Imagine that you just graduated from college. As a post-graduate, you’re probably banking on the leverage of your four year degree to help you land your first full-time job. Does it matter where you go to college to get that degree?
Then, let’s flash forward five years into the future. What you talked about as a post-grad — like your first few internships and grade point average — isn’t necessarily relevant as you become established in your field. Does the school you attended as an undergrad also count as something to reflect on less? We asked several professional women: "Does it matter where you go to college?" This is what they said.
At 28 years old, Sabrina Atienza is the CEO of AI tech startup Valued in Silicon Valley. She graduated from University of California — Berkeley where she majored in Computer Science with a minor in Physics.
Being a graduate from a credible Bay Area school has had a hugely positive impact on her career, because so many of her fellow alums stay in Silicon Valley after they graduate. She said: “When it comes to fundraising, networking, and hiring, I’m often meeting fellow alums and leveraging my college network.”
Kelly Palmer, CLO at lifelong learning platform startup Degreed, agrees that the name of a prestigious university carries weight at job interviews. However, it can only take graduates so far. Palmer argues that four years of undergraduate study anywhere may not necessarily prepare grads immediately for new jobs.
What should college graduates do to ensure they're prepared for job interviews? Rather than ride on your degree’s coattails, Palmer says to show how you can be adaptable and learn new skills. Then, maintain this mindset throughout your career, as Palmer notes the need to keep learning will increase as the years go by, markets change and new skills come into vogue.
Self-employed attorney and mediator Nance L. Schick started law school when she was 29 years old. She earned her J.D. from SUNY University at Buffalo with Certificates in Government Law: Education, Tax.
However, when Schick started her post-law school job search, she was disappointed to learn that her law school did not have the same leverage as an Ivy League.
“Graduation from an Ivy League school still matters very much, at least in the legal profession,” Schick says. “If you want a judicial clerkship, Ivy League graduates still get preference. Clerks get preference for judgeships. Judges have more opportunities to retire into arbitration positions.”
Schick recently discussed this issue at the Fifth Annual ADR and Diversity Symposium. She voiced concern that focusing on hiring students privileged enough to attend Ivy League universities might have a disparate impact. Students that choose to attend a regional law school may not realize that the choice — which could be based on any number of reasons from finances to simply enjoying the school’s environment — may decrease their employment opportunities after graduation.
To that end, Schick is hopeful that this hiring narrative will shift over time. For now, she recommends that students go to the best school they can afford — because that education is still what matters.
Erin Goodnow believes in the power of career options. Goodnow is the Founder and CEO of Going Ivy, a college admissions consulting group. Going Ivy helps students write their own admission ticket to their dream schools. In turn, this gives them the keys to their professional destiny.
Where you go to college, according to Goodnow, helps open up doors to networking and impresses executive search committees. The one thing it gives you more of beyond your first post-grad job? Options.
“If you’re happy in your job and plan on staying with a company for 50 years, where you went to college won’t matter as much after a while,” Goodnow explained. “But if you want options to move companies and careers, where you went to school can open those options. Alumni networks are powerful at certain schools, as is name recognition and a higher ranking.”
I wrote this article because the question struck a nerve with me. I received an undergraduate degree from the University of California — Irvine, and earned a J.D. from Pepperdine University. As a post-law school student, my first job was at a Los Angeles-based law firm. I would later become a business owner and entrepreneur, careers I never dreamed I would end up in.
I believe in what each woman I interviewed had to say about the influence of college in the working world. I may not be where I am today without the networking opportunities, options and skill sets that I received at my alma mater. I also believe that life may take you off your route. Other passions you didn’t expect to have — like a love for coding or a green thumb that allows you to start a nursery business — might show up later. Guess what? You may find you want to pursue them instead of where you “thought” you’d wind up.
Your life plan may be redirected into all sorts of directions you couldn’t imagine. Be prepared to expect the unexpected, make yourself open to learning and make a confident leap forward.