Yes… “where you go to college” does matter… a lot… but not necessarily for the reasons normally discussed

By College Counseling

Does moving to a different location “matter” in terms of how your life is affected?

Does the group of people you are around “matter” in terms of how your life is affected?

Does the general atmosphere/environment of where you are “matter” in terms of how your life is affected?

Rhetorical questions, of course.  But each presents a counter to the nonsensical comment that “it doesn’t matter” where one goes to college.

It matters enormously.

If you were told that you were going to go on a 4 year vacation, would you leave it to chance or because you know it would matter, you would plan carefully?

Moving away from home is almost always the biggest life event of any 18 year old.

Where you live – both the region of the country – and the type of location (urban-rural) has enormous life impacts.

The people – fellow students – have equal if not more impact on one’s life.

The fuzzy term – atmosphere/environment – ranging from wild-football-fraternity types to city-coffee shop-artsy types and all in between has distinct life impacts.

That 16-18 years olds do not fully realize the giant differences is understandable. The crazy parent on the soccer sideline who claims it doesn’t matter is flat out lying – because she actually does care – is saying so to relieve stress (understandable) or is simply someone who should not be giving advice.

Now I am well aware that the normal meaning of “does it matter where you go to college” relates to conventional success in the work world.

Here, I always note that “it depends”.

If you are heading into a family business, then “no”.

If you are becoming an elementary school teacher, then… pretty much… “no” but I’ve been rebutted by teachers on this point who claim they were hired because they went to BC’s School of Education” (example) or that they were not hired because they went to a college that no one had ever heard of.

Similarly, there are other areas where prestige does not matter.

But most 18 year olds are trying to “maximize their options” and, in that case, the prestige of the college is an asset to be leveraged.

I also note to parents: your child may care more than you do because – as has been relayed to me dozens of times by young people – “college is my brand”.  Sounds cringy but that’s what I hear!

There is a reason why “she went to Harvard” is used in so many movies as a short cut to saying the character is brilliant.

I answered the following on Quora which elaborates on the point:

If you had the choice to hire a person from Harvard with a 3.5 GPA or a person from a state school with a 4.0 GPA, who would you hire?

My response:

I realize the outcry that will stem from my answer. But I have asked similar questions to hundreds of managers with hiring responsibility as well as countless owners of businesses.

First, let’s set the ground rules. Many who answer this question create a false set-up. They load up the state school grad with all sorts of better traits than the elite school grad. The state school student is grittier, humble, and harder working etc. I’ve even seen answers that will assume the state school grad has better interpersonal and emotional abilities. That’s a straw man argument. No one is arguing that if the state school student has superior talent in other areas he/she would not be the superior candidate. Instead, this is a single variable question. We have to assume every other factor is identical.

Second, to make the hypothetical really consequential, strip away the notion that you are hiring someone for a big company. Instead, pretend: “this is the person that you will trust with the success of your business.” Much like with a sports analogy – some might posit strong arguments for why one team is better than the other but change their mind when asked to bet real money on the outcome – many of those biased in favor of the state school student for “a company” change their mind when their own company is at stake.

Third, in the real world, this single variable set-up can’t be viewed post-interview. As soon as someone is interviewed, then a host of subjective factors come into play. Instead, in the real world, the question is “assuming other factors are essentially equal but one candidate has a 3.5 GPA from Harvard and the other has a 4.0 from State, and you only have the time to interview one candidate for your business, who do you interview?”

When put that way – which is the accurate way to analyze this single variable – the overwhelming response has been for the Harvard student.

This is not an advocacy for a position. This is simply reality.