Greetings to you all from sunny Orlando, where I’m spending the next few days at the American Advertising Federation national conference surrounded by hundreds of very sharp college students (much like yourself, dear reader) from around the country who are competing in the National Student Advertising Competition.
I’m also surrounded by obnoxiously thick, hot, wet air. I admire you Southern folks for being able to live with it on a daily basis without going nuts.
OK, down to business. Cassidy has some pretty general questions for me today on springing for a “name” school vs. — well, vs. schools that aren’t so well-known.
I am however, at the point of deciding on where to go to graduate school. My career center advisor told me that much of the “big name” (read Ivy league and co) schools get their prestige from the name, their teaching is not much different than other less “ivy” schools. However, my academic advisor and professors tell me that to have the best job prospects in my field (international relations, focusing in on Russia/Eastern Europe, with future governmental work in say the State Department) I should attend the “name” schools.
In other words, I share some of the dilemma of the previous cases, but am slightly different. I am looking at graduate schools, I don’t have a dream graduate school, and I want to make the best decision both career wise and financially.
What advice can you give?
Well, as you’ve probably heard me say before on this site, there’s not necessarily a one-size-fits-all, cut-and-dried answer to these types of questions, so let’s just start with some general advice and then break down some specifics for your personal situation.
Sometimes “name schools” have their “name” for a reason, and other times they don’t. I mean, I don’t think many people would argue that Harvard and Yale are overhyped clones of, say, Southeast Missouri State and Eastern Kentucky. However, there are also a lot of great public schools which, along with costing you significantly less money, will also earn you just as strong a list of job prospects as 99% of nameplate private institutions.
Adding another level of complexity to the equation are the schools and programs *within* those nameplate universities. Let’s say, for example, Cornell. In specialties like hotel management and labor relations, Cornell is top-notch. But that doesn’t necessarily mean, even though Cornell is a bona fide academic powerhouse of a nameplate university, that *every* Cornell grad program is worth a giant financial premium over and above that of a strong, cheaper public school.
Remember also that, even if the teaching is, as your counselor suggests, basically the same at Ivies and non-Ivies (an assertion that is probably true sometimes but often not), the real question is — how much does that even matter?
It sounds counterintuitive to say, but it’s true — what you’ve actually LEARNED in school is not always the primary reason you get the job you get. After all, the employer never really knows what you actually know — she just gets a resume (your personal claims about what you know), she sees the school you attended and, if you’re lucky, she gets a recommendation from a trusted source who says you’re hot shit.
And that’s where the name schools can and do come in handy; they instantly bolster your resume because they have reputations that precede them. “Cassidy Smith” may not mean anything to an employer initially, but “Yale University” certainly does. And it gives you an advantage over “Cassidy Jones” from “University of Palookaville” or some other (possibly very good) public schools whose reputation is not instantly known.
Now, having said all that, let’s look at your personal situation.
International relations means, as you said, very possibly working for the government, and of course working with officials in other countries. Anytime you get outside the U.S., the value of those name schools increases, because only our top, top schools are going to filter into the lexicon/mindspace outside our borders.
So, an absolutely killer U.S. public university like University of Michigan — a phenomenal school who can chest up to the Ivies any day of the week — still suffers a reputation hit overseas vs. a Harvard or Yale or Princeton or Stanford, because foreigners just aren’t going to have 50 of our top institutions on the tip of their brain. It’s just gonna be the top handful.
Again, though, everything is relative. Do you have connections already in the IR field? (If not, get started making some, quicklike.) If you do, then you’ve got a great shot at a great job without an Ivy League education, because nothing in the business world — whatever business you’re in — trumps connections and referrals. Nothing.
Another item to consider, as always, is cost. Remember what I’ve said before about how simple it is to sketch out the basic financial equation of expensive school vs. cheaper school. Subtract the projected cost of the cheaper school from that of the expensive school, and ask yourself if the additional cost you’ll incur from attending the expensive school is something you can make up throughout your working life.
For example, if it costs $50,000 for a master’s program at Harvard and $15,000 for a master’s program at — oh, I don’t know, UMass — that’s a $35,000 difference. Then, ask yourself — if I take this Harvard degree, will I make an extra $35,000 in my lifetime that I can SOLELY attribute to the choice of Harvard? If you think so, then great. Then ask yourself if you can afford to make the bigger student loan payments *while* you’re stepping up to that increased salary level. If so, go for it.
Also remember, of course, that finances aren’t everything. Let’s say that your research indicated that no, you would not make any extra money whatsoever with your Harvard degree than the UMass degree (highly unlikely, I know, but we’re hypothesizing here). The Harvard degree may still be totally worth it to you with respect to your happiness, which is always the real goal of any and every endeavor, yeah? If Harvard can better connect you with nonprofits who serve Third-World countries and that’s what your life’s calling is, then you may be more than willing to cough up an extra couple hundred bucks a month for 10-20 years for that opportunity.
That’s my wisdom for the way. But what about you — what do YOU think Cassidy should do? Let us know in the comments below.
I’m off to sit through seminars and perhaps, if at all possible, hit the pool and blind poor onlookers with the site of my pasty South Dakota white-boy skin.
Oh, and kudos to those of you gave me the business about my typos yesterday. I hate typos worse than anyone, and even though I was hurrying like hell to write yesterday’s post during my layover at O’Hare, I still should’ve held off publishing it until I’d had time to proofread it.