How does the importance of prestigious national colleges vary by region?

I’ve gone through the college search process twice now. Once in Texas with the oldest daughter who was a fairly median student and who wound up at University of Arkansas which suited her perfectly. And again now with the middle child who is still in the middle of the process here in the Pacific Northwest. I have also been heavily involved in the hiring process in two different professions both in Texas and in Washington State so have reviewed many resumes and sat on may different hiring committees both in education and the natural sciences.

What I have come to conclude is that there is a tremendous amount of regional parochialism in both Texas and the Pacific Northwest. And that young people hoping to advance professionally in both regions would be highly advised to go to school in those areas if that is where they want to work and live. In Texas there is literally a mafia of UT and A&M alums permeating many professions in the state. And schools like Baylor, SMU, and Texas Tech are not far behind. Here in Washington it is the same for UW grads (of which I am one). I can’t imagine any circumstance where holding a UW degree would be a negative compared to say Duke/Georgetown/Columbia/Northwestern/Notre Dame, etc. when applying for jobs in Seattle. Or where a UO degree would be looked at skeptically when applying for jobs in Portland.

There is a lot of emphasis of getting our kids into just the right Ivy or elite LAC here on this forum that seems to be fairly east-coast centric. And perhaps that is really important for careers in the Washington DC to Boston corridor. But this is a vast country and not everyone is looking for careers in the Northeast.

I’m wondering there has been any sort of systematic analysis of the importance of elite degrees by region. How important are they if you live in Texas or California or the Pacific Northwest? If you live in Minneapolis and hope to stay there, how much better is a Princeton degree than one from University of Minnesota? or Macalester?

I’m in Texas and have been saying the same thing for years on CC. I usually refer to the alumni networks of TAMU, UT, and SMU as “cults” and have seen how powerful they are in Texas hiring, including in prestige-heavy fields. The nice thing too is that I just haven’t observed in Texas in real life either the parent or student obsession with elite schools that is prominent on many CC sub forums.

The A&M folks are especially over the top from what I noticed. My Aggie co-workers were absolutely obsessive about maintaining their alumni network and giving a helping hand to other young Aggies.

I was thinking about this as I look at my middle daughter who is a HS senior and hoping/planning to stay in the Pacific Northwest after she graduates from college.

I look at the schools she applied to like UW, Whitman, and Lewis & Clark. And I have to wonder if there is any way that “higher rated” schools like Swarthmore, Williams, Pomona, Northwestern, Duke, USC, or UCLA would actually provide any sort of advantage to her with Seattle or Portland employers. I have my doubts. In fact, a UCLA or USC degree would probably be a negative in Portland or Seattle with any employers who have UW or UO grads on the hiring committee. Especially a USC degree!

I’ve come to conclude that the ultra-competitive world of east coast college admissions as reflected by that recent Atlantic article is a world apart from the rest of the country: https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2020/11/squash-lacrosse-niche-sports-ivy-league-admissions/616474/

Of course if one desires to work for Goldman Sachs, McKinsey, or “white shoe” Boston and Manhattan law firms then having the right pedigree is obviously important. But most of the world isn’t actually seeking those careers or life.

I taught for 10 years at a fairly affluent large suburban HS in Waco in the shadow of Baylor. Thinking about it, we did send a few students to Ivy League schools and places like Stanford every year. Mostly ultra-bright STEM students who’s parents were Baylor professors or engineers at places like Space-X (which has facilities in Waco). But after that it was a whole lot of very top students going on to UT, TAMU, and the local privates like Baylor, SMU, and Rice. Pretty much zero interest in private non-Ivies outside of Texas except maybe Vanderbilt and Duke and the nearby state schools like Arkansas, Oklahoma, and LSU which absorbed the spillover of Texas students who didn’t get into UT or TAMU. I can’t think of a single student in 10 years of teaching who sought out a fancy northeast LAC. I don’t think any of them had their careers or futures within Texas or the Southeast/Southwest negatively affected as a result.

My husband is in a position to interview and make hiring recommendations for IT here in NC and he has said it doesn’t matter. He looks at the person’s qualifications way before he looks at where they went to college.

Of the friends I have who are at the upper echelons of their fields, I don’t think it matters that much where you go to undergrad either. I think you can definitely make connections in the Ivy League and elsewhere, but you can also do that in grad school and probably make better connections there.

I’m in Chapel Hill, so not a fan of Duke :smiley: . Just do not like that place!

In the two professions that I have worked in (marine sciences and education) I’ve also observed that to the extent that college even makes any difference at all, it is with entry level jobs. Once you have some professional experience on your resume, the college or university you went to no longer even attracts notice. Employers want to know what you’ve done, not where you went to school. Other fields may be different. But in 20+ hiring committees I don’t recall ever once discussing undergrad education when hiring for mid-level positions. Maybe grad school in the “who did you study with?” sense in the marine sciences. But not undergrad.

Waco, Texas is quite conservative–even by Texas standards–so that may explain in part the reluctance of students to apply to Northeastern LACs.

With respect to “systemic analysis”, all I can suggest is to contact individual schools for their career placement stats.

Typically, I see questions regarding whether or not a non-elite school outside of the Wash DC to New England region can place graduates into competitive financial employers in the Northeast region so it is nice to read a post concerned with placement in Texas or in the Pacific Northwest.

It’s perhaps a bit more conservative, but parents and students are just as achievement oriented as anyplace else. The actual HYPS schools and big names like MIT and CalTech would certainly draw interest. But the whole next tier down of schools like Northwestern, Notre Dame, Georgetown, Washington U, USC, and all the elite east coast LACs and “near Ivies” just draw zero attention. I think people intuitively know that if they are going to stay in Texas, a UT or TAMU degree will serve them better than some 'near Ivy" east coast private school. And they are probably right. Texas is especially parochial. But I expect the same thing hold in many other parts of the country as well.

I’ve been in Texas my entire adult life and agree with the sentiments here. However, there are kids who desperately want to experience a different geographic area, want to meet students from other parts of the country and just want to spread their wings and not have half their high school at the same college- even if it is a huge university like UT or A&M. That said, the networks can’t be beat. I think there are other states that are similar- if you live in Virginia and can get into UVA, there isn’t much sense in going to Brown or Williams if you think you will ultimately settle back in Virginia somewhere. Also, there are superstar students who are told throughout their lives that they should aspire to Harvard, Princeton and the like, and they pursue that. The lure of prestige can be a strong one. I’ve hired for a few companies in Texas and while, yes, we are impressed with an applicant with a strong school pedigree, it isn’t much of a tip (if any) over a good candidate from UTexas or A&M/Tech. We Texans have our personal school loyalties, of course.

I think it is a little different for tippy top students from states that might not have as strong of a state university, like perhaps Kentucky or Arkansas. Those students might be more inclined to venture in search of more prestige. Not that you can’t get a great education at those places, but the bottom can be a little lower.

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Perhaps it is not surprising that, in many states, the state flagship and the better known in-state private schools are favorably seen than they are elsewhere.

But there may be some exceptions. Based on comments in these forums, the northeast region (including NY and NJ) seems more likely to associate their state flagships with lower prestige than people elsewhere would.

This is true in other parts of the country too. We live in Wisconsin and most of the top students here go to Madison. It’s a great school and for in-state cost, it’s hard to justify going to another larger state school. Those who want to get away from Wisconsin often go to Minnesota because we have reciprocity with them. Those who can’t go to those schools go to one of the other smaller UW schools. At D’s school a few applied to ivies and schools like Duke or Vanderbilt, though most ended up at Madison or Minnesota. There is one girl from her class at Colby and one at Wellesley. Besides them and a boy who went to Cornell for football, I don’t know of anyone at schools more on the east coast. D is at Rice and it’s very rare that people here have ever heard of it. She certainly didn’t choose it so that she’d get the satisfaction of people back home being impressed!

Very interesting. I used to live in TX and my family still does. I left after 9th grade, but it was already clear the pull UT and TAMU had. Even so, there were small groups of kids who wanted nothing other than to leave the state for college. Almost all of these were not born and raised Texans.

We are in VA now, and while UVA is certainly a great school, it is not at ALL a fit for my older kid. So she is not applying. We tried to push her to apply, even if as a “backup”, due to the great education and reputation. We agreed to let it go, after seeing from data from the HS that a good chunk of kids from the school do not apply at all–and instead go to an LAC or smaller RU. My second kid, however, will likely apply. “Fit” is very emphasized at our school and I am glad, since I now realize what a bad fit UVA would be for the older one.

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It’s probably not coincidence that the states with the strongest assortment of private schools also tend to have the weakest state schools. It’s also probably not coincidence that we are talking about the oldest part of the country where most of the private schools existed long before the growth in public universities in the later half of the 19th Century.

For example, the UC System in California and the SUNY system in New York aren’t even in the same universe or conversation. The top SUNY campuses are Binghamton, Albany, Buffalo, and Stonybrook. The top UC campuses are Berkeley, UCLA, UC-San Diego, UC-Santa Barbara, and UC-Irvine. SUNY-Binghamton is a respectable school, but it’s no Berkeley or UCLA.

The public universities in MA, CT, NJ, and NH are not any more impressive but that’s where most of the Ivies are as well as most of the top private LACs.

It feels like a lot of the conversation and obsessions here on this forum are really being driven by parents from the Northeast where the situation is basically different from everywhere else in the country where local state schools and local privates have much greater regional reputations than the might have nationally.

I have found that there are cult-like followings in many places. Being from CA, it’s a high achievement to attend UCLA, UCB, or USC. Even Cal Poly SLO is pretty well regarded for its business and engineering. Now, if I were to ask someone in Texas about SLO, they most likely have never heard of it.

Similarly, when I tell Californians I attend TCU, in Texas, there is almost always (no joke) a physical recoil from people. Usually its followed by a joke about cowboys and “Why?” Back right after I had committed, I would have people ask me why I didn’t apply to/ wasn’t going to a UC or Ivy. It’s pretty simple to explain that away with financial prudence, but I still think its hard for some Californians to wrap their heads around Texas, and vice versa.

The important thing is to remember that no matter where one attends, they should choose somewhere that lets them thrive. The friends you make and people you learn from will be much more lasting in the long run than the impression of the name of an institution to hiring managers after you have had a few jobs in the industry.

Texas is almost a unique case. We lived there for 13 years. Part of it is geography. Every state surrounding Texas is universally poorer, less developed, and less sophisticated and urban. Louisiana, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and New Mexico. In fact, the neighboring states to those states are no more prosperous: Mississippi, Tennessee, Missouri, Kansas, and Arizona. If you grow up in Texas you have to go all the way to Denver, LA, Chicago, or Atlanta to find cities that are on par with DFW or Houston. In fact Texas’ medium sized cities like Austin and San Antonio are still twice the size and more prosperous than the largest cities in any neighboring state.

So it isn’t surprising that Texans become so parochial about their own institutions. They truly are better for the most part. The only other state that is so regionally dominant is California, which also far exceeds any of its neighbors in terms of universities or cities or economy.

The HS I taught at in TX was a major football factory and I usually had 5 or 6 students every year who were being recruited for D1 football schools. I always advised them to get as far from Texas as the could, for a whole lot of reasons. Texas will still be here for you to return to. But if you don’t get out now to see another part of the country then you’re never going to leave. That was the opposite advice from all their parents and coaches who were always pushing Baylor, UT, TAMU, Tech, OU, etc. The kids who left the state to go to places like Oregon State, USC, Florida State, etc. usually ended up doing better because they left their posse of friends behind and all the distractions that brought.

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Prestige is the eye of the beholder, and what is considered “prestigious” in one region is not always as prestigious in another region, and there are regional preferences as well.

In many states in the SE and Midwest, the state flagship often has more prestige than any Ivy league. So Ohio State rules in Ohio, U Alabama in Alabama, etc. Moreover, there is also often a general suspicion of East Coast Schools in many places outside of the NE and Mid Atlantic.

Moreover, as @HighTide2020 correctly states, the biggest advantage of attending a “prestigious” college is the networking, and most people grow up, go to school, and settle down in the same general region. So there will not be many people in Omaha, NE who attended Yale, but there will be a great many who attended U Nebraska, Lincoln.

In the business and law world of the NE and the Mid Atlantic, I would assume that the Ivies, MIT, and the “elite” LACs reign supreme. However, the further you get from there, the less people are impressed by degrees from these schools. I am not sure how many people in Idaho have actually heard of Brown, Dartmouth, or Columbia, while it is likely that even fewer have heard of Williams or Amherst (I’m not even mentioning Bowdoin, Middlebury, Colby, etc).

For the vast majority of the positions for which people apply the difference is between whether a person has a degree or not, rather than where the degree was awarded

I think it’s hard for a LOT of people to wrap their heads around Texas.

Outside of Texas, it would not be surprising if TCU were known mainly in a college football context, and that those who do not follow college football may think “religious college that they never heard of”.

I live in MA. Its true that the best colleges in the area are nationally prestigious ones. If you have a kid at the top of the class, that’s where they will be applying (in addition to safeties, of course). UMass is widely looked down on as a safety school for top kids. This doesn’t mean that smart kids don’t go there - many do - but it is usually due to financial restrictions. Lets face it - the top public university in the state, UMass Amherst, is ranked 66 by US News. Why wouldn’t you aim for the local private ones that are more highly ranked? There’s also almost no school spirit associated with following the sports teams. More people follow BC.

In the workforce, I come in contact with a lot of engineers who went to UMass. There doesn’t seem to be any stigma associated with it. However, I can’t recall meeting a single UMass grad outside of engineering. Obviously there are lots of them, so they must be around and be employed, but I don’t see them. Probably should add that I deal mainly with engineers, lawyers, and regulators in my professional life.

This type of discussion comes up regularly.

I grew up in So Cal. I guess I had heard of HYP. In my high school, people aspired to USC (awesome) or UCLA (losers. Haha, guess where my parents went?) All the others didn’t really come into the picture.