Do employers care where you went to college?

Top-notch schools are often said to be worth the higher price in part because it gives them a professional and economic boost. But does it really?

By Mar 14, 2014 11:17AM

This post comes from Mitchell Weiss at partner site on MSN MoneySome 15 years ago, my wife and I attended a barbecue fundraiser for a local nonprofit. As we made our way through the crowd, I bumped into a friend I hadn’t seen in a while.

Money on top of a graduation cap © Brand X Pictures, PhotolibraryJack (not his real name) was the CFO of a good-sized public company. After catching up on work, family and mutual friends, we moved on to a topic that was at the top of the list for parents of college-age children: the schools our kids were considering.

Soon, what had until that point been a pleasant conversation, suddenly became much less so.

Jack has a very hard-core view on the matter: Unless his kids got into top-notch schools, their professional and economic futures weren’t likely to amount to much. To drive that point home, he summed up his own résumé evaluation process this way.

"I look at the school first and toss anything less than second-tier."

I could feel the back of my neck heating up.

"If that’s the case," I said, "then what about first-generation students like me?" (My dad made it through sixth grade and my mom, a few years more.) "What about those of us who worked our way through night school at a local college? We wouldn’t stand a chance!"

Sadly, a majority of American adults share my friend’s view.

According to a recent survey that was conducted by Gallup and the Lumina Foundation, when it comes to finding well-paying employment, 80% of Americans said that school choice is either very (30 percent) or somewhat (50 percent) important.

Fortunately, however, those who sign payroll checks don’t share that opinion.

Of the 623 business leaders who were also surveyed, only 9 percent responded that where a job candidate earns his or her degree is very important, and 37 percent believe it is somewhat so.

That’s good news for students and their families.

Those who need a longer or less costly runway for their academic pursuits shouldn’t fret about the consequences of their personal circumstances. Even when school choice matters, where you start isn’t nearly as important as where you finish -- as long as you do.

Students and their families should also view these findings as yet another reason to “shop the competition,” which, according to the Cooperative Institutional Research Institute’s annual Freshman Survey, is precisely what’s taking place as roughly one-quarter of students who were accepted by their first-choice colleges and universities had elected to attend other schools. Nearly 60% cited financial considerations -- tuition costs, insufficient financial aid and so forth -- even though roughly the same percentage said that school choice remained a "very important" consideration.

When it came time to send our own kids to college, my wife and I focused on several factors including curricula diversity (because our kids didn’t have a clue about what they wanted to be), proximity (because travel expenses have to be taken into account), "fit" (because it was their life -- not ours), and, of course, cost (because our family’s resources weren’t unlimited).

Money and school choice aside, however, which should matter more: the knowledge a job candidate may have acquired during the course of an academic career or how he or she uses it? It’s heartening to know that a majority of those 623 business surveyed leaders think the latter.

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Mar 14, 2014 3:14PM
Traditional degrees get you on the field.

Hard, smart work gets you in the end zone.

Mar 14, 2014 3:31PM

I do pay attention to where a person went to school.  It matters, and here's why:

Any person who takes on tens of thousands of dollars in debt to go to a 'name brand' university is CLERALY too stupid to be able to function in the real world!  I will NOT hire any person who has a boatload of debt because of their insecurity driven need to attend some specific 'name brand' school!

I want the 'state school' kids!  The community college, worked their way through kids!  Because they get it.  They worked for what they wanted, instead of borrowed to buy a degree.  And if I can get a kid that served in the military to get some of his college money and then worked his way through, even better!

The fact that ANY hiring manager wouldn't understand that is a sure sign of why America is in such decline.  because any person that doesn't know that 'name brand' degrees mean less motivated employees, has no business being in charge of anything, much less hiring!

I know I will get ripped for this post.  But only by the people who buy crap because of the label, instead of quality regardless of the label.

Mar 14, 2014 3:06PM
Your friend is an A$$... I know plenty of people that went to "good colleges" and even some that went on to achieve higher degrees, MBA and such, that couldn't find their way out of a dark closet ..!!
Just because you laid out big bucks to go to a "good school" doesn't mean that you automatically got a better education that someone that went to say a state college or university. most kids that graduate college these days are ill prepared for the 'real world' whether they spent $20k or $200k on their education ... and anyone that hires someone based on where they went to college is an A$$ ... (like your friend ...) 
Mar 14, 2014 3:15PM
I get paid 6 figures because of what I know and my work ethic, not where I got it from.
Mar 14, 2014 3:34PM
I was seeing a Doctor when he inquired as to my education.  I was and still am on disability so it all went to waste anyway.  I told him I had an MBA.  He asked me where from.  When I told him it was from UCF, he said, "That's not a very good school anyway."  Needless to say, I was mad and insulted.  Not only was it a good school, but I had worked very hard for 2 years to graduate and was at the top of my class.  Needless to say, I never went back to that Doctor.
Mar 14, 2014 3:24PM
Let's get real... if you are a snob and will only associate with the 'right' people, then nothing matters but the right neighborhood.  Want to live in San Francisco, then pay $3,000 plus for a one bedroom.  Aren't you so special (you're an idiot).  Want to work in that certain, very special law firm?  Got news for you, done that and they have some of the worst working conditions possible.  It's hell on Earth and you have absolutely no quality of life.  Most of those attorneys are the ugliest people you will every know. They are not the kind of people you want to know.
Mar 14, 2014 3:13PM
I agree with Black Fired. In many top tier occupations your college definitely matters. Some very prestigious firms, particularly in law and/or finance will ONLY hire Ivy League grads. A degree in engineering from MIT, CIT will put you a leg up. Medicine from Duke, Johns Hopkins etc. If you don't think this is true you are kidding yourself.
Mar 14, 2014 1:55PM
It all depends upon your major.  Law?  Yes if you went to an ivy league college.   Engineering, likely if you went to MIT.   Geology, yes if you went to the University of Colorado.   Business.  Who cares.  
Mar 14, 2014 3:38PM
I didn't go to college. I am a millionaire. The guy next door graduated from a top University. He is losing his house. He calls me for advise. Next question.
Mar 14, 2014 3:43PM
Not all universities offer the same quality education. So, not all college degrees are worth the same. I have attended several colleges in my life and I can see the difference. You get what you pay for. Now, college is also what you make of it too. If you cannot attend a top school, it doesn´t mean you dont stand a chance to succeed in life. We live in a society that wants things as predictable as in a math equation. That is a mistake. Two plus two is equal to 4 plus 1. A top school degree will increase your probabilities but it will not guarantee you a job nowadays. Our fates depend on many variables. You can have a top school college degree and end up flipping hamburgers and the other way around. However, fate is very capricious like luck. One never knows how things will turn out. But I have no doubt that someone attending a top university has a better education than another one at a lower level. Universities guarantee your level of education. On the other hand, some people would be self-taught people attending lower schools but with outstanding minds. 
To say that one will not succeed because one didnt attend a good school is an oversimplified statement. 
Mar 14, 2014 3:50PM

I put myself through as much college as I could afford, then switched to manual labor trades.

I should have skipped college and gone straight into the Skilled Trades. But, back in my day, and even in this day, it isn't talked about...

Why no one two or three generations from the boat that brought their immigrant ancestors to the USA wants to work with their body and hands, anymore, I will never know.

Ah well, the student loan business is booming, and many a younger won't be affording a house anytime soon. And, unlike what a recent article I read is not because they are slackers. Many of them are also deciding not to buy automobiles, right now, either. It is going to be an interesting for the next 43 years or so...that is for sure.

Mar 14, 2014 3:59PM

Undergraduate is not as important as long as you have excellent grades and do well on GRE, etc.

Obviously an Ivy league or Stanford is not to be sensed at.

I believe it becomes much more important at the graduate level. Whether in business or academia, highly rated graduate schools really count for employment opportunities

Mar 14, 2014 3:43PM
In certain fields and certain businesses sure. After the top .5% of positions, NO. I know plenty of people that have great jobs that have night school or online(Now) masters and MBAs. It might be a little more work or you start off at a smaller firm but that's again for the top top positions. 
Plenty of people in top spots went to small schools too. Bottom line, more people get to the top with ability to get the work done and not a parent that can pay the tuition.
Mar 14, 2014 2:54PM


This article could've been written with that one word.

Mar 14, 2014 4:21PM
Most Americans don’t realize just how lucky they are to live in a country where 99% of the time it doesn’t matter what university you attended. In places like Japan on the other hand kids are under enormous pressure from a very young age to pass difficult entrance exams to get into the best high schools so that they can then get into the best universities, because over there is really DOES matter what school you went to. University students are recruited right out of college and the ones who got into the best universities are actively sought out by the best companies. And ironically you don’t even have to work that hard once you get into that good university. Just getting in is enough to ensure your future. And there is no such thing as taking a year off after college before going to work. You always must go straight from college to your company. The great thing about the USA is that even a high school dropout can go back to school later in life, get a degree, and compete on an equal footing with other college graduates for jobs. In Japan you have one shot at it and if you blow it then you are not going to have much of a future. Or at least it was still like this 15 years ago. Anyway just be glad that you live in a country where you can always go back to school and better yourself at any time and where very few employers care what university you attended.

Mar 14, 2014 4:43PM
Using the author's own numbers, 45% of employers say they believe where a candidate went to college is important. That's a lot, and I suspect that in reality having a great college on one's resume carries weight with an even greater percentage of employers than that. In addition, the networking system and contacts a person can develop at a better school are invaluable. Do people from lower-ranked colleges get jobs? Sure. But the title question is "Do employers care where you went to college?" The answer is "Yes, and that's one of many reasons young people are generally doing the most they can to help themselves by 1) preparing themselves well in high school and b) getting into the best college possible where they are a good fit."
Mar 14, 2014 4:01PM

I believe a lot of it matters what field you are in. 


I am an Architect, I went to a good but smaller school here in Texas.  Most of the Firms I have worked for or with definitely have a alma mater mindset.  One firm, most of the top Architectural partners Graduated from U of Texas and the really top partners played football there too.  A lot of the Engineers at that firm came from Kansas State. 


I have several friends that are MD's that all work for a certain Hospital group, every one of them attended the same school, UT Southwestern and they try and recruit from there first when possible.


I agree however with the story for the most part, the required degree is the most important factor in the hiring process.  Hell, no one even ever ask for proof of college or degree anymore, I know my firm doesn't



Mar 14, 2014 3:39PM
Just don't go to on of the for profit colleges.  I just read today that their graduates make less than high school drop outs!
Mar 14, 2014 4:51PM
Your friend is an idiot.  Show me that you can learn, not that you got through a "good" school somehow.  GPA is about the only thing less meaningless than where you got it from.  There were plenty of "4.0" students at the school I went to that couldn't think there way out of a paper bag.  There is some merit to GPA.  If you graduated with a 1.0, perhaps should have applied yourself a bit more, but a 4.0 doesn't mean that you are any smarter than the guy that "only" got a 3.0
I think I learned more from my classes that I earned a B in than that I was given an A in, overall.
Mar 14, 2014 4:10PM
Some people conclude that because they became millionaires, college education is worthless. In my opinion, that is wrong too. You can always distinguish a college educated person from another with no college education. But again, you can always find outstanding, brilliant, self-taught minds with no college education. That is more the exception than the norm.
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