It's that time of year when high school seniors are choosing where to apply for college. Typically students are told to apply to two-three "reach" or "stretch" schools, two-three "target" schools and two-three "safety" schools.  

I'm here to tell you a hiring secret: Managers don't care where you went to college.

Gasp! Of course, they do!

Well, yes, if you went to Harvard or Oxford that will open doors that State U won't open, but otherwise, let me give you a task: Put these four schools in order from best to worst:

  • University of Arizona
  • University of Alabama
  • University of Alaska Fairbanks
  • University of Arkansas

No Googling! Give me an answer! 

You can't, can you? There are over 4000 colleges and universities in the United States. It's highly unlikely that your child's future manager will know the difference between her degree from her target school, safety school, or reach school. This is especially true if your child wants to work in a different city than where her school is located. And, of course, a hiring manager may know your school or may have gone to your rival and that could hurt or help, depending. But that's impossible to predict.

A few weeks ago, my Inc. colleague, Jeff Haden, published a list of the top-earning CEOs from each state, along with their university, and you won't see a huge pattern. Sure, there are some Ivy Leaguers there, but also some I haven't even heard of--Millsaps College, Newport University, and Kettering University have never come across my desk before. Because I went to graduate school at SUNY Stony Brook, the CEO who went to SUNY Binghamton caught my eye, because I know that for undergrad, that's the top SUNY school, but if you're not a New Yorker you probably wouldn't know. 

So, we've established that your future career doesn't depend on your school. But that's not the only reason to not apply to the stretch schools. Let's talk about matching.

You Don't Want to Be Below Average

College sure isn't Lake Wobegon (you'll have to explain that reference to your high school senior). Everyone at Harvard, for instance, is above average for the general population, but even there, there is a curve.

You don't want to be on the bottom end of that curve. Let's take a look at two great schools: Georgetown and Baylor. Both have some name recognition as well, and no one would deny that you went to a good school if you attended one of these. Their average SAT scores vary drastically

Baylor:

  • 25th percentile: 1200
  • 50th percentile: 1290
  • 75th percentile: 1380

Georgetown:

  • 25th percentile: 1390
  • 50th percentile: 1460
  • 75th percentile: 1550

So, if your child has an SAT score of 1380, Baylor can be a safety school. There's a good chance, that with a decent GPA and activities, she'll be accepted. Georgetown would be a stretch. There are people there with that SAT score, but at least 75 percent of her classmates scored higher.

You may say, great! That's why it's called a stretch school. If she gets in, she can be challenged! Great! But, if she goes to a school where she'll be at the top, she's more likely to win the awards, get the research assistant positions, and get great letters of recommendations for graduate school. If she goes to a school where she's not as bright as her classmates, she'll have to work harder and still be less likely to achieve recognition.

In other words, in order to get a degree from a better school, you leave with a worse resume. You may even be more likely to drop out.

You  may also have to pay more, because a school where you are in the top 10 percent may give you an academic scholarship, while being in the bottom 10 won't. 

Is a stretch school worth it?

There is a lot more to consider in a college than the SAT score. The programs, culture, connections, location, etc., all play an important role in your decision calculus. But before you push your student toward that stretch school consider what her real goal is: Self-sufficiency with a job that gets her out of your basement. And the school for that is one where she'll get a quality education, and build a resume, and be successful. And that probably isn't the stretch school.

Published on: Sep 24, 2018