6 answers

How much does your undergrad school really matter?

Asked Port Orange, Florida

I have heard lots of things about undergrad not really mattering in the long run (I plan on continuing to get a law degree or some other form of Masters degree). Some say it is more worth it to stay local and get in-state tuition at public universities (in Florida they are all very good), but others encourage more selective, private schools for your undergrad dregree #college . Is one really better than the other?

6 answers

Desiree’s Answer

Updated Portland, Oregon

Hi Brenna,

You've distilled the debate very well! Completing your undergrad is what matters, less so than the school.

You may be interested in the argument Malcom Gladwell makes in his book David and Goliath: you're better off being a "big fish in a little pond" than struggling at an elite school. (The little pond could be a less-prestigious state school.) It's not the school that imparts the benefit or guarantees your success. It's what you do while you're there.

This argument resonates with my undergrad experience. Like you, I'd planned on continuing higher education into a graduate program after finishing undergrad. My family didn't have a lot of money for college, so an in-state school was my first choice. My mother worked in securities law and connected me with a wildly successful partner at a technology law firm.

The conversation he and I had about my undergrad and graduate school completely changed my mind! He recommended that I focus on subjects that interest me to ensure that I would be motivated to learn. With average grades and less-than compelling LSAT scores, he didn't feel like my law school options were that great. He said, if he could do it all again, he'd have taken an entry-level job in business (rather than go to law school) and been equally successful with less work.

I took him quite literally, getting an entry-level job out of undergrad and working my way up. I did eventually get my MBA, which was greatly informed by my work experience. In all that time, where I went for my undergrad mattered very little.

You may have read or heard news stories about how many students graduate college with astronomical student debt, and that's what I would encourage you to avoid.

Desiree recommends the following next steps:

  • Read the book excerpt from David & Goliath. Does his point of view resonate with your expectations of college? https://ash.myschoolapp.com/ftpimages/401/download/download_1009994.pdf
  • Ask your parents or teachers if they know anyone working in a field you're interested in. Interview them about the path to their current job and what they learned along the way.

Alexa’s Answer


My degree is in engineering, but the same sort of idea is still at play. There isn't a "correct" answer, but I will explain why people are giving you this advice so you can make the best decision for you.

  • Camp 1: Your undergraduate school doesn't matter, you should save money and go to a state college/university. Higher education is very, very expensive. Generally, your most recent degree is the one that people see first. Financially, it makes a lot of sense to save the "big bill" for your graduate degree because that's the one people see first. For example, if you go to Harvard law school, you are still a Harvard law graduate regardless of where you got your undergraduate degree.
  • Camp 2: Your undergraduate school does matter, you should go to a selective private college. Your undergraduate college does matter... When you are applying to graduate schools. If you go to a prestigious school for your undergraduate degree, you will have an easier time getting into a prestigious graduate school. Additionally, a prestigious school can open more doors for you because they have a name behind them. Also you'll meet more people who end up in higher places. With engineering, at my state school I know like two people who ended up working at big tech companies in California. If I went to a prestigious private school, half of my graduating class would be headed to the Bay Area.

NOTE: The biggest difference between a prestigious private school and a state school is how much they make you do stuff. Attending an excellent undergraduate program does not automatically make you a good graduate school candidate. If you go to a state university and do very well academically, get relevant work experience, and are involved on campus, you are in a much better position than someone who barley made it through a prestigious program. A state school and a prestigious school will generally offer you similar doors, however at a state school you have to open them yourself whereas a prestigious school will throw you through them.

Paul’s Answer

Updated New York, New York

The responses provided so far are all correct because there isn't a straight forward yes or no answer. The correct answer depends upon what field you plan on going into and who your employer is. For example, I've heard that your chance of getting hired at a prestigious law firm increases if you graduated from a top tier law school. But what if working 70+ hours a week at a fancy law firm isn't your goal? You may have other career aspirations that don't include taking on huge amounts of debt just so you can have a particular school appear on your resume. Something I learned a while back: The name of the school on your resume is less important than what you did after graduation! The name of the school might get your foot in the door but at the end of the day, your employer want's to see how well you perform in the job.

Now as it pertains to undergrad, I'm of the opinion that a graduate school will look at your transcript to see which courses you took and how well you did. It wouldn't make any sense to discount someone's academic achievement simply because they attended an in-state school. A person who works very hard and achieves a 4.0 GPA and graduates Summa Cum Laude is impressive no matter where they did it.

Last, I'm in financial services and while there are plenty of individuals who graduated from top schools such as Harvard, Wharton, Stanford, etc. there are also plenty of people who didn't and are still having successful careers.

Lauren’s Answer

Updated Portland, Oregon

Hi Brenna, great question. There are definitely two schools of thought in terms of undergrad; my perspective is that it matters a lot more what you put into the education you get, vs where you end up going. In my opinion, the most significant advantage to going to a prestigious school is that potential job opportunities will recognize the name of the institution on your resume and/or you may have a more robust alumni group that will help you get your foot in more doors. Although this is an advantage, it is not a road block to you if you end up going to a less recognizable school; you can find excellent opportunities if you are willing to work hard to find them. Being able to demonstrate what you learned in undergrad clearly and effectively whether on your resume and cover letter or in person, will also stand out to potential employers. Also, leveraging your undergrad network can help you significantly as you are beginning your career. I hope that helps and best of luck to you!

Jazhel’s Answer

Updated Tampa, Florida

Hi Brenna! Your undergraduate education matters for sure. I think what you may be concerned about is the kind of school in terms of accreditation which is important to consider. I've heard other students complain about their credits not transferring when they decided to transfer. And, accredited schools are also important if you plan to go to grad school. You should have an idea about what you want to do and where you want to go to school so you don't end up wasting money because it's very expensive. When you figure those out what you want to focus on is completing your undergraduate degree. I know from experience that I received an edge when applying for jobs after I received my degree. For example, my application was considered for interviews which were really rare before. As for a degree, study something that matters to you and you can apply afterwards in the real world. I hope this helps.

David’s Answer

Updated Appleton, Wisconsin

Your undergrad matters for getting your first job. Look at who recruits at that school, what their placement rate is in your chosen field, average starting salary etc. All this is available from the college's career services area

Thank you!