Does Where You Go to College Even Matter?

We all go to college for the same reason: to get a job. If you want a good job, it makes sense to go to best college with the best pedigree. Right?   

Well, according to a recent study by Gallup, where you go to college doesn't matter nearly as much as we might think. In fact, the study found that only 9% of business leaders surveyed believe where the candidate earned their degree is "very important."

This begs three essential questions: 

  1. What do employers find important? 
  2. How can this help job seekers? 
  3. And, is this a knife in the side of expensive Ivy League schools? 

What really matters
According to the survey, candidate's knowledge of the field, applied skills, and college major are most important.

Knowledge of the subject matter and applied skills rated as the most important qualities – and intuitively that makes sense. If a candidate can walk in and immediately do the job, they should earn a leg up. Along the same line, if the candidate majored in the field they're applying for, they most likely have more knowledge than other candidates.

However, considering that college majors are only "very important" to 28% of the business leaders surveyed, employers must understand that college students don't always have their lives sorted out when their 20. They may still be able to benefit the organization despite majoring in something a little different.

What does this mean to job seekers?
It emphasizes the importance of experience and connections. If you have the opportunity to get an internship during college or even after graduation, take it. Not only will this earn you experience in the field, but it could gain you important contacts. 

Don't over-emphasize your university. School pedigree may help you get an interview, but according to the survey it won't seal the deal. Focus on why you're right for the position instead of pitching your university.   

Your major won't make or break you. If you majored in something outside the field your applying to, be sure to convey your passion for the industry and why you've decided to go outside your field of study. Even better, describe how what you studied can give you an advantage.

Are Ivy League schools a waste of money?
Heck no! Just because business leaders don't have where you went to school toward the top of their list, doesn't mean it doesn't matter. In fact, only 14% of those surveyed said that where applicants went to school doesn't matter at all.

Ivy League schools offer not only a fantastic education, but perhaps more importantly, they offer connections that may not be available to students graduating from regional schools.

What does the American public believe?
There's a clear disconnect between what business leaders think and what the American Public believes.

As mentioned earlier, skills and knowledge of the field intuitively make sense -- and the American public seems to agree. However, in this survey, much more weight is given to where candidates went to college and what they studied. 

If anything, the survey of business leaders told us exactly what we need to hear. For those lucky enough to go to college, focus on choosing the right school and not the best school. Get as much real world experience as possible, be passionate about your field, and gather as many connections as humanly possible.

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  • Report this Comment On March 08, 2014, at 5:45 PM, stockguru100 wrote:

    Of course it makes a difference where one goes to college. It is no longer just what major one takes up, although that is very important. The value of college now is linked to one's network, internships, technical subject matter and the reputation of the school. If you think it doesn't matter where you receive your degree, ask those who hold degrees from for-profit colleges that can't get jobs or even be considered for a position. Those institutions are touted by Wall Street but recruiters put no credence into those so-called credentials.

  • Report this Comment On March 08, 2014, at 5:51 PM, hotdaddy13 wrote:

    After having taught at the university/college level for 30+ years, I have to give a resounding "NO!" to the question with two very important caveats: (1) Stay away from the "for profit" schools who sell their product (aka college degree(s) like a sack of potatoes; and (2) the people who go to the "top notch" universities who expect to succeed purely by establishing "good networking connections" with the very rich and powerful but learn little else while there. In the end, success is a matter of 90% effort and 10% being in the right place at the right time and not saying or doing the wrong thing to a potential employer such as: "I want to teach for 3 to 5 years and then settle down to get married to my boyfriend." Why should I as your employer have to go through the interview process twice in such a short time for the same job!? Nobody has a crystal ball to see into the future. But a lot of people can spot a self-serving narcissist in a New York minute.

  • Report this Comment On March 09, 2014, at 9:38 AM, Jpat0973 wrote:

    As someone who ran a department of 50 entry/ mid level employees, most of whom were recent college grads, I applaud this study. I always said there were really only 2 types of schools- Ivy/specialty and everything else! I interviewed several candidates during that time that cited their degree from Ohio State as an advantage over other candidates from "lower rated schools" like Akron or Cleveland State. I'd ask them exactly what curriculum they were exposed to that the others weren't. None could answer...because there really is no difference. All accredited schools do an equivalent job of barely preparing graduates to add immediate value to a business. I preferred candidates who had worked or done something to pick up an actual skill.

  • Report this Comment On March 09, 2014, at 2:58 PM, Barmil wrote:

    here's what bugs me about college degrees and employers.

    Why do the employers feel the need to have a college graduate for all there job postings?

    There are other forms of being educated other than college. It would seem that work experience does not count at all and that is a huge mistake.

  • Report this Comment On March 09, 2014, at 3:57 PM, ProfessorWheezy wrote:

    Barmail: I agree with you to some degree. My wife has some college but no degree and has relied on her work skills to get promoted. BUT what a college degree says NOW is what a HS degree said 20 years ago. I should be able to do some simple math, read a newspaper, and maybe put a coherent paragraph on paper (and even these are in question). People are always laughing and downplaying English majors, but when a writer (or editor) on the motley fool still doesn't know the difference in their, there, and they're it makes you wonder.

  • Report this Comment On March 10, 2014, at 10:57 AM, Jerry3566 wrote:

    I chanced upon this item, and found it interesting.

    I am a large, small business owner and a member of a small business group,.during socializing after a meeting A discussion arose on that very subject


    After a couple of hours of beating it around , the consensus semed to be, yes the institution was important, in a negative way.

    About half of us agreed , that we did not accept canidates, from any school in California, or any school in the IVY League. or the Chicago area.

    The work ethic seems to have suffered in those schools, there was a liberal ethos that allowed them to believe that the were entitled to many things and tended to infect the existing work force with those ideals.

    Last that had a vastly inflated sense of their value to an organization.

  • Report this Comment On March 10, 2014, at 11:15 AM, fooluser wrote:

    Sometimes it does matter where you went to school. I know someone that had called about an application that they placed and the person who took the call actually told them that they weren't looking at anyone that went to that school because it was an accelerated school. The school was accredited and the person had to work even harder to make it through the school. I thought it was unfair to not give these people a chance just because they went to a particular school.

  • Report this Comment On March 10, 2014, at 11:43 AM, chucku wrote:

    I wasn't one to believe that the college I went to had any type of influence over my viability as a job seeker.

    My first rude awakening was when I was turned down for over 15 unpaid law office internships, based upon the "reputation" of my law school (some folks were actually nice/brazen enough to articulate as such to me).

    No worries, though. I DID manage to secure a really cool internship with the federal bar, based upon the fact that I'd earned my Masters degree from a "major" university (USC. FIGHT ON!).

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Dave Koppenheffer

Dave Koppenheffer, is a contributor for the Motley Fool's financial sector. And much like Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, when he speaks, he speaks with an earnest vibe and an earnest energy.

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