College: Name Brand or Generic?

March 29, 2009

When you go to fill your prescriptions one of the first decisions you have to make is whether to go for the name brand or generic drug. While most may say that their is a huge difference, if you ask a doctor if their is, they will tell you their really isn’t. Just like with medicine, everyday brings new choices, and among those choices is whether to choose the name brand, or the run of the mill generics.

Currently, we are recruiting talent college students to be part of our Entrepreneurship Internship Program. For our internship program we listed at the top 50 schools across the nation. After interviewing many students who are interested in the program, I began to think how big of a role a college’s name has to do with getting a job. On a resume, one of the first things that you list is where you went to school. For my own personal opinion, if someone wrote down on their resume that they went to the best school in the nation, I would be impressed. But the question I asked myself was why? While I didn’t want to create a bias against other applicants, it is hard to not to have some expectations of the applicant. Still, the interview proved to me that a college’s name can only get you so far.

The applicant that I interviewed was anything but stellar and made me realize that ‘brand names’ are just a name. The applicant was incoherent during the interview and was obviously unprepared. No matter what your resume says, your resume cannot speak words nor can it tell others why you should get the position. After having more interviews that resulted in the same way I began to think if we were targeting the right colleges. As a startup company you face many big decisions, one of which is finding the right personnel to join your company. If you think of your company as a boat, then your employees are the propeller that moves you.

Choosing a college to go to is perhaps one of the biggest decisions you will make in your life. Not only does it shape your future but for four years of your life you discover who ‘you’ are. For many of us, choosing between the big name school and the small lesser known school is a complicated and stressful decision. A simple way to look at it is this situation:

You have two cars: One is a Ferrari but ugly and has few things you like, and one is a no-name brand but has every feature that you want. Making the decision is hard because their are little things about each you want. You want the big name, but you also want it to have the things you want. In an ideal situation you can get both, but things rarely turn out that way. I once learned in school that “for every gain, there is a loss.” In the same sense, choosing one college over another can have that kind of impact.

In the corporate world, students that graduate from the big name, easily recognizable schools are treated differently than others that come from a lesser known school. By treated differently, I mean are given more opportunities for jobs.

Why does that happen?

Michael Jordan is considered to be one of the greatest basketball players who ever lived. As a result of this, his children will always be expected to be naturally gifted and good at sports. Using the same comparison, students that graduate from big name schools carry on that ‘legacy.’ When people hear that you graduated from “so and so” school, they will immediately begin to associate you with what the school was known for or what they have heard about it. The corporate world is much the same. Send them a resume from a top school in the nation and you have already impressed them. Send them a resume from a small school and the rest of your resume will have to be stunning and impressive.

Today, I spoke with my good friend and CMO, Jun Loayza, about the impact a college’s name has. I remember when Jun first interviewed me for Future Delivery, I was super excited to talk with him. I had practiced and prepared for our interview hoping to impress and be memorable. The one fear that I will confess is that I was afraid that my resume would not be as outstanding as other applicants. While I graduated from one of the Top 40 public universities in the nation, my school was relatively unknown because of its location. Speaking with Jun about the impact of a colleges name, Jun said that

“in a corporate world, your school’s name has a big impact. Big companies recruit from the big schools. For an entrepreneur, not as much.”

So what kind of impact is it? Well for starters it is getting your foot through the door. That is one of the hardest parts. From their it is your ‘job’ to sell yourself.

Whether you come from a big name school, or a lesser known school, as I mentioned before: your resume and college can’t interview for you. If you are able to get an interview with a company don’t rely on your resume or the college you went to. Remember, they want to interview you, not the school.

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  • Reply Jun Loayza March 29, 2009 at 10:59 am

    Hey Joe, well written post.

    When I was a High School student, I knew that I wanted to get into Berkeley or UCLA. I knew my grades or extra-curricular weren’t meant for the IV Leagues, but I also knew that I was at the top of my class so I definitely should get into a well-known school.

    Going to a state school never crossed my mind. In my head, if I went to a state school, I would have failed at life.

    I mean, lets be honest here. I had a 4.4 GPA in high school, played on the basketball team, and had a pretty decent SAT score. If I went to lets say, Cal State Long Beach, I would be joining a group of people with a 3.0 GPA, few extra-curriculars, and a 1100 SAT.

    There was just no way that I would have gone to a State.

    Looking back, what would I do differently?

    Hahahha… if I really could go back, I would work intelligently to get into Stanford, Harvard, or Princeton. If you think about it, it’s really not that difficult. You just got to be smart about it.

    In the entrepreneurial world, school doesn’t matter. However, the connections and resources you will get at an IV League or at a UCLA dwarf those offered at a state school.

    We live in a society where first impressions count for everything, and a well-known school is going to give you that foot in the door.

    – Jun Loayza

  • Reply James S. Walker March 29, 2009 at 8:49 pm

    Interesting post Joe. Definitely went in a different direction than what I thought it would when I started. I like that!

    I’m not sure if everyone thinks of all the necessaries before making their decision. Maybe it’s only in hindsight, having finished, that we can really understand the benefits of going to a school with a brand.

    I applied to 7 colleges, only 1 of them Ivy League or true brand. I followed what I was led to believe was the standard model: Reach, Standard and Safety. The Ivy was my reach, I had about 3 standard and 3 safety schools. In the end, I chose to go to GW, a “good” school.

    I put “good” in quotations because rank or prestige didn’t matter to me. GW had a decent reputation, even though it has never graced the top 50 list. It was more important that it was in a city that I liked with an engaged student population and endless opportunities.

    Now looking back I know that even though it’s not an Ivy brand, it’s a brand that helps when it comes to getting jobs but not just because of the name.

    I think you’d be hard pressed to find someone who interviewed a GW alum and didn’t say that we were a hard-working, dedicated, career-driven group of people. That speaks volumes in my mind, more so than a rank or Ivy status ever would.

    Once you develop an impression about the type of people a certain school produces, it stays with you. It happened with me when I had to hire interns, and I think you experienced the same thing because you began to wonder if you were getting the right people. I think that has less to do with intelligence (rank) and more to do with goals, personality and fit (things that help make the overall impression).

    This only works if, like you, people are open to pulling from different points in the spectrum. If that’s not the case, then the bias can drift in and your school probably is what will help your resume out of the email inbox and onto the interviewer’s desk.


  • Reply @MattWilsontv March 30, 2009 at 3:23 pm

    Pick your business college by the quality of networking available.

    A. Who your friends will be
    B. Who your professors will be
    C. Who your alumni will be
    D. Who your associates at groups/associations on campus like the Collegiate Entrepreneurs’ Organization will be
    E. Who’s on the board of trustees
    F. Who donates to the school
    G. Where is your school located, who’s around the community to network with.

    Go to school with a plan to make a name for yourself within the community.

    (BTW, i’m 23, i know most 18 year olds don’t think like this)

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