Change in opinions about colleges

It is interesting. I’ve changed dramatically in my opinions about colleges for my kids. With my 2023, I was fixated on college rankings and the belief that a “top name” prestigious school was necessary to give him a leg up in his career. He ended up on a sports scholarship to an engineering school most people have never heard of. Now I’m working on 2025s college. Because of athletics and sports, he will probably be able to get into one of these big name academic schools. But I actually think there is a sea change in how these schools are viewed by employers. I’ve read and heard from people who do hiring that an Ivy (not to pick on them) degree no longer has the cachet to get you hired. Think this is true? I’m not trying to get a rise here. I’d like to know honest opinions and life stories.

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I think that there are hundreds of very good universities and colleges in the US, and hundreds more outside the US. I think that each student should find a university or college that is a good fit for them, and that they can afford.

For the academically strongest students, ones who might be competitive for a “top 10” university, then they probably would be best off at a top 100 or at least top 200 university. However, just because you can get accepted to a “top 10” university means that you should want to attend a “top 10” university.

However, finding a good fit is quite a bit more complex than just looking at university rankings. Visiting schools is a good idea. If you can, take a tour, sit in on a class, and talk to a professor. Talking to current students or recent graduates can be a good idea.

Each of us have opinions that will be guided by our own experiences. My experience includes attending a “top 10” university for my bachelor’s degree that probably was not a good fit for me at the time (although it might have been a good fit a few years later). Then I worked for a couple of years. Then I attended a “top 10” university that was a very good fit for me (I loved it) – probably mostly because I was older and more ready to work that hard. With degrees from two “top 10” universities I have spent my life working with very good coworkers who attended a wide range of different universities. The best of these very good coworkers mostly all graduated from any one of a huge range of different universities.

And I know a few people who got their bachelor’s degree at a university that overall is not ranked in the “top 100” in the US, but that was a good fit for them, who then went to graduate programs that were very strong in their major and very highly ranked (on an “Ivy League” or “top 10 in the world” level).

I understand that some students have good reasons to transfer between universities. I know or have met a few people who benefited greatly from transferring to a university that was either a better fit for them, or that had a stronger program in their major. However, transferring has a cost, such as showing up at a new university part way through where you do not know anyone and do not know your professors. I think that transferring to get to a “more famous” university is usually not a good idea (but details can vary).


I fear this is going to turn into another “are elite schools worth it?” discussion. But in good faith, I’ll take a shot at answering your question.

It depends on the industry. If you’re looking for a job in investment banking, management consulting, etc. the Ivy+ name is critical. They rarely look at schools outside this narrow band, no matter how brilliant and accomplished a student is.

For other industries like engineering and tech, the Ivy name itself doesn’t carry much weight (they actually prefer a different set of “top” schools), but nevertheless they have some of the brightest students in the country who will be very competitive candidates. That is, it’s because of the quality of students, not because of any special consideration given to them because of their school.


It depends on the industry and employer as to how much college prestige matters in hiring, and which colleges are considered prestigious in that context.


It varies by discipline and by geographic region. For example, going to Boise State or Utah State will be just fine for jobs in the intermountain west. Some fancy SLACs won’t even be recognizable names to employers there. Engineering is largely egalitarian and employers don’t really care where you’ve studied. So the region and the field of study/employment are important things to take into account.

One factor I’ve observed to be neglected by some posters who come here for advice is whether or not the kid even wants to go to an ivy-league or other elite type school. The default assumption is that it’s most every kid’s dream. But some students won’t find that environment enticing, and I think it’s an important question to address directly. Fit (and budget) are paramount. And for some students, the most “desired” schools aren’t desirable for them.


People have been saying this for literally generations. Over 200 years now, in fact.

And they are not necessarily wrong!

Not to go off on a deep historical tangent, but the “colonial colleges” were originally religious colleges designed on what was sometimes called the classical model.

Still within the colonial period, there were some rumblings in places like Oxford and Cambridge and the prominent Scottish universities about something that became known as “the scientific method”. And then after the French Revolution, various countries (particularly Prussia and France, but also elsewhere in Europe) began creating new “modern” universities that were intended to not be religious, to instead be scientific, and to apply modern scientific reasoning to all sorts of practical fields, like agriculture and what today we would identify as types of engineering.

The “modern” university model then jumped back across the Channel, and this is when University College London, King’s College London, and Durham were founded.

The “modern” model also jumped across the pond. It really started with the University of Michigan (founded by a bunch of fans of the Prussian educational system), but quickly spread. In many states, a land-grant public university was founded, or converted, to this model. Sometimes it would be their flagship (like pretty much all of the flagships in the former core of the Big 10), but sometimes a separate university, which could be a “tech” university (like Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech), a “school of mines” (like Colorado School of Mines), or similar variations (like TAMU). There are also private land-grants like MIT and Cornell. And then Stanford was modeled on Cornell, and so on.

OK, then a lot of the old-model colleges started converging toward that new model too, which could include converting from a college to a university, and also limiting or eventually eliminating any specific religious ties. In a way, this process is still continuing today. Like, various prominent former old-model colleges, now prominent private universities, are STILL trying to beef up their engineering departments, to try to rival Michigan, Georgia Tech, MIT, Cornell, Stanford, and such.

Some, though have stayed colleges. Some have stayed religious colleges. Other are now completely modern colleges, but without engineering. And so on.

OK, so basically as long as this has been happening, there have been people expressing the opinion they would rather hire from a “modern” model college than a more classical model college, because they think those people are actually better educated for practical purposes.

But also for very long now, the old colleges have been trying to make adjustments, modifications that do not lose all that people valued about them in the past, while becoming better suited to modern needs as well.

So personally, I suspect this will be something people still say long after I am gone too. I am pretty sure the old colleges will still be adjusting. I am pretty sure some people will still be saying there are other colleges doing a better job educating people for real jobs. And on and on it will roll.


Echoing what others have said, industry matters.

The OPs experience, like mine with our son, is centered on engineering. It is pretty egalitarian out of the gate and then almost purely meritocratic after the first job. There seems to be little correlation between who can do and where the went for their undergraduate degree.

That said, different companies have different preferences for where they recruit. That’s based on their own biases, informed accurately, or not, by their own prior collective experience.

So, back to the original point, for engineering I put very little credence into rankings.


very nice.

Great points. I would agree for business it probably matters. Probably also for entry to law school.

Med school? Probably not unless you come from a juggernaut premed program like johns hopkins, emory, wash u, case western, rochester, etc… Even then, those programs may be pretty cut throat and perhaps it’s easier to get in by going to a less focused college? I suspect anyone who is interested in an academic position probably benefits from name recognition.

Also, a great point on whether or not a kid even wants to go to an “Elite” school. I suspect the most just think they do because their parents have pushed them and it’s become an ingrained family “goal”. Certainly there is a disproportionate number of posts here pertaining to entry into those types of schools. "Chance me!!! "

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Academics is funny. Your PhD program and specialty by that point is going to be the overwhelming factor in job placement. To get into a really good PhD program, you typically need great grades/honors in your field, maybe a high GRE score (although less so these days), maybe a work sample, and then very good recommendations.

All of those things are potentially obtainable in a wide variety of colleges. But I do think there can be more margin for error at certain colleges–like not quite as perfect grades. It can also be easier to get a good professor recommendation at some colleges.

But not as much as some people seem to think. Like, most faculty at most good colleges got their own PhDs from the top programs in their field. And so if they really go to bat for someone, that can be a very credible recommendation.

But they also use that judiciously. Like just because you got your own PhD from Harvard, you can’t say to your Harvard PhD department that 5 of your graduating seniors were all among the best few students you have ever seen. Nor do that year after year.

OK, so that Harvard PhD program might be totally open to taking some outstanding students from a wide variety of colleges–if they are sufficiently outstanding. But if you are that Harvard PhD grad on the faculty at a college where likely that will only work in exceptional cases, you have to wait for the exceptional cases to really go to bat for someone.

So that’s complicated, but it is what it is. In most fields there is a lot of concentration in terms of which PhD programs can realistically place people in academic positions, and those programs are mostly not big, because there really isn’t a big market for PhDs in most fields.

At least not for academic positions–like, Econ PhDs can do a whole bunch of stuff. And a Philosophy PhD is like the best 10-year LSAT course you can imagine.

But for academic positions, it is usually a very small world, so everything gets personal, and the personal is complicated.

Oh, getting into a “top” law schools is much like medical school–you need great grades and ideally a very high LSAT. “Top” should be understood not just to include the national “top”, but also the regional and local “top”, which means the law schools generating a lot of graduates who work in some specific regional or local job market (sometimes more than the national top).

But if a law school is not top in any of those senses, you could be talking about a lot of graduates who struggle to make it pay off.

Anyway, because of this, if your goal is law school, you should generally not choose the higher-ranked school over the school where realistically you would likely get materially better grades. Nor should you lightly choose a significantly more expensive school, as long as you think you can get really good grades in the less expensive school.

Still, things like better advising, maybe more margin for error, and so on apply to this area too. You just have to be really care about assuming a more expensive college will buy you into a better law school. In many scenarios, that may not work, and potentially could even backfire.

I would say it even depends on what kind of business. My son is thinking about becoming a CPA, I’m not really sure it matters that much where he goes to school as long as it’s somewhat decent. Now Finance? Totally matters. I think Economics also matters, if you graduate from Williams or Amherst with an Econ degree it’s different than most State Us.

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I think even that depends some on the field.

Like, it seems like when most people in these conversations are talking about finance, they are talking about really hard to get positions, such as entry-level positions at investment banks.

But of course there are financial analysts all over the place, in commercial banks, insurance companies, pension funds, large corporations, and so on.

OK, so one perfectly viable route to such jobs is to get a good college degree, get a good entry-level business position, do a good job, then go to business school for a financial MBA (or other quant-heavy graduate degree). Or get a CFA or CPA. This Fortune article walks through a lot of that:

To listen to some people, if you don’t get a Finance bachelors from an IB “target” college, you might as well go apply for cashier at McDonalds. But there are many, many other people with successful careers in Finance.


I think for quantitative financial analysis, it probably matters, and MIT would have a leg up on everyone else. IB probably cares a little too, but can’t be as picky because the field is bigger. For lots of other things, not so much. Most Fortune 500 CEOs went to regular schools for undergrad. (Harvard tops the list for grad schools).

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Law school prestige ranking for law employment is probably a much bigger factor than college prestige ranking for law school admission.


That’s arguable. I think gpa matters. Sure. But I actually think the top law schools want to see a high LSAT and that’s not dependent on where you attend undergraduate.

I think that sort of analysis reflects a truism about business placements, and in fact many business-related law placements, which is more or less this.

In most business/legal markets, there are some local/regional colleges and professional schools that are a very big deal. This usually include the top public universities in the relevant area, and some prominent local privates (often including religiously-affiliated ones).

There are then a few “national” colleges and professional schools that also work for those markets. They typically do not replace the local/regional powerhouses, but they are a viable alternative path to good business/legal jobs in those markets.

And in a lot of ways, that captures part of the real value proposition of those national colleges and professional schools. They may not give you a big advantage everywhere, but they are usually at least viable anywhere.

I actually think things like IB placements are less of an exception than some people insist. Like, a lot of the target schools for NYC IBs are . . . pretty near NYC. They target a few “national” schools outside of that region too, but that’s not really much of a variation from the pattern.

Since I was just on this subject, I agree this difference exists, but I wouldn’t attribute it to prestige per se.

There is a well-established concept of the T14 law schools, but at least most practicing lawyers will agree that in most markets, the competitive job applicants include top students at a variety of local/regional law schools. Again, what makes the T14 the T14 is portability–you can go to Penn Law and be competitive in pretty much any legal market. Go to Fordham and you are likely better off in NYC.

And that helps explain why there is a perennial debate about whether the T14 should actually include UCLA, or Texas, or whatever. This is really reflecting the fact that LA and Texas are enormously important legal markets, and if nothing else, UCLA and Texas have very good placement in those legal markets. And then they are somewhat portable too. So whether they are really among the best few examples of extremely important regional law schools, or not-the-strongest examples of national schools, is not very important in the end. They are what they are.

And for that matter–isn’t Georgetown really just the UCLA of DC? Grab your popcorn . . . .

Anyway, a lot of all that is basically just a self-fulfilling prophecy. Networking matters, prior good experiences with law school grads matter, and so on. So if people come from all over to go to Penn Law, and then head back to all over after Penn Law, now you have Penn Law grads all over making a good impression, and eventually being in hiring positions themselves.

You can all that “prestige”, but I think it is really not a great term for that sort of effect. Among other things, it is too passive, because it makes it sound like once you get your Penn Law sweatshirt, the rest comes automatically. It does not. You still have to hustle to do better in law school, if you want the most competitive entry positions. Once you start somewhere, you still have to hustle to do a good job, if you want to actually advance.

And one day, you will look around at your peers, and likely realize some did not go to a T14. Some went to UCLA, or Florida, or BC, or BYU, or whatever is a big deal in your market. And it doesn’t stop there. People from all sorts of local schools have advanced to important positions because they were good, or at least well-connected, or indeed good at connecting.

Because really, the hustle doesn’t stop, or at least not until you are OK not going any further.


Typically it is both. And I agree your LSAT is going to be independent of where you go to college. But your GPA may not be.

OK, so suppose your options are:

College A: expected LSAT = N, expected GPA = X, US News rank = R
College B: expected LSAT = N, expected GPA = Y, US News rank = S

N is the same. But X, Y, R, and S are variables.

OK, so if R > S, and X >= Y, then holding aside cost concerns, go ahead and choose A.

However, if R > S and X < Y, then you should be extremely wary about choosing A. And if X << Y, you should pretty much never choose A.

And that is what I meant when I said, “if your goal is law school, you should generally not choose the higher-ranked school (R > S) over the school where realistically you would likely get materially better grades (X << Y).”

I would never tell a kid that. And I guess we’ll just have to agree to disagree.

I agree even if your goal isnt law school. Students are often happier and more successful when they perform well relative to their peer group; being at the top of one’s class, anywhere, opens up great opportunities. I wouldnt send my kids to a college where they wouldnt be in the top third or so ( or at least predicted to be).

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