a lot of kids who graduate from Caltech and struggle to find work. Why? It’s not because they aren’t brighter capable.

    The degree does not take you to the door or open it. It may help once you are through….

    Networking, experience, career goals, etc. matter more.

    In OPs case, she needs to network. That’s the context in which she can talk about her education and *maybe* get someone to care.

    1. Dan*

      I’m partly responding to your comment, and partly making an observation about higher ed in general. I think we sell our kids (and TBH, parents too) a bill of goods about the need for a “prestigious” degree. I was pretty much a straight A student in high school, but opted to go to schools for my BS and MS that generally don’t crack the “top tier” in rankings. (And even then, we have to be careful… MIT is known to be a great engineering school, but what can be said about their history majors? I have no idea.)

      I gotta be honest… despite the fact that I have (what I consider to be) a subpar pedigree academically, I really am not complaining about where I ended up in life. I’ve worked with a handful of MIT grads over the years, and while I’ve never had complaints about their work, I’ve never been in awe of them either.

      Besides, most schools have name recognition because of sports programs. I realized that when I was putting together my list of places to apply — I had no knowledge of their academics, but they were a “name brand” school because they were on TV all of the time. Duke, Georgetown, (off the top of my head) are certainly fine schools, but being plastered all over the TV in the 90’s is what put them on my radar. Hell, I never heard of my undergraduate alma mater until I was looking through a book about colleges. I’m sure one reason I never heard of it is we haven’t had a football team since the 60’s, and our men’s basketball team has never been that great. Yet I can tell you that Patrick Ewing and Alonzo Mourning went to Georgetown, and John Thompson coached them. (I swear I’m not a big basketball nerd.)

      Point being, one can make a successful career for themselves no matter where (or where they didn’t) go to school. While I will never know why I get rejected from some jobs, I can say that I’ve never been told to my face that I’ve been turned down for promotions or something because I didn’t go to a “good enough” school.

      1. Blackhand*

        You do that many from Tech regard MIT as the “party school” for those not smart enough.

        I went to law school w a bunch of people from the Ivies. None of them were the top of the class.

          1. FacetRachet*

            I don’t think the point was all Ivy grads are dolts, just that having a degree from an Ivy doesn’t make you instantly a top performer.

      2. Mike C.*

        At the same time, the number of doors my own degree has opened up is just insane. I went to a top, small engineering/science school and the number of people who interviewed just because of that degree was staggering. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with three large state school here (my own advisors got their phds there after all) but just saying that a prestigious degree isn’t worth much is simply not true.

        1. fposte*

          That’s really interesting, because in the broader world the Claremonts are kind of an insider secret; my Pomona grad friend went to “PomonaoneoftheClaremontCollegesoutsideofLA” because it was pointless to say it without the explanation. I’m wondering if there are other schools like that–but are there many small STEM colleges at all?

          And we may be talking about an effective pipeline, which is (at least in practice) a little different than prestige; it’s not “wow, Harvard” but more of a network, with recruiters on campus and hiring managers who know the alumni (I think our engineering school has that with some regional corporations). The OP isn’t going places where they’ve hired people with her same degree or know people who have, so even if hiring managers know the name it’s not the same as knowing graduates of that program who’ve excelled.

          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            Yes—Harvey Mudd is a small STEM college (and part of the Pomona/Claremont system) :)

              1. Mike C.*

                Yeah, as an alum I’m really not thrilled to hear that. I know when I went there was a huge amount of financial aid (it was even need blind back then) so I’m just hoping that it’s a handful of folks paying full price while the rest get significant financial aid.

                They kept getting ranked as having the “best ROI” so I have a feeling that fueled the cost increases as well. Ugh. I graduated with around 21k ten years ago, so it wasn’t unreasonable.

              2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                Yes, although I thought they’re not the most expensive for total cost of education? (i.e., total cost of living + tuition) The “high tuition, high aid” model that lots of colleges/universities cite as the basis for tuition that has no rational relationship to the actual cost of delivering that education seems to be total malarkey when you break down the numbers and unravel the financial aid assumptions.

          2. Mike C.*

            It’s really hit and miss. Either they’ve never heard of the place and then you’re relying on the rest of your resume or they know it and it’s a huge bump. And by bump I mean they’re pulling you into an interview. The rest is still up to you and the competition.

            There are three I can think of – Mudd, Olin and Rose-Holman. I’m sure you could fit others there (Colorado School of Mines maybe?) but that’s what comes to mind.

            The pipeline certainly exists, but I’ve gotten the, “wow” reaction as well.

            1. FacetRachet*

              That’s true of Caltech and a lot of the solid small schools.

              Everyone and their dog has heard of MIT. Not everyone has heard of the other schools. If the interviewer has heard of Caltech, Mudd, Olin or Rose-Homan, chances are they respect the schools. A lot.

              ” the number of doors my own degree has opened up is just insane”

              I’ve no doubt this is true, but I’d wager your school has done a lot to open up pipelines for it’s grads. Pipelines you may or may not even be aware of. Either that or they have done a lot to raise their name in the area/industry and geographic location for which you are applying.

              I can say that a lot of the Cali-based schools have that, but it’s not a golden ticket for everyone in all areas.

              1. Dan*

                By and large, I think most schools have a regional reputation. I went to a state school for my MS, and got what was at the time a bit of a niche degree. Before I enrolled, I point blank asked the program director what prospects were like for graduates.

                He told me that if I was willing to stay local (I was out-of-state), there were really strong connections locally, but if I wanted a job out of state, I was taking my chances. He was right, getting a job locally was a breeze, although I ended up out of state. The region my grad school was in has 10 fortune 500 companies HQ’d there, so it wasn’t like the network was weak.

              2. fposte*

                Interesting–while it doesn’t have the name recognition of MIT, I’d say Caltech is pretty widely known compared to the others, especially Rose-Holman and Olin.

                1. Dan*

                  I’m getting a kick out of the conversation about how well known “Rose-Holman” is, because if you’re talking about what I think you’re talking about, it’s a misspelling of “Rose-Hulman”.

                2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                  Totally agreed re: CalTech, especially since Big Bang Theory began broadcasting.

              3. Honeybee*

                But what is prestige other than a pipeline that has managed to expand itself? Harvard got the “wow Harvard” reputation because, in part, of the accomplishments of its alumni – as they went onto high places and brought their fellow alumni up, or people who had worked with them did the same. They’ve just had a really, really long time to expand outwards.

                1. Dan*

                  In some senses, I think “prestige” is about inherent name or reputation recognition. I know of Caltech as being “a good engineering school” but I don’t know any graduates. So how do I know it’s good? Because US News and World Report says so? Actually, one of the criticisms of the USN&WR rankings is that “reputation” is extremely subjective and at this point is somewhat circular. Will schools that have a reputation for being “good” ever not be good? Are schools with a reputation for not being “good schools” ever going to crack into the upper tier?

                2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                  I think prestige is part branding/marketing, alumni placement, and the production of knowledge and placement of PhD candidates (the last one has come way down in significance, though). But the perception of prestige also depends on who you ask.

                  It’s also totally true that Harvard’s “prestige” is in part a function of its alumni’s success, but that success was cultivated, in part, by systematically admitting super rich white men whose dads were political oligarchs and titans of industry. And now it comes from benefitting that same social class (although on a global scale, so now there are children of world leaders who attend) while creating the semblance of diversity by admitting a minority of kids who don’t fit those boxes. As a result, it’s hard to separate the “Harvard effect” with the the “child of privilege” effect.

        2. Triangle Pose*

          Yep, I feel like it doesn’t change anything for OP but I think a lot of the sentiment on this site that a prestigious degree isn’t worth much and that is simply not true in my experience either – both from the hiring side and as a candidate and when I was a recent grad.

          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            I’m interpreting folks’ feedback as saying that a prestigious pedigree, by itself, is not worth much (with the caveat that it depends on your sector). It’s the network you create, the opportunities/research you undertake, your extracurricular and intern activities, etc., and for some, their preexisting wealth/family connections. And it’s certainly true that some prestigious programs provide much greater support in helping students access those opportunities while they’re in school. However, if you put your head down and only focus on your classes at an “elite” school, it may not open as many doors as if you had hustled, and it might put you on similar footing as people who attended “less elite” schools but did hustle.

            1. Mike C.*

              Yeah, this is certainly true. Those connections and opportunities are just crazy though. Doors can open up that you didn’t even know existed in the first place.

        3. Dan*

          I’ll admit my comment was a bit nuanced… I didn’t say that a prestigious college has no value. What I said was that you can be successful without one. And I don’t mean in that in the sense that Bill Gates was successful as a college dropout.

          Locally, we have a STEM magnet high school that is generally ranked at the top nation-wide. Admissions is very competitive. Some parents act as if the world is coming to an end if their kid doesn’t get in. No, your kid is going to end up just fine.

          My take with these “prestigious” schools is that if you can get in and can afford it, then great. But if you can’t? Life goes on, and you’ll be fine.

          There are some exceptions, particularly for law and MBA programs. Those names matter.

      3. sometimeswhy*

        Ditto. I went to a state school with a (nationally publicized!) reputation for being a party/football/not-exactly-academically-rigorous school but it was still pretty solidly ranked for my field. I can’t complain about where I am. Well, I can, but both examined both objectively and against my own goals, I’m pretty successful. I also started working entry level part time jobs in my field my sophomore year so I entered the workforce with three years of directly applicable experience and a few more years of not-directly-applicable since I took (had to take) a few years off after high school to work before starting school.

        Now I hire and what I care most about is an individual’s ability to do the job I need them to do. Whether they got there by direct or transferable experience or a rigorous training program makes little difference to me.

      4. Koko*

        I think one of the important things to keep in mind is that hiring managers are just people with their own biases and preferences. If they didn’t come from an elite school themselves, there is a very high chance that they aren’t very impressed by elite schooling.

        Elite schools are a shibboleth for the children of the wealthy so they can all hire each other later. The shibboleth doesn’t work with outsiders.

        1. Mike C.*

          Or maybe they’re elite schools because they’re extremely difficult programs. Sometimes prestige is earned.

          1. Koko*

            Oh, I’m not doubting that the programs are difficult. I’m doubting whether the extra difficulty matters much to hiring managers.

            If the hiring manager and everyone else in the department went to a state school and the department is performing well and making money, then clearly a state school diploma is “good enough” for the work done by that department. The hiring manager doesn’t need someone who was capable of higher-level theoretical work because the actual day-to-day work is not that advanced, so all degrees become more or less equivalent (especially when education is a secondary factor to skills/experience, as it is in most mid-level hiring decisions).

            1. Koko*

              (The extra difficulty of an elite school DOES matter tremendously if you’re trying to get into another elite school, go into a tenure-track academic position, or get into one of the Big-However-Many law firms that care about prestige. It just doesn’t matter that much if you’re going for an entry-level policy researcher position at a mid-tier think tank.)

        2. Dan*

          Just look at comments elsewhere in this thread. One person writes, “The consensus around here is that prestige doesn’t matter that much. But I’m a hiring manager, and let me tell you, IT MATTERS.” Well, who’s right? The “consensus” or that person?

          Likewise, I grew up in a rural part of the midwest. Culturally, we didn’t place a lot of emphasis on prestigious private schools outside the state. You graduated, you went to a state school, and if you’re good, you went to the flagship uni.

          I’ll admit that that upbringing shapes my educational view today — but I’ve never gotten out of bed wishing I had chosen a more prestigious school. OTOH, I have wondered why I spent so much damn money on school.

            1. Anonymous Educator*

              In addition to it mattering more to some hiring managers than others, it can also vary by industry and region.

              1. Dan*

                Most definitely. I think the biggest issue I have with this type of discussion is that we’re more or less a sound-byte nation, and want to make major life decisions based off of 30 seconds worth of “research”. (I see that all the time with personal finance topics, too.)

                For some programs, such as Law and MBA, I wouldn’t argue with advice that says “If you can’t get into a Top X program, don’t bother going at all.” Even as an engineer or data scientist, I’d say name matters less, but if you think you want to found a start up or something, you better pick a school that has alumni tied into the VC community (Stanford, I’m looking at you.) You wanna work on Wall Street? Name matters. While I’m certainly doing fine where I’m at, if I want VC money or a Wall Street job, I don’t know how to do that, and I don’t know who to ask.

                I think some of us have a hard time recognizing biases. Me? In my world, every internship I’ve ever had (or now, every intern I’ve worked with) has been paid, and pretty well. I cannot relate to the discussions about unpaid internships, other than the fact that I couldn’t have afforded one. (I also come from a world without much in the way of connections, everything I’ve done I’ve gotten through sweat and tears.) In my world, my dad doesn’t call up his CEO buddy and get me an internship. Also, in my world, I can send out a dozen resumes and get multiple offers. When I’m unemployed, I’m back on the payroll in six months, and even that’s on the long side. (Been unemployed twice in the last 8 years, so I know what it’s like.)

                We’d be better served if we recognize and acknowledge our biases. My world isn’t right or wrong, but it’s still my world, and shapes how I view and approach things. Sometimes there are better ways of doing things, and sometimes there’s not.

                And here we are, trying to cram nuance into a sound byte.

            2. Dan*

              I think the point some of us are getting at is that as a society, some place an outsized “value” on the name of a handful of highly recognized institutions.

              I mean sure, go to the “best” school you can get into, I don’t think anybody would ever argue that. But at what cost? In the era of rapidly increasing tuition costs, how much money should I spend on such a name? What happens if Sate U gives me a full scholarship, and Harvey Mudd wants me to pay full price? (Or for that matter, I get no aid anywhere…)

              If all else is equal, then sure. But all else is rarely equal.

              1. Anonymous Educator*

                This is also a good case for those of us who are involved in hiring to keep in mind that someone going to a state school isn’t necessarily “less than” another candidate who went to a prestigious and expensive school. Financial aid and tuition are no joke now. Frankly, even public schools are expensive now.

              2. emma2*

                Agreed! In my field, companies auto-trash applications that don’t have a fancy school name on them – it’s so close minded. While I did go to a fancy school, I think it is more a result of privilege than of ability/potential.

      5. Honeybee*

        Researchers have compared students who went to top schools with students who had the same stats, but instead went to less well-recognized schools for a variety of reasons. They found no significant differences in salaries at mid-career. Generally speaking, really smart students will do well no matter where they go – because it’s the ambition and drive that allows them to succeed.

        (Also, MIT has pretty excellent departments in several of the humanities and social sciences. They have top doctoral programs in linguistics, psychology, economics, philosophy, and political science. They actually have a pretty strong commitment to making sure that all of their undergrads students – even the ones majoring in engineering and the sciences – get a well-rounded education in the humanities and social sciences.)

        1. Dan*

          I’ve seen that same study, and I believe it. We’re a nation of sound bytes and easy success, and “go to a good school and you’ll do fine” plays well. “Work your butt off, do your homework, buckle down” doesn’t.

    2. Cyril Figgis*

      I agree. If I see an elite school like MIT or Caltech on a resume, I’ll pay more attention to it. It may even get someone an interview, but it won’t get them the job. As a hiring manager, I’m looking for skills & experience, not degrees.

  15. Dan*

    I once enrolled in a distance ed masters program (in management, no less) with a school that had substantial B&M and distance ed offerings. At the time, a lot of their stuff was targeted toward military students. I was in the program mostly because my employer at the time was paying for it. (Although I had no intention of remaining with them after school.)

    Anyway, after having taken a few courses with the program, I was really curious about what kind of jobs I could get with it. Main campus was having a career fair, so I thought, what the heck, why not fly out (I was on the opposite coast) for a couple of days and attend the fair?

    I have to be honest, I was shocked. NOBODY gave a rat’s ass about my MS work. They were all interested in my undergraduate degree (computer science). Great, right? Accept for the fact that my undergrad GPA was in the toilet, and that was one of the reasons I was seeking an advanced degree. Nevermind that it wasn’t exactly the work I wanted to do anyway.

    Anyway, I flew back home and dropped my classes, for that reason and that reason alone. If the school can’t attract employers to a career fair who are interested in the school’s particular offerings, who else is going to care? Yes, I wasn’t paying for the program, but I was spending time on it.

    To this day, I do not regret quitting that program. I ultimately went on to another program that was more aligned with my career goals (and that I had to pay for out of pocket) but I’ve gotten some really good jobs out of it.

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Dan, how many years were you out from your undergrad degree when you attended the career fair? I’ve found that the emphasis on GPA steadily decreases as you acquire more work experience.

      1. Dan*

        I have a bit of a non-traditional background, so while I was about four years out, I never really had a job using it.

  16. Marzipan*

    OP, I think the thing you need to get your head round in order to move on from this is, no-one is going to care about your degree. Not really, deeply care, in the way you care about it. Because for you, it was a whole period of your life where you applied yourself to something incredibly challenging and prevailed, but for them, it’s one qualification to consider, against a whole load of considerations and requirements that a whole load of candidates offer. It’s just not ever going to make them employ you on its own, however much of it you can argue is transferrable.

    Think of your career like one of those games where you need to collect a combination of items in order to progress. You’ve got the emerald, and it was really hard to get the emerald, and you want to get on with the game and use it. But actually, at this early stage in the game you mainly need the shovel and the button and the pearl and the wood and the pair of shoes. Eventually, one day, you’re going to need that emerald; it’ll be the thing that lets you progress to the next level. But right now, stick it in your pocket and get on with assembling the other things. You said the things employers have been impressed by included your basic software skills – why not develop those a bit further? You said you were looking for ways to convince employers you could handle their social media, or event organisation – why not volunteer to do those things for a local charity, to build up some practical experience you can show? You’re really clever and capable, and you can learn to do all this stuff, but employers can’t take that on trust even on the basis of your degree.

    Good luck!

    1. Magda*

      Even though the degree might not directly open doors now, once you get more experience it can start paying off in ways you can’t foresee.

      1. Other Duties as Assigned*

        This. When I started my career after getting my MBA, I was concerned that a) little of what I learned seemed to be important in my entry-level role and b) if I didn’t start using what I’d learned, I’d start forgetting it. However, over the years I’ve found that much of what I studied in grad school WAS useful as I moved up and took on more projects and responsibilities. In fact, I was surprised how much had stuck with me. The things I learned in operations management, strategic planning, non-profit marketing, organizational behavior and business law are regularly useful in my current job. To be sure, I don’t use everything (I’ll probably never have occasion to use multiple linear regression again), but the value of the education remains…it is the “emerald” that I retained and it continues to pay off now.

    2. Tau*

      This is a really good comment and I really want to highlight this thing:

      Eventually, one day, you’re going to need that emerald; it’ll be the thing that lets you progress to the next level. But right now, stick it in your pocket and get on with assembling the other things.

      OP, so the fuzzy things you gained from your degree that you mentioned are simply not going to be convincing to hiring managers, who will always prefer hard proof of skills via prior experience over the indirect reasoning chain of “I got this mark in this degree which means I can do A well which means I should also be able to do B well.” However, that doesn’t mean that you’re wrong that these things will translate, and it is absolutely possible that they will end up really benefiting you once you’re in the actual job and lead to major successes, glowing references and the sort of things that hiring managers do want to see. Your degree isn’t as useful as you thought it would be right now, and that really sucks and I’m sorry you were misled. But that doesn’t mean it was pointless.

      FWIW, I’m a person with a Master’s and a PhD who ended up getting an entry-level job which I only needed my Bachelor’s for. Did that twinge a bit? Sure. Was it frustrating to find that the biggest achievement of my life which I’d stuck years into was more of a detriment than a bonus when job-hunting? Yes – and I was luckier than you in that I was even pretty clear on this going in. However, something I hold onto is this: although I suspect I could have got the same job straight from undergraduate, I am 100% certain I wouldn’t be doing it nearly as well out of undergraduate. I breezed through training, my post-probation review was absurdly positive (the take-away was basically “we are so sad that we can’t clone you”) and the others have followed suit, I’m in a fantastic position for my next job search… and I know the skills I picked up during the PhD are partially to thank for that.

      OP, with any luck your Master’s will end up paying off once you get into your career. Just, for now, you need to focus on other things in order to get your foot in the door.

      1. Marketing Lady*

        Meh, I’ve had the same feedback (especially the cloning me part) and I just have a lowly BA.

        And I got that feedback at my internship while still studying for my BA. I think a lot of times, this stuff is more dependent on the work ethic of the person, not their degree.

        1. Trig*

          I think the point was not that everyone needs a PhD to get that kind of praise, but that the PhD helped make Tau into the person deserving of that praise. Maybe Tau the Undergrad wasn’t emotionally/developmentally/personally ready for the job, so wouldn’t have got that same stellar review. But Tau the PhD had learned the work ethic, and was ready.

          I did a one year course-based MA because I knew I wasn’t ready for the working world, wanted time to figure it out, and had a part-time job and a scholarship to help pay. With a BA, I had few ‘career’ job options anyway, and I’d put off really thinking about it. That year let me figure out that I didn’t want to continue in academia, look into my other options, and find the post-grad certificate at a technical school that got me a job and a career. Trig the Undergrad wasn’t ready for that, but Trig the MA was.

      2. Pennalynn Lott*

        And it’s perfectly fine to bask in the self-admiration that comes from completing a challenging degree program. I’m 50 and back in school to *finally* get my Bachelor’s. I had a great career and made amazing amounts of money in tech sales, but it always bothered me that I’d never finished my degree. I always felt a little bit “less than” when socializing at networking events and happy hours when the talk would turn to college days and where everyone graduated from.

        I’m making a career change, and the degree is needed if I want to be more than an accounting clerk, but mostly I’m just happy that when filling out surveys I will soon be able to check the box for education level that says “College Degree” instead of the one for “Some College But No Degree”. :-)

    3. CG*

      Amen to this! I got a master’s because I knew I didn’t have as in-depth of knowledge from my bachelor’s of X [topic that is a part of my field] as would be required for the types of jobs I was interested in long-term (and because I wanted to put myself away from a terrible job market for another year). Most jobs in my part of my field of choice require a grad degree, even if one isn’t needed to do the work. My first job out of school was full of other newbies (with the same job) with “just” bachelor’s degrees. Did the degree help me get that job? I’m sure it helped my resume rise up in the pool, even if it wasn’t a requirement. However, my next job after that and all subsequent jobs have required a grad degree (in addition to the years of work experience I now have), meaning that some of my former colleagues haven’t been able to advance in the ways that I have, because I had that grad degree waiting in my pocket. You may have to take a first job that is below the level you like to advance to where you want to be – this is still true of workers even when they get grad degrees. I think some grad schools try to convince students that the grad degree helps them skip over entry-level and go straight to their dream jobs, but that usually isn’t true, even if you go to a really, exceptionally good school.

      There may also be a second thing going on here… OP doesn’t mention whether they’re in a field where grad degrees are usually required. What is the track that most people in your field normally take to getting to the jobs you’re interested in? If most of them don’t have grad degrees or got grad degrees much later in their careers, then you may need to just keep that master’s in your back pocket for a while. I’ve heard all kinds of bills of goods being sold for things like master’s degrees in journalism or education, but if you get that degree before you get any relevant work experience, it’s very likely NOT going to get you a job in those fields (and, as mentioned above, may well get you screened out). My grad program was full of people who had experience in the field as well as newbies. The grad degree was definitely more immediately helpful to the people who had a grad degree and proven, relevant work experience, but I think almost all of us are putting it to good use now, years out.

    4. Candi*

      I love the game analogy.

      In fact, the LW’s situation reminds me a bit of a specific game, Return to Ravenhearst.

      Early in the game, you get a damp rag from a HOS in the kitchen. You carry it as you find this entrance and that secret room and find the marbles and the typewriter keys and… it’s late in the game before you actually use it. But you can’t use it until you do all the other stiff.

      No insult meant comparing an expensive degree to a rag!

      But you’re right; right now, LW’s in the position of proceeding through the first level of secret rooms. They’ll need to progress through the rest of the rooms and other levels and the rest of it to get where they want to be. And use that degree.

  17. Katie*

    I think the letter writer has actually fallen into a common trap. Very few European universities have any kind of name recognition in the US, so unless you went to Oxford or Cambridge, it doesn’t mean anything. UK Masters degrees also look odd/slackish to US employers, because they only take a year. (This does not mean they are less work.) Her degree would probably be much more useful if she was job-seeking in Europe, where the programs are more recognised, although of course their absolute utility is somewhat limited. This is something that if you do enough research about doing an MA in Europe you will find, but it’s not immediately obvious.

    (I also did my Masters degrees in the UK, but I did so with full knowledge and awareness of the problem and the intention to stay in Europe.)

    1. fposte*

      Honestly, I doubt that most US employers have any idea how long a UK master’s takes. I think it’s mostly that master’s degrees aren’t particularly interesting to employers wherever they’re from, and there’s certainly no perception that they’d be better from the UK than from the US.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        I’ve found that this is not always the case—in some fields, employers very much know that most UK master’s are one-year programs (and PhD’s are often 3 years or 3+1), and they see those degrees as less rigorous than comparable U.S. programs.

        1. fposte*

          I can believe they know that in specific fields (and presumably those fields are aware of the U.S. one-year masters programs as well); I’m thinking of the general run of employers.

      2. Katie*

        Assuming the dates are on your resume/CV, it’s not hard to figure out, and people really do wonder about a one-year masters’. (I’m in an academic field, and there the difference is keenly felt!)

  18. Cyril Figgis*

    — “The short-term job I have now I think I only got because I know Salesforce.”

    You may be right, but that’s not a bad thing. Many college programs focus on theory, but hiring managers almost exclusively look for applied skills. My advice is to identify the skills that employers in your field are looking for. You probably have some ideas, but check them with someone that’s been doing the work at least 5-10 years. Also decide if you need depth or breadth of experience. Some industries may focus heavily on one or the other, but it may be up to you. If you go with depth, work on strengthening the skills you already have. If it’s breadth, work on building new skills.

    — “People care more about my very basic database skills (that I learned over a couple days), then the fact that I can live and learn cross-culturally, write and edit well, research and analyze large data sets, and work with clients, even though those are all relevant to my industry.”

    A few quick comments about this. “Live and learn cross-culturally” is going to sound very ambiguous to a hiring manager, so I would avoid mentioning it. Databases are an applied skill, just like Salesforce; making those stronger will help you. “Research and analyze large data sets” sounds like a very advanced, applied skill. If it’s not going over well with hiring managers, perhaps you need to communicate it differently, or perhaps it’s not as important in your field as you thought.

    Finally, in my experience, it is very difficult to find employees that are strong writers. That will serve you very well once your career gets off the ground. Solid writing may not be enough to hire someone with six months of experience, but a good writer with just 2-3 years of experience is a gem for any decent manager.

    Hopefully, you’ll find that your college courses will help you in improving your applied skills. It might not be right away either. I’ve found that a few things I learned in college didn’t become useful until much later in my career. I’m sure it’s frustrating to wonder if you wasted your time in college. I don’t have much to offer about that but sympathy.

    1. Milton Waddams*

      If you made it out with no debt, you lucked out, as all that is gone now is your time. Better to find out the fool’s gold you got for free is worthless than to have taken out a huge loan to purchase it. There are scammers and schemers in every country.

      Do you play up the Ye Olde England stereotypes? There’s a certain type of U.S. company that absolutely loves that snobby stuff — I sort of see them as the American equivalent of the Chinese companies that hire Europeans to pose in their commercials as a sign of success. Might be a way to make the best of it, at least. :-)

      1. EE*

        If OP doesn’t have the Received Pronunciation accent, that’s no use to her. Of course, perhaps she does.

      2. MK*

        If the programme the OP attended is in fact as good as she says (as opposed simply prestigious), it is far from worthless. The worth of a degree isn’t to make people hire you, it’s to teach you things that will get them to do so. The main problem, I think, isn’t that the OP has a worthless degree, it’s that she was told it would guarantee her a great job. It’s even possible that it would do so in the UK.

    2. MK*

      A claim that a U.S. American who has lived in the UK has “lived and learned cross-culturally” might get some raised eyebrows. I mean, studying in a foreign country is a challenge, and the UK and the U.S. do have significant cultural differences, but we are still talking about two Western world countries, both still fundamentally operating on Anglo-Saxon values and principles.

      1. fposte*

        Agreed. This is pretty standard junior-year abroad stuff. It’s a big deal for the person doing it and you can learn a lot, but it’s really common and doesn’t translate to much advantage even with an international employer, let alone a domestic one. An international network would confer much more value.

        1. Pebbles*

          HA! This was me junior-year abroad and all. Only difference being that when I first started out applying for jobs I didn’t call any attention to the year living in England that I did except in the list of colleges/degrees I had attended/earned. My year abroad was great and I learned a lot about myself and grew, but that was what I wanted out of the experience as a personal desire, not as padding for a resume. It was actually one of the things I used in my decision-making process to which colleges I applied to: did they have a decent study abroad program?

          I ended up going to a state college (even after looking at some rather prestigious colleges that I could have gotten into) based on other factors, and that decision ultimately helped me get that internship/job. The company for several years in a row went to a job fair at my college (even though the company is located a few hours away from the college which had a good reputation for my degree in my state) and did some heavy recruitment. In my first few years I was working with more than a couple people I attended classes with.

          So I guess, IME, ultimately I’d say it’s more about networking and being in the right place at the right time in the beginning. Perhaps OP would have had more success if the UK university had a job fair where companies more familiar with the university’s reputation would have sought out applicants that she could have handed out resumes at. But all of that is past now, so I would focus on OP’s expanding her after-college job skills to fill her resume with.

      2. Katie*

        While I’d never put it on my CV (it sounds very semester-abroadish), as a US American living long-term in the UK, there are some deep cultural differences in values and norms that go well beyond the superficial similarity in language and some attitudes, as well as a whole cultural history I don’t really understand. I’ve got it relatively easy as an immigrant compared to some, most definitely, but it absolutely is a different culture.

        (Language is also a landmine, btw. At one point in the past, when we were still feeling our way around a shared foreign language, my partner and I almost had a serious argument over the meaning of “to table the question”.)

        1. ABC123*

          Yes, I don’t think anyone’s saying there aren’t real differences between US and UK cultures.

          It’s just that there is a whole world out here (pun intended) outside of the Anglo-Saxon-based cultures, and that (to those who have that wider experience), highlighting experience from the UK as “cross-cultural” sounds a bit naive.

    3. Koko*

      On “live and learn cross-culturally” I would definitely scrap this from any cover letter. I have seen that phrase before, and it has nearly always been on the cover letter of someone who was applying to an entirely US-based position that they were not qualified for in any sort of immediately obvious way. One person in particular who resume-bombed every single position our US-based and US-law-focused organization posted over a period of about a year, kept citing his ability to interface across cultures due to studying abroad in college. He sounded like he didn’t understand what job he was applying for, and it sounded like he thought his international experience alone made him stand out as a candidate, which made him seem a little stuck-up, like he thought having had the wealth and resources to study abroad made him better-qualified for a position that had nothing to do with international relations that someone who studied at a local state university.

    4. Dan*

      Yeah… as an entry level staff, your job is going to be “grunt work.” Grunt work in my world is data pulls and formatting and what not.

      If you cannot do data pulls, you cannot be a good analyst. I’m good at what I do because I understand the data we have, its limitations, how to get it, how to work with it, and how to reformat it into something usable for the task at hand. I can sit down with my boss and figure out what the project is, I can sit down with the client and figure out if we can actually solve his problem, I can get the data, I can analyze it, and I can draw conclusions and present findings. You have to be able to do all of that well to be a good midlevel analyst, and just starting out, being a data monkey is the first step.

      It’s interesting, my background is truly on the data analytics side of things. What I mentioned above MATTERS. It will sell for the things I need. But as a “manager”? Those things matter less.

  19. Mookie*

    I don’t know if this plays any role in the OP’s experience in the US, but I recall from Cordelia Fine in Delusions of Gender that a not-entirely-definitive but illuminating study, asking US college students to assess the potential of candidates for a specified job by evaluating those candidates’ resumés, revealed that male candidates tended to be favored by study participants whether or not they had more experience or, conversely, more education than female candidates (who, in turn, were represented as possessing the opposite). The same academics also published the results of another study in which participants were asked to consider the qualities of students at a fictional university. When told that this university favored either sociability over ambition or vice versa, male students depicted identically were viewed by all groups as more likely to possess the desirable trait.

    Again, this is simply suggestive of the non-scientific, unconscious, and sometimes even arbitrary standards we hold some, but not necessarily all applicants to. Whether education or experience are weighed more heavily largely depends on the industry’s standards and its present demographics (particularly in management).

    1. Mookie*

      Also, as in the US, women are on average more likely to enroll at university and complete their degrees than male peers, but they are disproportionately underrepresented in certain fields, STEM being the most prominent. Plus, where women compose a majority, wages often flounder or even decrease. Degrees are exceedingly common in the last two generations, as many have observed, and in many fields are no longer considered exceptional but obligatory and commonplace. A surplus decreases value across the board.

  20. Caledonia*

    I work in Admissions for a very well known, respected, ancient University in the UK. I’m sure you will have heard of it (it helps that the Uni has the place name in it!)

    The programme I help recruit for is for, let’s say, teapot training as a career. They will have already done undergrad degrees and want to do this 1 year course in order to become a teapot person. The amount of people who disregard the fact that they need to have experience in the teapot world is outstanding. They talk about their degree(s) and transferable skills. These are great, don’t get me wrong but they are also only 1/3 of what we are looking for. People believe that their honours degree will be the one magical thing that gets them in. It doesn’t.

    So, OP, it’s great that you have a Masters degree in your area. However, a degree doesn’t make up for real experience in your area. That’s what you need, rather than trying to convince managers that your degree is valuable – not that it is’t, it’s just you need the experience to go alongside it. Your degree will compliment your experience.

  21. NYC Weez*

    My undergraduate degree was from a college that was a top level school in a niche industry but relatively unknown outside of that field. Even still, it took me 3-5 years and crazy fortuitous timing for the benefits to truly kick in. My husband who was also an alum is 4 years older than me, and had to wait all that extra time for his career to get started. The people who graduated shortly after me walked into amazing jobs straight out of school. Now it’s settled into a sort of mature field where people have to work their way up through the ranks via internships, etc. During the period when I was trying to kickstart my career, I had to hold down a number of unremarkable jobs to pay the bills while spending every spare moment networking and developing a solid reputation. Within a couple of years, I ended up on the executive board of two associations, and became well-known, which led to people offering me jobs out of the blue. Even so, my alumni network was eventually a big part of that success. We helped each other out all the time because we knew the value of the degree.

    When I moved out of that industry, my degree really had almost no impact and my network was non-existent. I had to start back at entry-level in a new field and develop a whole new professional network. What I found useful was focusing on communicating the skills I had over degrees or professional accomplishments. I had to develop a narrative for hiring managers as to how my background was useful for their needs, not expect them to be able to make that jump on their own.

    I’m not sure from your letter if the issue you are facing is the former or the latter, but in either case if you aren’t currently getting the results you want, it’s up to you to figure out a different way to communicate your accomplishments to hiring managers. For example, I’m not familiar with the schools you graduated from, so the name alone won’t tell me anything about that program. What specifically makes it so challenging? What did you personally do better than your classmates? Likewise, how can you build a wider network in your new area? Are there any professional groups that you can join to meet people from a range of companies? Does your school maintain an alumni network here that you can reach out to? It is frustrating to feel like you put a lot of work into something that isn’t helping you out right now, but that doesn’t mean the work itself was in vain.

  22. Another Day Another Dolla*

    OP, It sounds as though you do have some good experience from school and other jobs that should be appealing to right place (analyzing large data sets for example), even though an employer usually won’t weigh academic projects as highly as in the job experience. I’d suggest looking at AAM’s excellent resources on writing a resume and cover letter to see if there are ways you can strengthen your application. And perhaps there’s a way to tactfully and briefly tag your program to clue U.S. managers in on your program’s UK rating if that’s really important to you–understanding that it may or may not matter to them. Hiring managers have their quirks just like everyone else. Good luck wth your job search.

  23. Christy*

    I know it might be cold comfort right now, but your degree will help you when you are actually in a job. Most importantly, getting the degree took determination and persistence, and that (just doing the work) is a huge part of being successful at work. Analysis skills and good writing are what will advance you to a next-level job or get you promotions.

    I went to a top-35 undergrad college and a top-10-in-my-subject grad school. You know how I got my job? I took a paid internship with the government so I’d make money one summer, and I stuck it out. It took two summers and then about four more years for my degrees (and more importantly, the brain power that got me the degrees) to matter.

    Now my writing skills matter. Now my synthesis skills matter. And it’s awesome. Work is challenging, and I get to think a lot. I would say that I’m the smartest person (in terms of like, brainpower, not experience with our tools or with our office) on my team. Sometimes the brainpower matters, lots of times the experience matters. You need at least some experience to get to use the brainpower, but it’ll help you eventually, promise.

    1. Christy*

      Oh, and I started at the entry level of the entry level. It took a few years to move on from moving files from boxes to cabinets and moving documents from binders to folders. And scanning. So much scanning.

      1. MashaKasha*

        I started at the entry level, worked my way up to where I had good pay and recognition, moved to the US, and started at the entry level A SECOND TIME, because I had “no American experience”, which, 20 years ago, weirdly translated to “no experience”. Ugh. What a good education does help one do is move up from that situation fairly quickly. It may not help start at the top straight out of college, but it will help get there faster.

  24. JP*

    I’m a librarian. Naively, I believed that going to a top ranked master’s program would get me some amazing job. Turns out nobody really gives a sh*t what school you went to as long as you have the degree and it’s accredited. I spent way more money than I had to and now I’m stuck with six figure debt. I kick myself for it every month when I see the student loan payment come out of my bank account.

    1. Christy*

      True that. I think a lot of people going into ML(I)S programs had the same impression. That and “librarians are retiring so there will be plenty of jobs”.

      (My grad degree is an MLS but blessedly I don’t work in a library. I do use my classification and database skills, though. And my reference interview skills for gathering customer requirements for projects.)

      1. JP*

        For real. The job market has improved slightly, but you still hear about lots of librarians who are still unemployed or underemployed.

        1. Marillenbaum*

          THIS. My childhood best friend got her MLIS last year, and while she has a job in the local library system, she isn’t working as a librarian and isn’t getting paid enough that she can afford to move out of her parents’ house. The struggle: real.

      2. Maxine of Arc*

        Yes, I believed the “librarians are all retiring so there will be tons of jobs! Jobs everywhere!” line back 20 years ago. Wasn’t true then, isn’t true now. Experience is much more important than the degree, and I ended up buttonholing myself into an extreme specialty niche; once I got laid off I couldn’t find other work, so now I’m a paralegal. I doubt I’ll get library work again. That’s a career you have to manage very carefully.

      3. Oryx*

        Ugh, the “librarians are retiring” line.

        I got lucky: I graduated with my MLIS in December 2008, right when the economy was dropping but I managed to find a job about two months later and have been steadily employed ever since. I don’t work in a library now but I still work within the field in a different capacity.

      4. Elizabeth West*

        I went to an interview recently and met the person I would be replacing if I got the job. Who was leaving to go back to school, majoring in—ta da! Library science.

        It was with difficulty that I held back from spewing everything I heard about it here.

        1. AnotherAlison*

          One of my good friends from HS has bachelors degrees in Spanish and secondary education. She then got an MA in Spanish literature, and ultimately completed an MLS 3-4 years ago.

          We’re not really slap-each-other-upside-the-head-when-they-do-strange-things friends at this point, but I really cringed when I saw she was pursuing the MLS. 3-4 years after finishing, she’s still in a secondary ed teaching position, and she’s fantastic at her job. She’s always winning some award or another. I get the appeal of getting out of the classroom, but to get student loans for an MLS in your mid-30s, when you already have 3 degrees is not a questionable move, imho.

    2. Tomato Frog*

      Ha, yes. My midwest-based MLS program is usually rates #1 or #2 in the country. I still routinely have to explain what and where the school is to my East Coast colleagues. Nobody cares. The degree is just a license to do librarianing.

  25. AmyH*

    It sounds like OP works in the same industry that I work in/hire for. OP, being in the industry for 7 years now, my experiences with those who have Masters in the industry hasn’t been great. They typically think they deserve higher positions, but lack basic knowledge. The industry changes fast and often, what they learned in school might not be entirely accurate/helpful. My advice is to be humble, don’t focys on the degree and instead focus on real world industry experience, which it sounds like you have! Also, go to networking events and put yourself out there. I always have better luck getting a job if I have an “in”.

  26. Allypopx*

    This is slightly tangential but I wonder if some of this is regional? Through some seriously hard work and not an insignificant amount of luck I’ve gotten a decent management job at a nonprofit that pays me well without any degrees. But now I’m working on my undergrad and considering going straight into my MBA because any jobs I’ve looked at outside this organization that would be a lateral move or a step up either require or strongly prefer a masters (this is true even for jobs that only ask for 1-3 years of experience, and I’ve seen admin type postings with similar emphasis). I don’t know what city OP is writing from but I wonder if they are either a) in an area with less focus on education credentials or b) in an area where it’s so expected it’s taken without much fanfare.

  27. Anon This Time*

    I think people dramatically overvalue the name on their diploma at all levels, but especially for grad school. I went to one of the top 3 schools for my advanced degree and the quality of the students wasn’t really any higher than you’d find elsewhere in the top 50 schools. The average might be higher, but the best weren’t any better and there were still low performers.

  28. itsame...Adam*

    At my current job, after I interviewed, about a month or two into the job my boss realized that my master is from a different university than my undergrad. Sorry buddy but the working world doesn’t really care to much and the managers that do are usually the ones being written about on this blog.

    1. Jessesgirl72*

      My husband was partially hired because of where he got his undergrad. The hiring manager indicated as much. Not because of its prestige (although it is a good engineering school) but because it’s here in the Midwest, and the manager didn’t want to hire him, only to have him quit and return to California after the first winter.

      So if his degree had been from Caltech or MIT, he might not have gotten the job!

        1. Jessesgirl72*

          Oh yes. But MIT is in a major metropolis on a coast. That is the kind of environment that a lot of people won’t leave. Even Chicago isn’t considered cool enough for some people, despite it’s size, history, and cultural diversity.

          And we’re in Chicago’s nerdy kid sister. LOL

  29. Thefuture*

    So America is a bit different to the UK. I’ve lived and worked in the U.S. since 2002. What I’ve noticed is that education in the U.S. isn’t a big deal… most jobs are earned via networking amd relationships. Once in the U.S. workforce you’ll notice there’s a massive amount of unqualified people barely making it in their roles.

    I will also say that many people going straight into management at top companies do so via prestigious MBA programs by leveraging the school networks to land a good role. I would also add that an MBA needs to be from a top school or don’t even bother – unless you are already employed.

    Anyway this is the perspective I have in my field. I’m looking for a move back to the UK soon and inthe midst of finishing up a UK MSc program.

    Why not stay in the UK or Europe and get yourself into a graduate program at a multinational company first? Earn your wings!

    1. Liz2*

      I wouldn’t say it isn’t a “big deal” but rather the bill of goods we were sold as a generation *If you go to a good college and get good grades, you’ll be set!* ended up being *If you go to a good college and get good grades you’ll have the bare minimum to make a start and lots of debt.*

      I certainly was never pushed about internships or networking or real world experience and it was only by sheer luck I managed to pick up those things along the way. So I’d say it’s a two-prong issue- the lie that good education = good career/job, and that simply going to college classes is all you need as a full college experience.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        I don’t understand why this lie keeps going and going. How much are colleges doing to perpetuate it?
        Personally, I would like to see a truth-in-advertising crack down here. Maybe a warning from the Surgeon General about back breaking debt.

        I went back to school at 40 to finish my degree. I had all I could do to sit through the classes for my field. The classes were just not that relevant. If I raised an issue about something I experienced at work, the profs had no clue what to say. The second thing that jumped at me was the students frequent use of the expression, “Oh just I’ll just write some line of sh!t and hand it in.” People almost half my age realized there was nothing going on. I did not have that presence of mind at 20. And the covert learning here scares me.

    2. JB (not in Houston)*

      In many fields, education does matter–it’s not going to get you a non-entry-level job handed to you without you trying for it, but it makes opportunities for you that you might not otherwise have. As for there being “a massive amount of unqualified people barely making it in their roles,” and jobs being “earned via networking a[n]d relationships,” judging from the letters here, those aren’t special features of the US. And they can be true regardless of education level. Going to Oxford does not mean that you’ll be qualified for the job you land–but going to Oxford may well give you access to a network that gets you the job.

  30. Sled dog mama*

    I know my masters program opened doors but in a totally unexpected way. The program included a fairly intense academic year internship, I knew that I would just be sitting for the summer so I asked to start my internship early giving me 2-3 months more experience. Because I asked to get more experience the company I interned with hired me straight out of school (no interview just hey we want to hire you). That company was purchased by a larger company and I transferred within the company. This larger company has a reputation of doing very good work and employs several big names in my field. I’ve had the chance to work directly with three very well known people in my field one who agreed to be a reference. When I interviewed for my current position they told me that my six years with old company was what put me at the top of their list. They knew the company’s reputation and the fact that one of the founders was a reference carried a lot of weight. The masters program I went to was/is probably the least known program in my field, but it did open doors not from the degree but from the network.

  31. Empathy & Apathy*

    I agree with all who say sometimes schools can mislead students with their messaging. I once worked with a person who had a bachelors degree and thought the work they were doing was too low level. I pointed out the experience was the most valuable aspect of their work because for positions two levels up (though still entry level) masters degrees were preferred and we frequently had applicants with one or more masters degrees for open positions. And the folks with the masters degrees get frustrated because opportunities to move up within the organization are slim. Higher level degrees are wanted, but certainly not rewarded.

    1. Sunflower*

      My friend who is in education dealt with this a lot in her job search. She really wanted to work at a college and couldn’t understand why no one wanted to pay her more because she has her masters. She didn’t seem to realize that most people working at universities have quite a few degrees so her 1 really just put her at level, if not below, most people competing for these jobs.

  32. BBBizAnalyst*

    It’s also quite industry specific. I have a BS from a pretty good school (not an ivy) and I’m sure it helped open some doors for my first job but after a few years in the workforce, no one cared. Hell, its not even brought up in any of the interviews I’ve had to land my current gig.

    Ultimately, my industry experience has mattered more and I’m in a role now where Masters level people are trying to get a foot in the door but scoff at starting from the ground up.

    1. Rob Lowe can't read*

      My BA is in an unrelated field, and I earned it from a Big 10 school but now live on the East coast – so not exactly a lot of clout there. My Master’s, which is in my current field and from a local school, is the piece of my education that actually matters now. However, the last time I was applying for jobs, one hiring manager told me that one thing that stood out to him on my resume was my BA, because he’s from that state and his entire family went there. (Also, I was qualified – I was eventually offered the job but turned it down in favor of my current position.) I found that funny, but I guess it makes some sense – he almost certainly had many applicants from my Master’s program or similar programs in the area, so my out-of-state, out-of-field BA probably stuck out a little.

    2. Marillenbaum*

      The way one of my mentors explained it to me was: where you went to school can be really helpful for getting your first job out of school. After that, no one really cares, because they want to know about the quality of the work you’ve been doing for employers.

  33. MashaKasha*

    If the degree is as good as you say, it will open doors. Just not right away and not in the way you expect it to now. I went to one of the top schools in my country. Admittedly, I didn’t do especially well – I did well on most classes related to my major, got low grades on the required classes, which add up to more than half of all the classes I took. I now live in the American Midwest, where NO ONE knows my school. But, one, the education and the skills that I got there allowed me to develop my career and to acquire new skills. Two, network. If your school is as good as you say, then ten, fifteen years from now you will have a classmate or two at most major companies or firms worldwide. I do. Then if you want to, you can pull some strings and get your resume into wherever you want to get it. By that time, you’ll have the work experience to go with your educational credentials. I didn’t use that for my own career, because life got in the way, I cannot relocate, my skills are far from cutting-edge, etc. But I helped my son get job interviews at nice (and well-known) places on the West Coast by sending his resume to people who went to the same school I did. One of them gave him an offer. Sorry I cannot promise you instant gratification, but delayed gratification is pretty awesome too.

  34. Gerta*

    I have never commented here before, but this post really sounds quite familiar. I am on the other side of the equation as the manager of young professionals who either already have Masters degrees, or who work with us for a couple of years and then resign to go and do one in the USA, UK or elsewhere, with the help of our name on their CV. (I’m in a developing country working for an international brand – often they can get scholarships aimed at their nationality.)

    OP, I’m sure you have a lot of potential and worked extremely hard for your qualification. I don’t want to repeat too much of what has already been said about why it might not mean so much to others, but here’s some advice: first, think about how you can connect your skills from your degree to what you need to do in your job, with specific examples. You’ve probably already thought about that, but try talking to people already in the field to understand what they are looking for, as you might not be expressing it in a way that is appealling to them, either on paper or in interviews. I speak as someone in a profession totally unconnected to my first degree (yes, I’m British!).

    Second, if your programme really was as good and practical as you say it was, it should show through in your work when you are hired. It might take a while, but see it as a long term investment. When we hire new grads, we don’t pay a lot more for extra qualifications, and no-one gets in at a higher level without work experience. But we do expect that people with the right background will pick things up faster, and if their performance does justify it, then in the following years they will get quicker payrises and promotions. Why wait? Because the ones with expensive foreign educations are sometimes outperformed by people who went to a mediocre local university (often due to attitude), so we don’t place too much weight on who got which opportunities pre-employment, beyond a basic minimum requirement. You still have to prove yourself.

    Finally, don’t look down on the boring stuff. The way to progress from where you are now is to be someone who people want to work with. Be reliable. Be accurate. Be punctual. Be helpful. Do everything to a high standard, including the printing and copying and the coffee-run. Keep your eyes and your ears open to what is going on around you and how the workplace operates. Get to know people, make sure they are aware (without constantly bugging them) that you are ready and willing to take on more of a challenge, be it a new work project or organising an office social. With time that sort of thing does get noticed in any decent management system, and people will trust you with more responsibility. And yes, to some extent, it will just be a matter of having those easily quantifiable and demonstrable practical skills to get you in the door so that you can show them all the other stuff you can do.

    Good luck!

    1. CG*

      +100000 to all of this.

      Applications and job acceptances are about what you want, but interviews and job offers come from what employers want (and can easily see demonstrated to them in the limited interactions you have before you work for them).

  35. valereee*

    OP, you say, “I’ve been temping, freelancing, and interning for over a year since I’ve graduated (and of course, still applying to jobs). My industry is a hard one to break into…”

    I don’t think you should feel cheated. I do think you need to revise your expectations of what a master’s degree can do in trying to break into a tight field. It gives you a leg up over candidates with a bachelor’s and no related work experience; it doesn’t give you a leg up over candidates who have related work experience. It can open doors, but not every door. To me, spending a year temping, freelancing, and interning (hopefully in progressively closer-related fields) while applying for jobs in a field that is hard to break into isn’t surprising at all. Most of the recent grads I know are doing similar. Only those in very high-demand fields are going directly into full-time permanent jobs in their fields. In some fields, no master’s program is going to make it “easy” to break in without getting at least some work experience first.

  36. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

    I write this saying that I really enjoyed my graduate program and got a lot out of it educationally and personally. However, the main thing that my grad program did for me was expand my professional network. Because of the grad program’s internship requirement, I got a job at a place that hired me full time when I graduated. (Actually, I was hired full time about 6 weeks before graduation – it was a lot to juggle for those few weeks but was very worth it!) When I think back on the classes I took, I enjoyed them and learned a lot, but they didn’t really help me on the job. What helped me was the network I developed, and it also doesn’t hurt that many of the higher level managers in my field are alumni of the same program. However, the key difference between your program and mine is I live in the same city as the University where I got my Master’s. If I were to move, my degree probably wouldn’t do much for me … rather, my experience in my field is more valuable on the job market.

  37. Chickaletta*

    Part of the value of going to a big-name school, I think (I don’t know for sure though), is the connections you get through it. Were there professors, teachers, alumni, etc that you met there that could help you get a job? This is one of the learning points I completely missed in college. I graduated with honors from a state school and after graduation got… nowhere. Similar to you, nobody cared I had a degree, let alone that I passed challenging classes with flying colors. But during those four years at college, while I got A’s in most of my classes, I neglected to build relationships with professors and deans – they literally didn’t even know my name – but they were the ones probably connected to the outside world who could have said, hey, take a look at this recent graduate. If I could go back in time, that’s one thing I would definitely change about my college years.

  38. Kat*

    I received a Master’s degree from LSE and had positive experiences. But when I was in London I networked, worked and volunteered through LSE. As a student during the school term you could work 20 hours a week during the academic year and 40 hours during winter break etc. I also had an extended visa so could stay and work 6 months after my time there. This was helpful for those who wanted to stay and work or extend an internship etc. I know others who were at other “lesser known” universities who still utilized these services and went to jobs or internships throughout Europe at big name organizations. But they all went to their institutions services and utilized the network. They did the work to get the internship/jobs.

    I think it’s important to utilize your university while you’re there. OP, you may also be able to still use their career services now (some schools only give you a year after graduation so I would contact them to see if they can assist). But I would say to everyone in any program whether overseas or the US get an internship, job, volunteer, whatever to be able to put on your resume and for your own personal and professional growth. And start the process right away before you get so bogged down with studying.

    I know some people at elite two year programs in the US and during the summer between year 1 and year 2 they go through prestigious internships depending on their area of study. If your program doesn’t offer this, get involved, be nice to people at career services or similar departments. Make relationships with professors and the community. There are lots of opportunities at university you just have to utilize them.

    The networking and services I used in undergrad and graduate school propelled me in my career. If you do well you can have a job once you graduate or a strong network.

    So OP, keep working hard with a good attitude, but also contact career services from your graduate program and see if they can assist. Your university may also have networking or events a couple times a year in the US you can utilize for future career prospects. Good luck!

  39. Pammat the Pedant*

    “But people care more about my very basic database skills (that I learned over a couple days), then the fact that I can live and learn cross-culturally, write and edit well….”

    I may be the only one who noticed this, but dang, if you use “then” instead of “than” in an application I received as a hiring manager, I would almost totally discount anything you say, especially about your writing and editing skills.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I ask that we not do that to letter-writers or commenters here, since presumably they’re proofreading cover letters in a way that they might not a casual email to a blog.

    2. MashaKasha*

      One thing I want to add: I am fluent in two languages and almost never made any syntax errors in either of them, until I started posting from my phone. My favorite is that feature where the phone’s autocorrect allows you to type a word correctly, then goes back and changes it after you’ve hit space and moved on to the next word or sentence. And it’s not always easy to go back and proofread, because the space you type in is so tiny and the text scrolls up quickly. I now post things with embarrassing grammatical errors in them pretty much daily. Based on that, I’ve started giving everyone the benefit of the doubt on that account; as long as we’re not talking about serious writing like resumes or NYT articles.

    3. Trout 'Waver*

      For all intensive purposes, I think you’re being too critical here, considering it’s not formal communication.

    4. Trig*

      What struck me was the disparity between those two examples. If OP has experience with cross-cultural relationships, writing, and editing, but the jobs she’s applying for are interested in database skills… maybe she’s applying for the wrong jobs? Or maybe the things they don’t seem to care about are just the basic qualifications for the jobs, but the add-on database skills are a bonus in which they are interested.

      Applying for a tech writing job, for example, you damn well better be able to write, so that’s basically a given. But programming or DBA skills and ability to bridge cultural boundaries? That will help you understand the source material more, and could strengthen your relationship with developers. THAT’s something to make a candidate stand out beyond the rest of the ‘got my certificate/degree, wrote and edited some stuff’ applicants, and I’d want to know more about their experience there.

  40. The claims examiner*

    Welcome to the United States. Find a chair to sit in for ten years. If you’re lucky the person above you will retire and if you sat in your chair the longest you’ll get to be a manager whether or not you’ve ever managed anything!

    I really shouldn’t joke about this as it’s happening to me right now. 9 years after graduating I’ll have my first supervisory position. :) I shouldn’t jinx it.

  41. Sue Wilson*

    The bill of goods in not that the supposed quality of the school doesn’t matter. The bill of goods was that a degree and where you got it has similar applications against all disciplines and careers.

    If I had wanted to get a finance job with my ivy league degree even though I failed econ, I absolutely could have. That was simply how the recruiters approached hiring. If I wanted to get a human resources degree, however, I would have had to use my mother’s contacts, because otherwise it wasn’t going to happen with a classics degree. The Ivy thing matters a ton to a) the East Coast, maybe West Coast, and b) my hometown since they want the prestige but also like the fact that I’m from there. I know for certain, it helped me get my current job, but I also know I had to have a good showing elsewhere too. If I even want a clerkship, the fact that I went to an Ivy undergrad will help the fact that I didn’t go to an Ivy law school, but I’ll be at a disadvantage. There’s just so many factors to whether the quality and type of degree matters, including location, that simply having one isn’t a good measure of what’s going on in your market.

    I know this is kinda useless to you now, OP, but I wish schools would tell their students to talk to people in the field they want to go into (who recently got in, since the people who got jobs in the 90s and even early
    00s had a easier market than now) before they decide whether to get a certain degree. I don’t think you have to throw away the whole narrative of college, because frankly more jobs than before require some type of degree, but I do think it’s imperative that we teach kids to be more thoughtful and realistic about their path before we put them thousands of dollars in debt.

  42. animaniactoo*

    I know, I know, academic skills and job skills are different — but mine was a management program that included a project with clients (which I list on my resume).

    OP, I think you need to see this in proportion – yes, you did a project with clients. However, it is also true that while the quality of your work may have shone, people who were willing to utilize the school’s program were willing to accept a good but less than fantastic in return for some other benefit, usually a lower cost. You had a lot of support and resources to backstop you as you worked through it. The kind that usually don’t exist in the workworld.

    So you did this thing – and it puts you ahead of somebody who hasn’t done that, but it still leaves you wayyyyyy behind someone who doesn’t have your degree but has 4 or 5 years worth of work experience and potentially trained the same kinds of skill sets that you have on the job.

    You can’t ever be too good for the lowest job on the totem pole. Yes, at some point it may be a waste of the company’s resources to have you working in that space. But until you’ve shown that you can do it, there’s not a lot of point to hiring you for the next level up for most companies. I apprenticed my entire way into my career. Completely accidental, but it worked because of how fast I learn and how I approach the job. On average, I don’t do it basic color correcting/photo editing anymore. But because I HAVE done it, I know how long it actually takes, I know how to show people who come in here different ways to do it that let them be more precise or efficient at it. I know what I’m asking for when I ask for something to be done. I know how to do it myself if there’s a schedule conflict. I also know how to do basic spreadsheet stuff, above average word processing stuff, some IT pieces here and there and a bunch of other things from having filled in and held different roles.

    Those entry level jobs? Those are your foundation blocks. That tell people who are looking at your resume that you understand what’s possible for other people in them when you’re ready to move up. That your expectations of how they will support your role or others in the company will be in the range of realistic. And there really isn’t a way to get that outside of real practical experience in it, in a way that doesn’t happen even in a hands-on skills university course.

    How to talk about that in interviews – I suspect that if you relate how your school hands-on experience works with your workforce hands-on experience, how it helped you to say learn Salesforce in two days, how this bit that you do in your current job is supported by your having had hands-on experience having done that bit in your course, you’ll create some of the bridge that you’re looking for between the course and the real world expectations.

  43. shep*

    I have an MFA in writing from a very highly respected university in a particularly booming writing market. It’s helped me in small part get my manuscripts in front of excellent industry folk that might normally overlook it because they are inundated with submissions, but even so, that’s only a tiny part of the industry battle and it only goes so far.

    And I was never under the disillusion (consciously) that I would reap lots of job offers from it; in fact, as I’ve seen commentors and Alison say at intervals, I often think it’s HURT my job searches in the past. Luckily I’ve landed in a great place, but it was a struggle for about a year and a half to find ANYTHING. Too overqualified education-wise (to boot with a “useless” degree); too little experience in the job market.

    If I embark on a job searching quest again, I’m pretty sure I’m going to take Alison’s advice and leave the MFA off of my resume, unless the position is expressly suited to showcasing my degree.

    1. shep*

      *Or rather, I was never under the ILLUSION.

      Yikes. Although it’s Tuesday, it’s my Monday this week per the holidays, and my brain doesn’t seem to be firing on all cylinders yet.

  44. MuseumChick*

    I got a Master’s from a program with a really tight knit alumni network. It was one of the reasons I picked the program. It opened doors for me but only when I tapped into the network. I’m in a field where you don’t get anywhere without at least a Masters but it still took the network for me to land interviews and job offers.

  45. Anonymousaurus Rex*

    I have a PhD and wanted to get into applied work in my field. It took me 18 months to find a job–precisely because (I think) I didn’t have a ton of recent office-type working experience when I graduated. I ended up temping and then getting hired in local government outside my field but using some of my skills, and after working for a year and a half there I was able to get a early-mid level position in my field of study. I’m now in my second applied position in my field (4 years post-doc), but still often doing lower-level work than I’d like to do. (Lower-level like stuffing envelopes sometimes!..but also doing lots of work that’s actually related to the PhD.) Like anyone else, you’ve got to put in the time and prove yourself via experience, not just smarts.

  46. Observer*

    You’ve gotten some really good advice. I’m going to point out something else as well. You ask how to make (prospective) employers care about what you have to offer rather than the things they are looking for, because you think that your offering are more important. You really, really need to reset your attitude. Any manager who gets a whiff of this is not going to want to touch you with a 10-foot pole. Even if you really are smarter than all of your prospective hiring managers, and really do know better than them what they need, it’s not going to go over well. It’s reasonable, too, since a decent manager is not going to want to hire someone who is convinced they know better with bare knowledge of their company. When you add in the real possibility that you might actually be wrong…

    You snipe about working with large data sets vs Salesforce tells me that you do NOT, in fact, really understand what employers need. Yes, you have rigorous training in the theoretical use of data. That’s good. But, do you know how to gather and validate those data sets? Do you understand where to apply which theory and at what level? For example a classic issue that crops up with structured data is how far to normalize it. And a typical rookie error, very often seen in the best students, is to normalize too much. In theory, there is no such thing. In practice, there is, even with today’s faster and more capable hardware. Do you understand what kinds of questions businesses really need and want answers to? Do you really understand the pitfalls that even (and sometimes especially) large rich data sets can run into? On the other hand, do you also understand the small, sometime apparently inconsequential pieces of data that can help lead to greater insight?

    If I’m wring about that, and you really get it, then link it to your Salesforce knowledge. Use your knowledge to make your Salesforce work better in ways that employers find useful, and then talk about that.

    Lots of luck.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Great point about what OP cares about vs what employers need.

      I have done business with a car sales place for over 20 years. I have bought 3 cars there. Notice I say “car”. Every time I go to buy a vehicle the owner tries to sell me a truck. (Because I have bought trucks before?) So it’s a 15 minute convo, “Bob, I don’t want a truck. I want a car.” Every time. “We have some nice trucks.” “Yes, they are nice trucks. I want a car.” Then the conversation settles down and the owner finds me a nice car. (I do love these people. They have taken great care of my vehicles and kept my repair costs down.)

      You are trying to sell your truck to people who want a car/SUV/motorcycle/boat. The almost unspoken parts of job hunting are explaining how we meet a need an employer is facing. Are you checking to see if you and the employer are a good match? Can you explain to the employer how you are going to help them right now? I am almost picturing you sending out random resumes, I don’t know why I have that picture in my head. Look more closely. Use your cover letter to connect the dots for the person who is reading it. (Do you have Alison’s book?)

      My friend has a JD from a good school. She was absolutely shocked at her first professional job. It was like being a freshman in college all over again. There was so much that was not covered in law school, she felt like a fish out of water. She had no idea what the heck she was supposed to do most of the time. She went on to say that it would take years and years for her JD to even begin to work into something worthwhile. My friend is one of the brightest people I know and yet this is what she went through.

      I am not trying to discourage you, OP. I am just saying that what you are seeing is not that uncommon. You pay your dues once in getting an education and then you pay your dues again climbing up to your desired position.

  47. kb*

    This may be specific to my field, but the university requirements for my grad program abroad differed significantly (for the better/ more hands-on/more niche) from domestic coursework. It heled me to list some of the more specific courses I’ve taken, projects I worked on, and agencies I worked with on my resume. I think that helped me stand apart from domestic degree-havers.

    1. kb*

      And it looks like you’ve been listing them, which is good, but sometimes I’ve found US companies underestimate the significance of student involvement on projects. So if you can, include referrals from the people at companies you worked with so the companies can grasp that you weren’t some kid doing a school project, but essentially a valued employee

  48. H.C.*

    I, too, have a Master’s from a “West Coast Ivy” and did land a job/start a career in my field during my 2nd year of that program, but I don’t believe I’ve ever been asked much about the degree during interviews. And when I do mention it, it’s only in the context of skills & experiences I’ve acquired, or the connections I’ve built from networking with colleagues, mentors and former teachers—in concurrence with MuseumChick.

    That being said, having a Master’s does give one a leg up in more subtle ways. Colleagues are a bit more deferential & superiors are more open to listening to my views/opinions because of my masters – and during my negotiations for my current job, my manager flat out emailed HR (& cc’d me) to send a higher offer because of the degree & relevant experience – which HR did.

  49. Artemesia*

    I used to run a bunch of masters degrees at a fairly prestigious US university and it was interesting to see how it played out for students. Some of them were able to parlay the degree into great jobs; they usually had strong internships, often had strong work histories before they took the masters degree, and they were good networkers. They knew that the degree was useful insofar as it made them more effective and skilled and they sold that skill and the experiences from class and from internships that were hands on in organizations. The degree experience often helped them get much better jobs than they had had previously.

    Then there were students who were coming straight out of undergrad without significant work experience and /or expected the degree to be a magic path to employment. Those students struggled because in the US a masters degree can be as much a hindrance as an asset especially if it does not come with significant prior experience. There are lots of disappointed people who thought an MBA was a ‘ticket.’ It can be but only in some circumstances.

    You have the added problem (in addition to your misunderstanding of the value of a masters degree for employment in the US) that your prestigious degree from the UK is not prestigious in the US. People probably have no idea what to think of it and a masters degree in and of itself is of minimal value or hurts you for entry level work. So your challenge is to focus on what you can DO as a result of your training. Focus on the hands on work you did with real organizations; focus on your experience and how your degree leveraged that and improved your skills. But drop the idea that it is a ticket as a masters degree just is not in the US job market unless it is a required professional certification i.e. you aren’t going to be a lawyer these days without a law degree or a dental hygienist without certification but more generalist degrees are not viewed as very important.

  50. FD*

    Oh, LW, I feel for you. People have just flat out lied about this to you, and it’s unfair and frustrating. I’m sincerely glad that you didn’t get into debt over this, but the time expense is still annoying.

    As many people have commented, you can’t make managers care about your degree. If they didn’t ask for a masters, they aren’t going to care either way. Even if a job does ask for a masters, it’s only 50/50 that they’re even going to care about what school it’s from.

    I would give yourself permission to be angry, especially at the asses who pushed this program and promised the world, and then didn’t care once you’d done your time. But after you’ve been angry, you need to try and move on from it, because if you go into interviews with it, it’s probably going to make you look out of touch and arrogant.

    Now, on to practicalities. Managers care most about what you can do, and to know what you can do, they tend to look at past experience. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to have exactly the right experience, but it usually means they want to see how your skills have played out in a business setting. For example, let’s say a good manager wants to promote a team member to a team lead. They’ll may look at the team member who’s been the most committed to getting the job done, has taken ownership of problems, and has been able to succeed on projects that require teamwork. These are characteristics that can indicate someone would be a good manager.

    Now, it’s a very good thing that you degree led you to have practical experience. However, for most managers, that won’t be enough, because school projects–even ones that involve real world experience–tend to be fairly controlled, with people to back you up and oversee that you’re not messing things up too badly. Because of that, it’s not very useful to let a manager know how you’ll perform in a real situation.

    In addition, one of the few actual benefits of a higher degree in the work world is the alumni network–but because you’re in the US, this may or may not be useful to you because many of the alumni are overseas and may not have many useful connections here.

    Still, here’s what I’d do.

    First, get really clear on exactly what you want. Are you trying to get an entry level job in your field within 12 months? A middle management job in 3 years? Be really clear, but be realistic.

    Second, reach out to your alumni organization. This is why you need to be clear first. Look for people who have done similar things, and especially ones who have done it in the US. Ask them if they’d be willing to talk via email or 15-minute conversation. Stay to the point, and ask maybe 3-5 questions. Be respectful of their time, because they’re probably very busy. For example, one question might be, “I’m trying to get my first job in this field, and I’m having trouble getting interviews. After graduating, how did you get your first job in this field?”

    Third, if you can afford to do it, volunteer with organizations that will use your skills. For example, if you want to do social media, volunteer to help a local nonprofit. Volunteering can be useful experience because you don’t have a professor there to back you up. That will help build your resume. It might also lead to freelancing opportunities, which may help pay the bills until you can break into your field.

    Fourth, if necessary, you may need to take a job in a related field that’s easier to get into. This might give you time to build your skills and reputation enough to break into your field of choice.

    Best of luck!

    1. Pwyll*

      I was planning on writing something out, but you’ve basically covered everything I was going to say. +100.

  51. Dust Bunny*

    LW, I have a bachelor’s from a top-tier private liberal arts college and my first permanent job out of college was cleaning kennels at a veterinary hospital. My coworker in that–and I mean this sincerely, not snarkily–was a man who was functionally illiterate and whose IQ I suspect was in the double digits.

    Granted, I moved up to veterinary assistant and he did not, but we started in the same place even though he didn’t finish high school and I had a BA from a tough school. I do work in my degree field now (with the help, actually, of the veterinary experience–my BA is in history but I had three years as a biology major, and now work for a medical school library) but I definitely didn’t just walk into it straight out of school.

    1. Trout 'Waver*

      By definition, the average IQ is 100, so almost exactly half the population has an IQ in the double digits.

  52. LC*

    I empathize with OP. My undergraduate degree was from Harvard/Yale/Princeton, while my graduate degree was from a competitive Oxbridge program and fully funded by a fancy fellowship.

    Very few employers cared, and those that did worried I’d be bored by the entry-level work in PR. Ultimately, I got my first job out of grad school through previous internship connections…but not before convincing the hiring manager to ignore my Masters, which he thought made me overqualified.

    At the same time, that prior internship connection told me she hired me because of my HYP degree. She said she knew it meant I was at least somewhat competent. And the PR job I just received an offer for? They cited my education as a major selling point, and the job is at a higher level than I anticipated.

    My point? Fancy degrees open some doors and close others. First and foremost, a degree is a marketing document. This is particularly true for liberal-arts degrees that don’t teach you directly transferable hard skills.

    Some companies–perhaps more than AAM acknowledges–are looking for potential, for Bright Young Things, and fancy degrees will help. But plenty of others aren’t, and your additional education will muddle the picture.

    Before applying for Masters programs, it’s worth being clear about how (and if) the degree will help.

    1. LC*

      Two additional thoughts:

      1. You can’t convince hiring managers of the value of your degree, at least not in the shock-and-awe way OP seems to want. People who know your degree/university/fellowship will be impressed, but the vast majority won’t. That’s okay.

      2. Have a pitch ready about the value of your graduate degree, e.g. “After a few years working in entry-level communications jobs, I realized what I really wanted to do was X and my degree would help me achieve that because Y.”

      You can also be honest if your degree didn’t go as planned or didn’t benefit you in the way you thought it would. I often say I was interested in having a voice in public policy but wasn’t sure whether I wanted to be involved in politics at the ground level or from the ivory tower. My Masters made me realize academia wasn’t the path I wanted to go down, particularly in contrast to my internship in politics. Then I explained what I loved about the internship in a way that connects to the job description.

  53. js*

    something that’s been said before in these comments and is worth saying again – a school project, even for ‘real clients’ is not the same as actual work experience doing the same thing, especially in marketing and communications. the stakes and circumstances are just not equivalent. I’m sure the LW worked very hard to get her degree, but that’s all ‘for herself’, so to speak. she didn’t have to deal with difficult co-workers, the office politics, real clients who pull their money or support and the board revises your budget downward halfway through the year, or roll with the punches the plan has to change or when sally from the other department is late with her edits. what my boss is looking for and what i’m looking for are things you actually executed in the real world, and there are enough people showing that kind of experience that we don’t need to look at people who did projects only in an academic setting. doing real life social media and event planning for ANYTHING is going to count more than a school project. making something happen and showing that it was successful is always going to have more wight than the most brilliant theoretical projects, even if you spend twice as much time. the knowledge and perspective you gained in your academics can inform your work and i’m sure they’ve improved your writing, which will help you once your put in a few years, but they aren’t a reason to hire in and of themselves, no matter how rigorous.

  54. Naomi*

    OP, I can tell that it’s frustrating you that hiring managers care more about qualifications like your database skills, which you picked up casually on the side, than your degree, which took time and effort. And of course after working really hard on that degree, you want other people to appreciate your accomplishment. But your goal now is to get a job–maybe with some modifiers, like “a job I enjoy”, “a job that pays $X,” “a job that focuses on field Y,” etc. Which modifiers you prioritize is up to you, but one that I think you can dispense with is “a job I got because my manager was impressed by my degree.” If it’s a job you would otherwise want, it’s OK if the thing that gets you the job is one of your other qualifications–and it sounds like you have qualifications outside your degree that might be better selling points. Focus on developing the skills that managers in your field are likely to value, rather than trying to convince them to be impressed by the part of your background you think should be most impressive.

    Also, where there’s overlap between the knowledge you picked up in your degree program and the skills that managers are looking for, you might just have to find other ways of proving you have those skills. You might think your degree proves that, say, you must have good writing skills, but a hiring manager won’t necessarily assume that, whereas showing them a writing sample demonstrates that skill, regardless of where you learned it.

  55. Schmooples and the Binkie-Boo*

    I never get questions about my postgrad either. Sorry to be a little blunt but if it mattered they would ask.

  56. Pinniped*

    I have a question about ‘top-rated’ universities – is their actual educational content substantially better or more rigorous or amazing than ‘average’ universities? Or do they just act as a marker that a student has been selected for something above a lot of other people? Of the people I’ve worked with who have fancy degrees, I haven’t detected a particularly greater level of experience or intelligence. To me, a fancy degree means that someone is more privileged than the norm rather than smarter or more knowledgeable than the norm. Is this unfair?

    1. Anonymous Educator*

      To a certain extent, the academic rigor on average may be more intense at a “top-rated” school than an another school, but you will always find some easy classes at a top-tier school and some hard classes at another school. Harvard had to graduate John F. Kennedy after all. Yale had to graduate George W. Bush after all. There are a few supposed benefits you’re supposed to get from a top-tier school:

      1. Resources. Schools like Harvard have world-class libraries, world-class facilities, experts on every subject, Nobel-prize winners, endowments to provide immense financial aid.

      2. Intellectual Peer Caliber. Almost any professor at any school can make a course tough. That’s not that difficult to do. But it’s not just about the courses and the workload. It’s about the level of discussion your peers bring in and out of the classroom. In theory, at a top-tier school, you’re more likely to be surrounded by classmates who challenge you intellectually (and whom you also challenge).

      3. Alumni Networks. Not just the classmates you went to school with while you were at university but the alumni from previous years—for certain top-tier schools, those connections will help you advance your career.

      Is it all worth the price tag? Maybe not. But those are the supposed tangible benefits. I’ve never taught in higher ed, but I have taught in secondary, and I was the same “caliber” of teacher in underfunded public schools as I was in overfunded private schools, but my students didn’t all receive the same level of education, because—despite popular opinion about “bad teachers”—most factors that go into the quality of education aren’t directly within the teacher’s control.

  57. Fellow UK Grad*

    I’m late in getting to this post, but I have two Master’s degrees, one of which is from Oxford. The thing about my Oxford degree is that I pursued it after being in the workforce for five years. My first Master’s at a Big 12 school immediately after college, and it was really, really tough for me to find jobs on that. I finally just went for entry level jobs and dropped the degree from my resume altogether because I figured it was intimidating hiring managers (which it was because I got job offers quickly after I dropped it).

    Going back to grad school was a conscious decision for my own personal development, not because someone promised me it’d make getting jobs easier. I’d been working in my field for a while and discovered a need for the degree to be taken seriously (my area requires specialized knowledge), so I went for the best school I could think of, got in, and did the degree. And immediately took a low-level short-term job where one of my coworkers was 17 years old and still in high school and no one cared that I have two master’s.

    And that job led to one that is better paid than anything I’ve worked before and exactly what I want to be doing. I know that getting my foot in the door was a combination of networking, work experience, and my academic credentials. You gotta do the low level work in the meantime. Aim low for right now, and something good will come along once you’ve built up experience, and don’t assume everyone’s gasping when they see that school on your resume.

  58. Grad*

    Educational achievements are not necessarily respected by employers and it was a tough lesson for me as well. Getting a First from Nottingham was such an achievement for me. I’ve never worked so hard for something. I really busted a gut for it.

    Unfortunately, I graduated into an awful recession in the UK when youth unemployment was over 1 million. Things were so bad I was even rejected for an unpaid internship a one point! It took a while to realise that a piece of paper wasn’t going to open doors.

  59. Candi*

    I think that what Alison has merit. On resume and cover letter, be all ‘this is specifically why I am the worker you want’ rather than ‘this is my degree’.

    The advice you received used to make sense -back when there were far fewer financing options and long-range travel was more difficult and less common. There were fewer workers with degrees in proportion to the population.

    Going to college or university then meant either money or drive, the drive likely combined with a impressive work history as the student put themselves through school. Money meant connections useful to the business. Drive meant a strong work ethic and a likely very committed employee.

    Things changed. Public funding of basic education. The GI Bill. Student loans. Grants. Scholarships. Tuition reimbursements. Increases in travel. Online classes. Degrees were obtainable by far more people than ever before. Employers are spoiled for choice in most fields, and graduates are competing within varying levels of glut.

    Human mentality hasn’t caught up with the proliferation of degrees and what it means. It’s always hard to pick apart and reweave the expectations and conventions of the world we know.

    So bad advice gets promulgated, even as forward-thinking people realize a new way is here, and it requires adaptation.

    The times are a’changing. It’s just hard sometimes to keep up.

  60. Chris Hogg*

    For me this has been one of the best and most meaningful discussions I’ve read about “going to college” in a long, long time.

    And this discussion highlights the absolute necessity of:

    1. Asking one’s self what do I want to do, and, do I need a college degree to do it?

    2. Being willing, if you don’t know what you want to do, to postpone going to college until you do know.

    3. If you do know what you want, to network and informational interview (with a lot of people over a fair amount of time) to clearly answer the second part, is college actually necessary?

    By way of full disclosure, I got my BS degree because, when I asked a high school friend why I should join him at his university, he said because they had great parties (no, really). And some eight years later I signed on to a MA degree in Public Relations before I even, literally, knew what PR was. Such is not the way to make educational choices – but neither is listening to school admissions folks, or friends, or well-meaning parents who try to convince us that “going to school and getting a degree” is the key to a successful life.

    And we all need to be aware of an old Amish saying: Too soon old, too late smart.

  61. Brandon*

    Sounds similar to my experience. Recently got my Masters in Marketing from a top 5 uni in the UK. I thought that international exposure, work with real clients, and some technical skills would make me more valuable. I returned to the US in August, and received my degree in December. I’ve had a grand total of 6 interviews since I began my search during July 2016. I have followed the vast spectrum of tips such as networking, tailoring resumes & cover letters, and spending time to acquire new skills. I went home highly frustrated after one interview in particular after being asked if I had “received my Masters online”. The Hiring Manager could not believe that I had actually traveled. Whats worse is that I have NOT been seeking mid level positions, instead just regular entry roles/ internships. Grad school set me back $40k on top of my undergrad debt. So now I have two degrees with almost $90k debt and a nice 6 month gap on my resume. Parents keep telling my that I shouldn’t rush things, and while I love them and their support, it annoys me. I dont need to be coddled , I am not a special snowflake. I dont mind having to rough it, and grind things out. I just want to start my career..

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