Does Where You Go to College Even Matter?

A new survey by Gallup suggest that college pedigree may not be as important as we thought. The question is, what do employers find important?

Mar 8, 2014 at 1:00PM

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.

College Pet Doesnt Matter Gallup

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.

College Pet Doesnt Matter Gallup

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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