Does it matter where you go to college? It’s an age-old question, and as the cost of education rises an important one to ask. To this day there are clashing views on whether or not attending a top school will actually improve your chances of employment and lead to higher pay.

In June, Intelligent.com surveyed 1,250 U.S. hiring managers (defined as individuals who are directly involved in hiring at their place of employment, see methodology) to find out just how much weight where a candidate went to college holds. Our findings revealed, it’s quite a lot.

Key findings:

  • 84% of hiring managers say the higher education institution a candidate attended is a ‘very important’ or ‘important’ factor
  • 71% are more likely to move forward with a candidate who attended a top-tier school
  • 66% are more likely to move forward with a candidate who attended their own alma mater
  • 61% say candidates from top-tier schools are more likely to be better employees
  • 63% are more likely to meet a candidate’s wage requirements if they attended a top-tier school

Where you went to college matters a lot in the hiring process

For a very large majority of hiring managers, 84%, where a candidate attended college holds a great deal of importance. Fifty-four percent say a candidate’s alma mater is ‘very important,’ and 29% say it’s ‘important.’

The age of and education level achieved by the hiring manager seems to play a role here with younger and more educated individuals placing more importance on a candidate’s educational background.

Eighty seven percent of hiring managers under 44 say where a candidate attended college holds importance compared to just 68% of hiring managers over 45.

Additionally, 90% of hiring managers with postgraduate degrees and 84% with bachelor’s degrees say the particular institution is important compared to 82% of those with vocational or technical college degrees and 77% of those with high school degrees.

Stacie Haller, career strategist and job search coach, says it’s not uncommon for newer hiring managers, and those who have invested a great deal in their own education, to pay closer attention to the particular institution a candidate attended.

“Those who are new to hiring employees tend to rely more on education as a factor as they are still struggling to evaluate the full potential of candidates in the interview process. This may explain why we see younger hiring managers, in particular, putting more weight on where a candidate went to school. Also, those who have put a lot of time and money into their own education will tend to believe it is a more critical factor to be successful. This is simply a result of their own bias,” explains Haller.

Haller cautions hiring managers against putting too much importance on a candidate’s alma mater.

“Attending a top school does not really guarantee a candidate will be successful in a given position. Hiring managers need to put more emphasis on the experience and skills of the candidate,” she says.

Across industries a great deal of value is put on the particular institution a candidate obtained a degree from. Certain industries put even more importance on it. The vast majority of hiring managers in media & communications say where a candidate attended college is ‘very important or ‘important’ (94%) as well as those in health care (93%), advertising & marketing (92%), computer & information technology (92%), and technology (89%).

7 in 10 hiring managers more likely to advance candidates from top schools

Given how much value hiring managers put on where candidates’ obtained their undergraduate degrees, it follows that a candidate is more likely to get to the next round of the interview process if they attended a top school.

Seventy-one percent of hiring managers say they are more likely to move forward with a candidate who attended a top-tier school versus a candidate who did not.

Additionally, 4-year institutions of any caliber are favored over community colleges by those involved in hiring. Seventy-six percent of hiring managers say they are less likely to move forward with a candidate who attended community college versus one who went to a four year institution.

Many have bias toward their own alma mater

Favoritism also appears to be shown to candidates who attend the same institution as a hiring manager. Two-thirds of hiring managers (66%) say they are more likely to move forward with a candidate who attended their alma mater.

Perhaps this gives additional weight to the idea that one should tap into their alumni network. You may increase your chances of landing a job by networking with and applying to jobs where an alumni makes hiring decisions.

Majority believe candidates from top schools are more likely to be better employees

It’s possible the reason hiring managers put so much emphasis on a candidate’s alma mater is that they believe those who went to top schools are more likely to be successful in the role they are hiring for.

Sixty-one percent of hiring managers say candidates from top-tier schools are more likely to be better employees.

According to Haller, this way of thinking is not only flawed but also problematic.

“Making broad assumptions about candidates just from the school they graduated from is a mistake,” says Haller. “A deep dive into the skills and experience of a candidate is necessary to determine who is the best fit for a particular position. Putting so much emphasis on the attended school will result in hiring managers passing on talented individuals who may not have been in a position to attend a particular institution.”

Candidates from top schools may be more likely to have wage requirements met

Candidates from top schools may also be more likely to get the salary they are seeking. Nearly two-thirds (63%) of hiring managers say they are more likely to meet a candidate’s wage requirements if they attended a top-tier school.

Among hiring managers who hold the belief that candidates from top schools are more likely to make better employees than those who did not attend such institutions, 83% say they are more likely to meet a candidate’s salary ask.

Methodology

All data found within this report derives from a survey commissioned by Intelligent.com and conducted online by survey platform Pollfish. In total, 1,250 U.S. hiring managers were surveyed.

Appropriate respondents were found via Pollfish’s screening tools a screening question. To take the survey respondents had to answer that they are directly involved in hiring new employees.

This survey was conducted on June 14, 2022. All respondents were asked to answer all questions truthfully and to the best of their abilities. For full survey data, please email Content Marketing Manager Julia Morrissey at [email protected]