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How Important is College Name Recognition?

A lot of families stress over whether they should send their kid to a brand-name school such as an Ivy to help with their kid’s future career options and future salaries.

So, how important is college name recognition? The importance of college name recognition varies based on field of study. For some companies and majors (usually non-STEM fields), name recognition greatly affects hiring probability and starting salary. For other majors, college name recognition does not matter much (usually STEM fields). 

Do employers care whether or not you went to a college?

The short answer to this is yes. Generally, employers want to see at least a college degree when recruiting. I asked my dad if he cares about if a person has a college degree when he’s recruiting, and he said that he has never actually interviewed someone without a college degree.

This is because many companies use an automatic program that filters out those who don’t have college degrees. Even if you are the most open-minded employer, it is unlikely that you will be interviewing someone without a degree because of that automatic filtering system.

Do employers care which college you went to?

As mentioned before, the importance of name recognition is partially dependent on your major. Generally, for STEM careers, it does not matter as much as some other non-STEM related fields.

STEM Careers/Majors

For example, my dad is a director of engineering and hires software developers/programmers as part of his job. He doesn’t care about the college that his interviewees went to.

This may partially be attributed to the fact that he doesn’t have an American degree (he got his degree in our home country), so he may be more open-minded than other employers.

However, my dad was able to get hired many years ago as a software programmer when he came to America, even though he had a degree from a university unheard of by Americans. 

However, I did say this as a general rule because there are always some exceptions. Let me provide an example. I recently interviewed Princess from Stanford, and she told me about a sort of event that happens in the third week of the beginning of the year at Stanford.

During that time, recruiters from the big Silicon Valley tech companies like Boeing and Google will set up booths where students can come up, introduce themselves, and quite possibly land an internship that could turn into a job offer. 

Of course, those big tech companies don’t only take students from Stanford and other big STEM-oriented schools like UC Berkeley, but Google is probably not going to your state school and recruiting directly out of there. 

Non-STEM Careers/Majors

Now, an example of a career field that is basically dependent on the school you went to is law. The top law firms in the country recruit exclusively out of a few select schools that have big flashy names like Harvard and Yale.

According to this U.S. News article, “these firms [top ranked law firms] typically prefer to hire alumni of elite law schools that place in the top 15 in national law school rankings” and they also “employ graduates of J.D. programs that place in the top five or top 10, and in general, grads from higher-ranked J.D. programs have better chances of finding a job at a big law firm.” 

However, don’t be fooled by thinking going to Harvard guarantees your placement at one of the top law firms. Within Harvard Law School, there is still tough competition to see who will be selected to work at a prestigious law firm such as Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz.

Another important thing to keep in mind is that employers may look for specific schools, even if they are not in the top 20.

Did you know, for example, the University of Oklahoma is one of the best places to study meteorology?

Now, I don’t know whether the industry for meteorology cares about the school you went to, but the point is still the same. The University of Oklahoma is not an elite private university, yet it specializes in one area.

Many schools that are not in the top 20 are much like Oklahoma, where they have some of the best programs for one area of study. Some top schools do have some of the best programs, but not all of them.  

Does the college you went to affect your starting salary?

The answer to this question is the same as the last question: it depends on your field of study.

In this article by the Wall Street Journal, they found that “for STEM-related majors, average earnings don’t vary much among the college categories” and “if an engineering student chose to attend the University of Pennsylvania instead of Texas A&M, the average starting salary would differ by less than $1,000.”

Another statistic provided by the article was the salary for computer science students coming from colleges with different prestige levels. I’ll insert a screenshot here for you to observe:

Source: Wall Street Journal & PayScale 2015-2016 College Salary Report

As you can see, the starting salary for a computer science student coming out of Berkeley or Columbia is almost $100,000, whereas a computer science student coming out of Santa Barbara of Delaware is around $70,000.

This is indeed a huge difference in starting salary, but if you look on the rightmost column (mid-career median pay), you’ll see that there is not much difference in the salary there.

You also have to keep in mind that a student attending Columbia, a private school, will most likely have much more student debt than a student attending Delaware, a public state school. 

If we use the example of law above, we can see how the numbers will vary there. Remember how I said that the big, prestigious law firms recruit from an exclusive amount of school?

Those who can make it into one of those law firms often start out with six-figure salaries from the get-go. The average starting salary for attorneys in small firms falls in the range of $62,250 – $90,500 compared to starting salaries at large firms that range from $137,500 – $168,500. 

Conclusion

The best thing to do is think about your field of interest and do some research into the impacts of the college/university you attend on your future career and earnings.

As a general rule, STEM related careers tend to care less about the college you went to; starting salaries may vary some with STEM related careers too.

For non-STEM related careers, the college/university you go to does have more of an impact on your future job offers and earnings. However, not all non-STEM related careers will have extremes like large firms that recruit exclusively out of top-tier schools.

Another really important thing to keep in mind is that the college you go to doesn’t determine your future. You do. Yes, there are some exceptions like the law example we used, but, in the end, it’s up to you to decide how far you want to make.

In my interview with professional college coach Mark Stucker, he himself said that your character and your will determines how far you make it in life, not the name of a school on a piece of paper. 

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