A Recruiter’s Take on Hiring Students from No-Name Schools

I’ve been receiving some fascinating comments lately that were triggered by recent posts that shared the agony of students who aimed for the Ivies and other elite schools and got spurned or who couldn’t afford the tab. If you missed the posts, here they are:

Should You Blow the Budget on Cornell?

The Odds of Getting Off a Wait List

I am sharing one of those comments today that was written by Mary, a foreign affairs specialist from Fairfax, VA, who is also a recruiter for a federal agency. (She can’t divulge her full name or the agency where she works.). She was reacting to the post that included the predicament of a young woman who had been accepted at Cornell, but the school that the family can afford is the honors college at the University of Maryland.

I hope everyone reads what Mary has to say below because I find it extremely encouraging for smart students everywhere. – Lynn O.

Perspectives of a Job Recruiter

I am involved in recruiting for a very selective federal agency. Our jobs require very high level skills, including a minimum of a master’s degree. Most people I work with are brilliant. They get their jobs here by passing a rigorous entrance test on knowledge of foreign affairs, foreign language aptitude, writing samples, oral exam (to determine presentation skills), quantitative skills, and a psychological battery.

We purposely recruit from a very wide variety of schools from across the country, to include small exclusive liberal arts schools,  less selective small schools, large state universities, historically black colleges, work colleges, women’s colleges, some Ivy Leagues, some Public Ivies, etc.

We have people from famous and not-so-famous colleges. We have smart people from every type of college you can imagine — people from Middle Tennessee State University working alongside people from Harvard. And guess what? They’re all doing the same work with great enthusiasm, smarts, and capability.

It matters not at all where they got their degrees but rather what they did with their time in the colleges they did attend. It matters what kind of person they are, how persistent they are, how hard they work, how creative they are, and how they present themselves.

Sometimes recruits from the big state schools have the greatest persistence and deal the best with bureaucratic issues, because to survive and thrive in their schools, they developed that set of skills. Many of the folks from small liberal arts colleges of any level of selectivity are our most creative and insightful employees.

Sometimes the poor kid who had to pay his way through Chico State has the most pluck and is the most driven. These types of employees are sometimes the most successful of all, because they are used to working hard from the get-go and did not come by anything in life through their dad’s connections. They have no sense of entitlement, so are willing to get their hands dirty for the mission.

Diversity Valued in the Workplace

We don’t want all of our employees to be from one social background, one socio-economic strata or one racial background. We need and thrive on diversity — it is absolutely essential to our agency’s success and to our country’s success. Most companies recognize this, and thus do not only recruit from name-brand institutions.

University of Maryland

There are so many successful people in my workplace and similar ones who did not go to “name brand U.” In fact, I work with a number of highly successful University of Maryland graduates, some of whom did just what Ms. O’Shaughnessy is claiming here is true — turned down more prestigious private schools to attend UMD’s honors program because the price was right. They said they had small, intimate classes with exceptional peers and fantastic professors.

In my opinion, these parents will be making a very silly mistake to mortgage their future to send their child to a name-brand college for undergraduate studies. If anything, save that for the graduate level, when there are fewer credit hours to carry and at a level where the reputation is more important.

Save Your Money for Grad School

As an undergraduate, students at Cornell are in huge, impersonal lecture classes with a lot of teaching assistants. Why kill yourself to pay for that? Go to the University of Maryland as an undergrad and then focus on the Ivies for grad school, if you still care at that point.

In the meantime, just look around you and count up the number of successful, happy people you know who went to all manner of non-famous colleges or none at all — your friends, family, and neighbors, as well as some famous folks (Steve Jobs, Warren Buffet, Harry S. Truman, Ronald Reagan, the Wright Brothers, Albert Einstein, and Michael Dell to name a few…)

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  1. My predicament is that I can go to the great local school on honors college and total tuition, book, and some other fee coverage from merit scholarships, but they don’t have Navy ROTC or rowing, which are both extremely important to me. I have a full scholarship from Navy ROTC that I can use at a private school, but I need to get in those schools first!

  2. When I see resumes I’m a lot more interested in an honors program designation than what school they attended. I also love a lot of gritty pay-the-bills jobs. I don’t care where anyone went to school because I’ve seen 20 years of work from great people with degrees from obscure schools.

    Here’s why: I can teach anybody anything I hire them to do, but what I can’t teach them is to show up and work hard every single day and have a great attitude. Honors students and worked-my-way-through-school students have resumes that prove they’ve got that ethic down. They picked harder routes and they stepped up their effort a little more than other people.

    I have no idea if my views are representative, but I can tell you that in the US small businesses do the majority of all hiring.

  3. A great post. My child is interested in attending a school near our home and it has received a lot of accolades. Someone I know well works there and he says it is a great school. Yet most people around here would not consider it because it is local. My child can live in the dorm and have as much or as little to do with her parents as she wants. It is most likely the most ecomonical choice she can make, which will leave funds for graduate school, should she pursue that.

  4. Lynn,

    Thank you for sharing this post. Parents and students alike should read it and keep in mind that WHAT you do with your college experience is so much more important than WHERE you go.

  5. Lynn,
    This letter sums it up perfectly. I hope all parents read this, take a breath, and work on where their kids got in, and go forward to improve their lives without looking back. It’s April 17, two weeks from pulling the trigger(or wallet) on housing!