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Job Skills Revised: Importance of Degree and University for Jobs

  1. Aug 20, 2016 #1
    In my experience, it seems that going to a better (ie more rigorous) school is not worth it in the long run. I went to a state public university (I live in the US) than is well known for its science and engineering programs.
    I earned my BS in Physics, but I was no longer interested in pursuing it as a career. I know that it can be difficult to find a job with just a BS in Physics, so I transferred schools.

    I switched to another university which has a lesser known engineering program. The coursework turned out to be much less rigorous compared to my first university. I received an MS in Electrical Engineering.

    There are some graduates from the lesser known university who have done well for themselves. So why is it that people normally push for students to go to universities with a better pedigree. It is possible that going to less rigorous program can get you the same job.

    Essentially, I am arguing that getting a marketable degree at less prestigious school is normally better than getting an academic degree from a well-known university. The fact the the university is more rigorous is not considered in the hiring process, unfortunately. If a student is struggling with their major of choice, is it better to simply change to an easier university or change to another majors (disregarding the option of staying the course)
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  3. Aug 20, 2016 #2


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    Students, graduated or not yet graduated, are often unequal. You are seeming to assume that which university someone graduates from does not matter to the employer. The reason is that students are unequal once graduated as well as while were still students. Choices of courses vary among different students. Areas of concentration vary. Internships or any research done while in school vary. Projects chosen during a course/class vary, as well as how students handle any such project. The employer must examine and assess each individual candidate for a position. Having a set of candidates, some being from top-name schools and some being from little-known schools will simply not make the top-name graduates better. EACH student will be different.
  4. Aug 20, 2016 #3


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    Well, you really have to ask those people that are pushing students to go to the big name universities. I'm not sure this is the "norm" among people that are seriously looking into the students' well being. More often than not such pressure is the result of parents wanting a narrative for their children, or a quickly reasoned "you're smart so you should go to Harvard" argument.

    There are lots of reasons to factor a university's reputation into one's decision to attend. In the business world, for example, some more established schools can provide more connections, more networking opportunities, and a form of "brand recognition" than can make a big difference in a job hunting situation. If you're looking more at "rankings" then it's important to pay attention to what factors have been accounted for in the ranking process and which ones are important to you.

    Another thing to remember is the the function of a university is to provide you with an advanced education. It's not simply job training. You may not appreciate a more rigorous education at first, if it's not leading directly to a noticeable advantage in entry-level jobs. But in the long term, the people who understand more about their field tend to perform better in it. This translates into raises, workplace recognition, increased responsibilities, etc. They are also in a better position to innovate.
  5. Aug 21, 2016 #4
    Location is important. If your high caliber school is in the middle of nowhere, that might hurt unless you can form connections somehow. Most people who get hired from my (lower ranked) program get hired by local engineering firms with whom they connect during their design projects, or places that are familiar with the kind of people who graduate from my school.

    Does rigor really matter at some point? I don't think increasing rigor by x amount translates to a proportional increase in the ability to perform a job well, provided the school is providing some form of quality education to begin with.

    Furthermore, it's difficult to compare with different fields. Engineering majors probably have an easier time of finding a job simply because they know exactly what kind of jobs to apply for--jobs that require their engineering degree! Physics majors, I believe, tend to apply to a variety of industries, from software to education to IT to engineering. They're competing with people who hold those degrees, and even though their unemployment isn't high, there's no clear cut job that they can get without convincing the company that they're able to perform the job due to their background (with some exceptions, of course).

    I know people at my school who have more drive and talent than probably many people at a top-ranked school, but they pay literally 10 times less--before scholarships--than students at, say, Harvard. I'm a believer that a good student will succeed regardless of where they are, and I personally would not recommend going to a top school without substantial scholarships. That's not to say those good students couldn't use better resources--but that's where REUs and internships come in; then they can go to one of those top schools with a tuition waiver and stipend.
  6. Aug 21, 2016 #5
    Thanks I appreciate the responses. I just feel like I went to a better ranked school in vain. I wish that I had went to the lower ranked school for my degree instead. As someone posted, it just doesn't feel like the rigor was worth it in the initial job search.
  7. Aug 22, 2016 #6


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    It really depends. There are certain companies/jobs who recruit exclusively from certain universities. For example, top finance firms will probably throw your resume away unless you come from a school they recruit from. Also, even my company (top 10 company), has a specific process that benefits students from top schools. You are welcome to apply to us but unless you're from a list of 5-10 schools, (depending on region) you'll only be contacted once the pool of applicants. from those schools have been vetted.

    Nevertheless, i'm generally of the disposition that I rather have a hard worker than someone with a brand. However, in my experience someone from a top school tends to be a hard worker.
  8. Aug 22, 2016 #7


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    There has been research that supports too. They found the average earnings of those who were accepted to a top school but choose to attend a lower ranked school were not significantly different to those who did attend a top school. Can't find the paper or researcher right now though, it was a guest speaker on the engineering commons podcast.
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