Can college choice affect future jobs? Hiring managers weigh in

Posted November 4, 2015
Updated November 5, 2015

— As high school students embark on the journey of applying for college, many question how the school they choose will impact their future. Will a bigger or more expensive university lead to a better job after graduation?

Some top hiring managers in the Triangle say it depends.

High school senior Hunter Hurst has applied to five colleges, a mix of large and small, and says he is feeling the pressure of where to go. Tuition is a factor.

At North Carolina’s schools, tuition ranges from about $8,500 for in-state students at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and North Carolina State University to almost $50,000 a year at Duke and Wake Forest.

“Our hope is that, somehow, he’ll shine in a big school, and we know that’s hard to do,” said Hurst’s mother, Sue Yannello.

Big or small, top hiring managers say a diploma from a top-ranked school may give students an edge. Name recognition of a school is a factor, according to one hiring manager, who said it’s about a 6 on a scale of 1 to 10 in importance on what she looks for in a resume.

There are more advantages offered to students at larger universities, but it all depends on whether students are able and willing to take advantage of them.

At PC giant Lenovo’s Morrisville headquarters, Director of Talent Acquisition Lisa Miller says she first looks for at least a 3.0 grade point average.

“We absolutely look for candidates who have gone to competitive schools, but we understand that is not the only entry point,” she said. “We look at things like internships, what kind of work experience have you had, have you done leadership in clubs or Greek organizations on campus.”

Miller says for some specialty fields – finance and accounting, for instance – the criteria is sharply focused on national rankings.

“They look at Bloomberg, U.S. News (& World Report) and Forbes to make sure they’re keeping up with the top rankings for that particular discipline,” she said.

When it comes to starting salary, a recent overall study by gave the U.S. Naval Academy top billing, followed by the U.S. Military Academy and Harvey Mudd College in Claremont, Calif.

Duke University ranked No. 38, the highest of any school in North Carolina, followed by Wake Forest at 122, North Carolina A&T State University at 163 and N.C. State at 175.

Christine Barczak with GlaxoSmithKline’s leadership program zeroes in on campus recruiting. GSK spends its resources at large universities, including Duke and UNC-Chapel Hill. While they don’t rule out candidates based on their college, recruiting teams don’t make it to smaller schools, meaning those students don’t get the same opportunities for face time.

“They should be asking the question, ‘What companies have come on your campus to actually do recruiting over the last few years, and who do you expect?’” Barczak said. “Generally speaking, the students at larger universities tend to work much harder to prepare them for going into those interviews by asking them to do those things like experience something globally, and set them up ahead of time for those things. It doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t be a candidate if you went to a smaller school or a community college, as long as you really can represent you have all those things.”

For many parents and students, cost is critical. Tuition at community and technical colleges is a fraction of what it runs at larger universities.

While hiring managers are clear that a well-known school will give students more opportunities, they won’t say whether they prefer a specific school over another.

Greg Merritt, vice president of marketing and public affairs at CREE, has advice for students faced with the dilemma.

“Go to the best school you can attend, but more importantly, do well while you’re there,” he said.

Studying abroad is also huge. Every hiring manager WRAL News spoke with said it’s no longer seen as a luxury for affluent students but rather a way for students to set themselves apart.

Even if a student can’t make it abroad, hiring managers recommend getting an internship that allows interaction with other cultures and time zones. Managers say they want to see that global focus.

Resources for students:


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  • Greg Bower Nov 5, 2015
    user avatar

    In my experience, the best bet is a mix of soft and hard skills. Being a tradesman (or woman) is one thing. Being one who can run their own business, can effectively and productively engage with a variety of people (employees, customers, vendors, etc) and can analyze industry trends wrt how they will affect the business is another. Soft skills matter a lot in the long run.

  • Kevin O'Donnell Nov 5, 2015
    user avatar

    Well said, William James.

    Those kids studying poly sci, etc. are better off studying plumbing, HVAC, etc.

  • Tyrone Biggum Nov 5, 2015
    user avatar

    View quoted thread

    If you haven't already, look up the piece were Mike Rowe from Dirty Jobs discusses the "diploma dilemma" as it pertains to going the college route vs mastering a trade. He makes some great points and has started a foundation to help spread awareness that college might not be for everyone but that doesn't mean you can't be extremely successful in your life and career.

  • William James Nov 5, 2015
    user avatar published the entry and mid career salaries of US colleges and the big name and IT schools consistently allowed graduates to earn in the $70-120K range mid-career vs. grads from small schools who hovered around $45-50K range mid-career. Kids in the smaller colleges majoring in Social Work, Psy, Crj, History, Comm, or the like would have been far better advised to enter a Skilled Trade, which would have allowed them to avoid college debt, enter the work force earlier, and allow them to earn significantly more in the long run. Skilled trades pay in the $60-120K range, even at the low end that means they would have earned over 1/2 million more over a 30yr career. Just saying, nobody ever talks about the millions of college grads living in Trailer Parks or Plumbers and HVAC living in 4,000 sq/ft brick homes!