How much does college [geographical] prestige actually matter?

Hi,

I have the option of going to a top east coast liberal arts college (Amherst) or a more STEM based liberal arts college on the West Coast (Harvey Mudd).

I know normally if I was deadset on finance I'd choose Amherst, but I don't exactly know what I'd like to do -- my interests range from finance to tech.

I've read that the name of the college matters and that, at least on the east coast, Amherst will be better known than Mudd. However, I graduated from a top prep school (think Andover or Exeter).

In this case, is the college I go to still very valuable, or can I rely on my high school network for alumni connections in the finance world? IMO the education I'll receive at Harvey Mudd is better than Amherst (especially if I decide I wanna do tech), but I don't want to screw myself from ever working on the east coast by going there. Could I hypothetically work at a finance firm's west coast office and transfer to the east coast?

Thanks.

Comments (62)

Oct 24, 2017

Not sure why I got a Monkey shit thrown at me... just trying to decide where to apply to college

    • 1
Oct 30, 2017

Whoever places better into your career path of choice. Where you go to college will not prevent you from moving.

"The only thing I know is that I know nothing, and i am no quite sure that i know that." Socrates

Best Response
Oct 30, 2017

"Five years from now..." is a pretty good benchmark for the half-life of most business or career-related arcs (okay, maybe 5-10 years, depending on the career or industry).

As an undergrad or fresh grad, of course your undergrad matters - to you, to your peers, to recruiters, to your parents (if you have helicopter parents that is). Beyond 5 years, it doesn't.

As a b-school student and recent grad, your MBA matters for a while, but peters out within 5 years or so.

When you're in your mid- to late-30s (which to most undergrads may seem "old" but is not) - it's again what you've achieved in the last 5 years that factors into most decision-making (whether to hire you, invest in your company, etc) and far less if any what you did in your 20s.

In your 40s, no one cares what you did in your 20s or a decade before in your 30s for most cases. And so forth.

That's why the "what have you done for me lately" world is a double-edged sword: you can't rest on your laurels from long ago, but any failures are also long forgotten as well.

If there's one piece of advice I know from experience (and those I know) that I could give to undergrads and those who are early in their career, it's this:

Be prepared to reinvent yourself. At least a few times in your lifetime. From my own experience and those of my peers (now in their 40s and 50s), especially how the economy has sped up considerably (even more than 10-20 years ago), be prepared to start over faster than you think.

Treat every career like it's an NFL career: short-lived. You will get replaced by younger and cheaper players (and if you join the coaching staff, be prepared to be fired multiple times). And count on this happening every 5-10 (maybe 15?) years or so. Where you have to start over.

Sometimes there's no choice - it's 2008/09, you get fired from a finance job that won't return, so you start a new career.

Sometimes it's a huge change in your personal circumstances - marriage, divorce, kids, death in the family, unexpected healthcare issues with you or your loved ones.

Other times it's existential - you hate your career/life, you need a complete change, or you have some sort of wake up call, scare, or you discover a calling.

The prestige on your resume isn't going to protect you from this, nor is it going to help as much as you think - ESPECIALLY once you're in your late 30s and beyond when the world sees your 20s as "childhood" and heavily discounted.

And ask anyone who has had to do a complete 180 in their career/life - it's not easy. There's a hangover period, a transition period of sorts where you will be scared. But just know that it's an unavoidable fact of life.

Stop focusing on prestige, safety and guarantees - because it's not going to pan out. I'm not being pessimistic. It's a fact of life and the odds are stacked against it working out the way you have envisioned it in your mind. Maybe this job you've envisioned is cushy and takes you beyond b-school for the 2 years. But then what? You think you're all set up for the rest of your life? Here's what WILL happen: you will have to pivot, and pivot hard, at least a few times in your life - maybe it's by force, or by choice, but it WILL happen where you essentially have to start over. And no matter how hard you try to play God in your own life, it's unavoidable: sometimes you see your career ending like a terminal disease, other times it's sudden death.

So instead, build the skills for how to reinvent yourself. Being able to start over, reinvent yourself is going to be most important. And that comes down to one thing:

Curiosity - not many people are as curious as you think. Especially business types at a young age: obsessed with money, prestige, power and playing God in their fantasies. These folks have focused only on learning what they deem will be useful. Being truly curious means learning for the sake of learning - yes you have to balance between being a dilettante and being obsessive, but it's more a state of mind: to constantly challenge and learn about new people, experiences, etc. Learn a new instrument. A new language. Or take a cooking class, dance class, etc. And the more you can get into that habit now, the better, because as you get older and settle in, it's harder to do that. This state of mind and being willing to "be the beginner" is an important muscle that becomes crucial when you have to "be a beginner" when the stakes are higher: when you have to start over. You will find as you graduate and get into the workforce, a lot of people want to be the expert (or pretend to be), but are terrified of being a beginner, or being seen as a beginner.

When you are afraid of being a beginner, you are afraid of learning new things. When you are afraid of being a beginner, you are afraid of the small failings along the way, which only makes any large potential failing that much more terrifying.

    • 16
Oct 30, 2017

Wow, that was excellent. Thank you.

Oct 30, 2017
MBAApply:

"Five years from now..." is a pretty good benchmark for the half-life of most business or career-related arcs (okay, maybe 5-10 years, depending on the career or industry).

As an undergrad or fresh grad, of course your undergrad matters - to you, to your peers, to recruiters, to your parents (if you have helicopter parents that is). Beyond 5 years, it doesn't.

As a b-school student and recent grad, your MBA matters for a while, but peters out within 5 years or so.

When you're in your mid- to late-30s (which to most undergrads may seem "old" but is not) - it's again what you've achieved in the last 5 years that factors into most decision-making (whether to hire you, invest in your company, etc) and far less if any what you did in your 20s.

In your 40s, no one cares what you did in your 20s or a decade before in your 30s for most cases. And so forth.

That's why the "what have you done for me lately" world is a double-edged sword: you can't rest on your laurels from long ago, but any failures are also long forgotten as well.

If there's one piece of advice I *know* from experience (and those I know) that I could give to undergrads and those who are early in their career, it's this:

Be prepared to reinvent yourself. At least a few times in your lifetime. From my own experience and those of my peers (now in their 40s and 50s), especially how the economy has sped up considerably (even more than 10-20 years ago), be prepared to start over faster than you think.

Treat every career like it's an NFL career: short-lived. You will get replaced by younger and cheaper players (and if you join the coaching staff, be prepared to be fired multiple times). And count on this happening every 5-10 (maybe 15?) years or so. Where you have to start over.

Sometimes there's no choice - it's 2008/09, you get fired from a finance job that won't return, so you start a new career.

Sometimes it's a huge change in your personal circumstances - marriage, divorce, kids, death in the family, unexpected healthcare issues with you or your loved ones.

Other times it's existential - you hate your career/life, you need a complete change, or you have some sort of wake up call, scare, or you discover a calling.

The prestige on your resume isn't going to protect you from this, nor is it going to help as much as you think - ESPECIALLY once you're in your late 30s and beyond when the world sees your 20s as "childhood" and heavily discounted.

And ask anyone who has had to do a complete 180 in their career/life - it's not easy. There's a hangover period, a transition period of sorts where you will be scared. But just know that it's an unavoidable fact of life.

Stop focusing on prestige, safety and guarantees - because it's not going to pan out. I'm not being pessimistic. It's a fact of life and the odds are stacked against it working out the way you have envisioned it in your mind. Maybe this job you've envisioned is cushy and takes you beyond b-school for the 2 years. But then what? You think you're all set up for the rest of your life? Here's what WILL happen: you will have to pivot, and pivot hard, at least a few times in your life - maybe it's by force, or by choice, but it WILL happen where you essentially have to start over. And no matter how hard you try to play God in your own life, it's unavoidable: sometimes you see your career ending like a terminal disease, other times it's sudden death.

So instead, build the skills for how to reinvent yourself. Being able to start over, reinvent yourself is going to be most important. And that comes down to one thing:

Curiosity - not many people are as curious as you think. Especially business types at a young age: obsessed with money, prestige, power and playing God in their fantasies. These folks have focused only on learning what they deem will be useful. Being truly curious means learning for the sake of learning - yes you have to balance between being a dilettante and being obsessive, but it's more a state of mind: to constantly challenge and learn about new people, experiences, etc. Learn a new instrument. A new language. Or take a cooking class, dance class, etc. And the more you can get into that habit now, the better, because as you get older and settle in, it's harder to do that. This state of mind and being willing to "be the beginner" is an important muscle that becomes crucial when you have to "be a beginner" when the stakes are higher: when you have to start over. You will find as you graduate and get into the workforce, a lot of people want to be the expert (or pretend to be), but are terrified of being a beginner, or being seen as a beginner.

When you are afraid of being a beginner, you are afraid of learning new things. When you are afraid of being a beginner, you are afraid of the small failings along the way, which only makes any large potential failing that much more terrifying.

Wow

Should be its own thread.

Oct 30, 2017

Deep my brother. And really, really spot on. @WallStreetOasis.com I'd second front paging this.

    • 1
Oct 30, 2017

My question is why would you choose a lower prestige/quality school if you're getting sponsored full-tuition?

Oct 30, 2017

That's a great question.

Oct 30, 2017

For location reasons. I'm going into consulting, so it would nice to not have to move across the country and just stay put for 2 years to actually be able to enjoy time with family, etc.

For example, my parents are planning to retire in North Carolina. Going to Fuqua or UNC over a more "prestigious" school.

Obviously assuming I was lucky enough to have that dilemma.

Oct 30, 2017

deep breath bro, deep breath

    • 1
Oct 30, 2017

Count yourself lucky. I come from a non-prestigious country.

    • 3
Oct 30, 2017
SSits:

Count yourself lucky. I come from a non-prestigious country.

Oz is prestigious and definitely a target country. Now if you were a Kiwi...

Oct 30, 2017

I know a non-trivial number of kids from my school (a target, arguably one of the most "prestigious" as you say... P.S. I dislike that word) who have that same attitude. Personally, I think it's a little bit absurd.

I remember when I was hanging out with a few fellow interns early on during my first summer internship, and one of them was flipping through the intern facebook (not the website, a literal book that has names, school name and a photo of each intern). There was one notable girl (relatively attractive) from Fordham. A few people made some comments that ranged from inappropriate "She obviously was given an offer based on different criteria" to ridiculous "Fordham, what kind of shit school is that?"

Funnily enough, the girl from Fordham ended up receiving an offer while one of the people who made these comments didn't.

Oct 30, 2017

Fordham isn't a crap school. I have met a few analysts from Fordham all over the street in IB at BB, MM & EB. Its a lower tier semi target. I have met ppl from schools you wouldn't even have heard of that are now in PE at several top MM PE funds so this stuff doesn't matter.

Oct 30, 2017

I think people from target schools get a bad rap because kids like you are one in a million. not a bad rap from recruitment but a bad rap because of douchey comments.

Oct 30, 2017

Leave Britney Alone!

I agree with you, but relax. Give respect where it's due, the target schools are what they are. And there are some exceptional people who come out of non-targets.

Also, congrats and best of luck on the job.

Oct 30, 2017

Unsure why the OP is whining like a little bitch when pretty much no one-myself included-has ever said that people who don't go to prestigious schools are dumb failures. It seems like the OP has a chip on his shoulders.

In GENERAL, the students at elite schools are smarter and more driven than those at non-targets since the admissions process is insanely selective and filters out those students. But there are still plenty of top kids who either didn't give a fuck in high school or for whatever reason didn't get into a better school. Some of them make the most of it and do very well.

Having said that, you should of course attend the best school you get into due to a higher caliber of students and better resources.

    • 4
Oct 30, 2017

I think the most successful are those secure enough in their own abilities to ignore the noise of people and stigma around them and to let their actions demonstrate their value, rather than ranting against people who tell them otherwise.

    • 1
Oct 30, 2017

As a kid from a target, I am almost positive that this is the result of a slight dissonance from seeing kids that you've been convinced you're better than get the same exact job as you out of MBA/Undergrad.

Oct 30, 2017

Just a middle market bank op? Maybe you should have gone to a target....

Jokes aside, you're right. As above, on average target schools will have smarter students (or at the very least, more hardworking and accomplished) but that doesn't mean people who go to complete non targets are dumb failures. Some people at non target schools are truly quite retarded and there are fewer of those at targets, but I went to a target school and have seen/met plenty of people who are great at memorising information but aren't very deep and really quite stupid.

That being said, I think that rather than actually thinking people at non targets are literally really stupid, I think a lot of people at targets have a hugely inflated sense of self-worth/importance. The end result is admittedly the same, but there is a subtle difference there

Oct 30, 2017

Ask Mr. Fuld.

    • 1
Oct 30, 2017

OP may be right, but he's so insecure about it... and anyone who believes they're "better" just for having gone to a target school is a pompous douche. In the end, people will be people and judge others regardless of whether it's school or job, etc.

Oct 30, 2017

Transferred from a non-target to a target - three of my former classmates have placed into more 'elite' bulge bracket banks in investment banking roles (JPM/GS/MS). One of my former mentors is now at HBS/HKS doing an MBA/MPP on a full scholarship.

There are very smart kids at my current school, but top kids at my old school are definitely very competitive against even the best here. I've got nothing but respect for the non-target kids that fight their way onto Wall Street.

    • 1
Oct 30, 2017
7xEBITDA:

Transferred from a non-target to a target - three of my former classmates have placed into more 'elite' bulge bracket banks in investment banking roles (JPM/GS/MS). One of my former mentors is now at HBS/HKS doing an MBA/MPP on a full scholarship.

There are very smart kids at my current school, but top kids at my old school are definitely very competitive against even the best here. I've got nothing but respect for the non-target kids that fight their way onto Wall Street.

Do you really think someone's gonna pinpoint your buddy if you skip the A/B/C bullsht?

heister:

Look at all these wannabe richies hating on an expensive salad.

https://arthuxtable.com/

Oct 30, 2017

Kids from non-targets who make it to top jobs are impressive. The issue is

Oct 30, 2017

I've met people that graduated top-tier target universities, but were only good at regurgitating information that they got from textbooks, and they fell apart whenever critical thinking was involved. On the other hand, I've met people from completely no-name schools who are some of the smartest people I know. Anybody even moderately intelligent can recognize that there is some correlation between intelligence and the caliber of school one attends, but there isn't necessarily causality. I don't see why this conversation even needs to happen

Oct 30, 2017

Most of my friends who went to a non-target almost worship those who get into a "prestigious" school. As a non-target myself, I had a similar mentality when I was younger, but now that I've been working and deal with "target" school peeps all the time, I'm glad my preconceived notion is gone.

Oct 30, 2017

It's ridiculous and unwarranted. I remember attending a finance networking event a few years back, and the vast majority were non-target students and alums. They talked about target schools with such awe; many of them openly said they regretted goofing around so much in high school and not being able to attend an elite college. I sort of felt bad for them.

Oct 30, 2017

The actual education you receive at a target vs a non target is not so drastically different. What is massively different are the people you get to interact with. The alumni network of a prestigious school is what makes it prestigious.

Follow the shit your fellow monkeys say @shitWSOsays

Life is hard, it's even harder when you're stupid - John Wayne

Oct 30, 2017

OP, spend less time worrying what others think about you and more time trying to prove them wrong...

"When you stop striving for perfection, you might as well be dead."

Oct 30, 2017

I'm a little stumped by the target school awe/aura as well. Getting into a target undergrad depends primarily on your accomplishments from 14-18 years old. It's absurd that entire early-mid careers are often judged by how you did from 14-18. Getting into a target school is simply the beginning of the race.

Oct 30, 2017

I think it's absurd as well. Problem though is that finance has gotten very pedigree based, and being at a target school gives you a much better chance of breaking in, which I think is like 80% of the battle.

Oct 30, 2017

Specific to IB, recruiting is starting to sway towards a more non-target friendly model. Take that as you will.

Oct 30, 2017

True; that's because the students at target schools are much less gung-ho about banking.

Oct 30, 2017

I went to a middle of nowhere University also OP. Needless to say I have a pretty good resume, and good job. Do I wish my resume said Harvard/Princeton/Cambridge instead of Where Did You Go To School University? Yes. It doesn't help my school shares a name with the former mayor of NYC either.

Fortunately, an MBA is the great equalizer. Mitt Romeny went to a private school in Utah, but if you ask anyone where he went they say Harvard (MBA/JD)

Oct 30, 2017

Amen. An elite MBA heals all wounds and sets you on the right path.

Oct 30, 2017

After a while, people just look at work experience, not pedigree.

Oct 30, 2017

Also, some people really are late bloomers. I came from a family that my mom was a nurse, and my Dad a district manager/dental technican for one of the largest dental ceramics companies in the USA. He now owns is own dental lab.

Those two jobs were a big deal in my area. I never even heard of investment banking or management consulting until I was out of college. Literally, the only thing I knew about CDO's is that they caused the 2008 collapse. Throw in the fact that I didn't really care about my grades until i was a junior in college, and I went to a school because it had a party reputation. Taking a mulligan on my undergrad would be awesome, but we have to work with the choices we made. Some people make good choices that get their lives on the right track, and others never figure it out.

Oct 30, 2017

No one who has "made it" gives two shits about the prestige of their background or the background of anyone else. If you do, then you haven't made it yet. The only thing that can and will keep you from making it is your own self-image regarding the prestige of your background.

Oct 30, 2017

This is true at a very broad level, but this is one of those statements that are not very relevant or practical for people on WSO. Given that most of WSO are looking to move up or break in, prestige matters a lot. Try telling top hedge funds, PE firms, mutual funds, banks, consulting firms, that prestige doesn't matter and that they shouldn't give two shits about it.

Oct 30, 2017

I can only speak for my own anecdotal evidence.
My experience is that people that go to targets are at least better informed about finance and banking from early on. (And other careers where going to a target school helps tremendously)

If you ask a bunch of target and non-target juniors about their career plans, I'm pretty sure you'll get A LOT more Finance/consulting/etc. answers from the targets, than the other school. What is the reason? Maybe more target kids come from families where parents and/or friends are in those fields. Maybe they go to prep-schools with better career counselors. Or both, who knows.

Of course, everyone can obtain this information if they want to. But then again, how many 14-18 year olds know that when they are finished with college (4-8 years from then), they want to be Investment Bankers or Business Consultants? How many high-schoolers have even heard about those jobs, unless being prepped about it?

Is it unfair? No, I wouldn't say that. But it is what it is.

Oct 30, 2017

Coming from a non target, the majority of my class wanted to go into marketing, communications, or teaching haha.

Oct 30, 2017
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