Does my kid need college? Does it have to be a good college?

This is a guest post from Ian Peters-Campbell, vice president of engineering for Green Dot. He originally wrote this piece on Quora. 

A top school is good for two things: a network and a first-glance pop on your resume. It’s absolutely not necessary, but it can help when you’re new to the industry.

A Network
People from top schools tend to build up great networks. They have a pool of people they can recruit who they went to school with or were a few years behind them, and can stay in touch with professors to keep their eyes open for talent.

That allows some pretty obvious benefits for those younger, promising people coming up in top schools, and who are reasonably social and/or are on good terms with some favorite professor(s).

Resume Pop
When I read through piles of resumes here are the things that jump out to me: personal projects, skills, names of companies the person has worked at, and school (in that order). If one (or hopefully more) of those jump out at me then I will take a closer look and even read some of the accomplishment bullet points under different roles. If none of
those jump out at me I’m probably moving on to the next resume.

So a top school will get a resume a second glance. If someone is straight out of school and that’s all there is to go on then I would still be iffy if there weren’t any personal projects on the resume, but it might be worth a phone call.

All That Said…
…a top school is neither necessary nor sufficient. If your resume expresses passion about the field I work in, points to one or more personal projects that illustrate your interest and skill, or if you have a personal referral from someone I trust, then I don’t care whether you went to Harvard or Joe’s House of Fake College Degrees.

You just need something to connect enough to get to a phone screen, and a good school is one of the ways to do that.

And On Recruiters
I don’t care who recruiters like to work with. It’s a rare day when an external recruiter sends me a candidate I wind up caring about. Good candidates almost always come from personal referrals, internal recruiters, or someone from the company reaching out after being impressed with some bit of a candidate’s web presence.

14 replies
  1. cheryl
    cheryl says:

    i’m so amazed that there aren’t any comments on this post yet. i keep checking back and seeing that there aren’t any–and wondering why. i don’t think it’s because people aren’t interested in the topic, given the comments i’ve seen in other places about the value of college. and i don’t think it’s because the piece isn’t interesting. after all, hearing from someone who actually hires in the engineering field about the value of college is pretty interesting. do people feel nervous about commenting on it for some reason? very curious.

    my comment: i went to a top school, and seeing it on my resume absolutely got me my first awesome job with my most awesome mentor. (she told me so later.) but that was 15 years ago. and now i’m seeing high school/college-age students doing these incredible passion projects–of really high quality. that means they have experience making something new happen, and i’m more interested in working with a person who knows what it takes to make new things happen in a high quality way than with someone who just happens to have a diploma from my school.

  2. Penelope Trunk
    Penelope Trunk says:

    I was actually wondering the same thing – where are all the comments. I asked my brother what he thought – not because he’s an expert on this topic but because he happened to call while I was stressing out why there are no comments. And he said that he thinks parents are way too scared to not send their kids to school. So the topic is hard to discuss. Logically it’s probably true that kids will do fine without college degrees, but emotionally it’s hard for parents to swallow.

    But then he said, “I always think the readers on your homeschool blog are really out-of-the-box thinkers, so maybe it’s easier for them to accept that their kids don’t need to go to college.”

    That got me thinking. Maybe homeschoolers are actually not risk takers. Maybe school seems really risky because it’s so crazy stupid right now. So parents take their kids out of school to mitigate the risk of using their kids as department of education guinea pigs. But sending kids to college also seems like the less risky alternative. Especially for parents who can afford to pay a good chunk of the college expense.


  3. YesMyKidsAreSocialized
    YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

    I didn’t comment because I wasn’t sure what to say. It really depends on the field of study. If you are an engineer you really don’t have to go to a top school; just have some projects and an internship and you are pretty much guaranteed a job (depending on what type of engineer)

    If you want to get a degree in something non-stem then you absolutely need to go to a top ten school. It’s the only thing that will help you stand out.

    Now, of course there are people/companies that only look at MIT grads but even those companies are starting to look more at projects than where you went to school, but still all things considered, if the resumes are identical except one went to state school and one went to MIT and both interview well, hands down MIT guy wins the job. State school guy shouldn’t be sad though, he won’t be on the market for long.

    It’s hard to comment on this one because we’re not really sure if he’s talking about engineers; being the VP of engineering. My husband is an engineering manager and he’s the one that does all the hiring; not the VP. The VP really just says what he wants and the managers execute; they really don’t have a say in who gets hired at my husbands aerospace company. So I just thought it was weird. I’m sure the VP would hire managers and directors, but not newbie fresh grad out of school… just my thoughts… and I’m open to be criticized if my views are out of whack.

  4. YesMyKidsAreSocialized
    YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

    Also, I wasn’t sure if he homeschools or sends his kids to private school. I was wanting to ask him since he posted on your homeschool page.

  5. YesMyKidsAreSocialized
    YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

    Another reason maybe others didn’t comment was because he didn’t really address homeschooling at all, so I wasn’t sure if he approved or disapproved.

    And maybe most of your readers aren’t planning that far out yet? College seems like a distant goal rather than what’s happening today, but for me I think once a week about college for my kids; but maybe others aren’t quite there yet.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Oh. That’s good feedback for me figuring out what belongs on this blog and what doesn’t. You’re right – there always needs to be a homeschool context. That’s a good rule for me.


  6. Commenter
    Commenter says:

    He doesn’t really say much. And he’s not you. Your commenters feel like we’re having an extended conversation with you. This guy? Dunno who he is. It’s a fly-by. Will he even respond? He doesn’t include links to articles or a previous body of ideas. In the end, there’s not very much said here – not even, as the title suggests, whether his kid needs college. So does he or doesn’t he, Ian?

    What this post boils down to is that a top-tier college is useful but not sufficient in and of itself. Networking is good, and a prime benefit of a good college. And many people get hired through personal referrals. I think we already knew these things

    Also, as a pp says, what’s this got to do with homeschooling?

    He likes personal projects and skills more than colleges when he hires. Great. Homeschoolers have personal projects and skills. Is that the point?

    But how many people does he hire, and what’s his real role? Is he the only one working on that, as a VP? Has someone else already trashed all the resumes not including first or second-tier colleges before he sees them? I doubt a resume with Joe’s House of Fake College Degrees has ever reached his desk.

  7. Mooreboyz
    Mooreboyz says:

    I read this right away as this is a topic of great contemplation as of late. I have a 16 year old who is already making good money online working a few hours a day with some ideas he put together over the summer. I am amazed with what he is doing. He is quite bright and I have always planned his curriculum around him going to college and the requirements that go with it. Now, he isn’t sure if he wants to “waste his time” going to college. He may just start his own business. This is hard for me to put my arms around even though I know how times have changed…school isn’t what it used to be, you can learn so much online for free, and so on. I truly believe that it depends on what you plan on going to school for. If my son was just interested in a business degree, I’d say skip it. He was considering a music major which I think would offer a great alternative career or supplement. I guess I obsess so much because what I put in his curriculum now is based on what he plans to do. For example, if he isn’t going to college I probably wouldn’t force the literature that he hates or the ap sciences.

    • Commenter
      Commenter says:

      Mooreboyz, there’s something you said here that makes no sense to me, which I keep coming back to:

      “If my son was just interested in a business degree, I’d say skip it. He was considering a music major which I think would offer a great alternative career or supplement. ”

      The connection between a music major and employment isn’t clear to me at all.

      That said, one thing to bear in mind when thinking about college for your boy is that it doesn’t necessarily have to happen right now. He can always go to college later, when he sees a reason to. And by then he won’t be an adolescent and can get more of the benefits and waste less time on the partying.

      If your son has already figured out a way to make some money and is contemplating the next step to enlarging his business, I’d say he has something very worthwhile (more worthwhile than college, perhaps) to focus on for the next few years. Maybe he’ll be a great success and maybe a great failure. But either way it ought to help him figure out what he needs to learn next.

  8. Janelle
    Janelle says:

    I just read this article. I’ve posted before, but here goes the short story. I have 7 kids, 5 sons, 2 daughters (Ages, 25, 23, 20, 18, 15 & 14). All home schooled from A-Z. One just finished his Master’s, the others are either almost done with a Bachelor’s degree, or in the midst of getting Associate’s degrees. We are an African American family, and I wonder how that might play into the mix. Would having a degree make a difference to the author? This topic was discussed somewhat in Judy Sardens’ guest post also. I don’t unschool, but I’ve been real heavy on the “other stuff” of education, i.e., volunteering, getting involved with engineering clubs, the arts, music, theater, living an active life, learning through experiences and exploration, computers, green living, etc. I do have to say that thus far my kids have not had any real difficulty with school, getting a job, society at large, etc. A lot of that has to do with having a can do mindset, and I hate to say it . . . Being or getting college educated. It seems to bring a pleasant smile to employers, apartment managers, and parents of potential girlfriends and boyfriends, lol. In some ways I hate to bring up the race issue because I sometimes think focusing too much on it could be a distractor. However, here we are in America where I’m constantly reminded that it makes a huge difference. I too could care less what college they attend, and yes, I don’t want to take the risk of hoping their other experiences will suffice. What’s your take on this? Does ethnicity matter in this regard? (I do have to say that as a former manager of a temp/employment agency – pre-kids), a lot of what I looked for in the individual had nothing to do with where they went to school. Of course it was a temp agency so that is quite different in most regards. However, how one presented his/herself, their other interests and experiences, etc. caught my attention much of the time. I’ve passed this knowledge on to my kids, and it seems to work to their advantage.

  9. Vickie C.
    Vickie C. says:

    This article barely scratched the topic and was too targeted (his specific field and how he evaluates resumes in his company) to be a conversation-starter for me. But since the comments stirred the pot, let me throw in my two cents. I want my kids to have a marketable craft – work they do with their hands. It can be for fun or profit, but I think working with your hands is important to your sense of self. It can be anything from mechanic to gardener to banjo playing. I also want my kids to have an intellectual interest – fun or profit – that keeps their minds engaged and curious. College will be determined by what their interests are, which one they choose to be their bread and butter, and what the world requires of them to be accepted in their field. My problem is that I may disagree with their assessment of what they need when the time comes. College is what a high school diploma was decades ago, so I don’t want them to be stigmatized. Going to college is much easier right after high school when scholarships are available and your life is as simple as its ever going to be as an adult. But at the same time I don’t believe college is going to make them happier people. Put me in the conflicted column, but my overall leaning is heavily towards ‘do it only if you need it’.

  10. Vickie C.
    Vickie C. says:

    Let me add this to the mix. There is no such thing as an ‘industry standard’ when it comes to college, in my opinion. My husband and I are both in the Accounting field. My Bachelors does nothing for me. But my husband is in a government position and he is handicapped because he doesn’t have a Masters (which at the time he graduated wasn’t a typical pursuit). If you want a corporate job, you need school credentials. But the same job in a small startup would go to the one with more real world experience. And if you want to be an entrepreneur, your future clients or customers are the ones you have to impress – which may or may not require a degree. Is it possible that knowing how you want to work is as important as knowing what you want to do?

  11. Ladyjen Famelias
    Ladyjen Famelias says:

    Have my eldest at 20, next in line, 18, on down to 4yrs. (15 in all). They are all educated and skilled in our family setting. Some want to work in Dad’s personal business, some just want to get married, and the boys just want to sing, and work for Dad when they get older. They are all in apprenticeship schooling– the real stuff. The older kids are young women, the boys are younger. I am freely schooling them in our home team, and they have had no formal curriculum ever. The girls are so talented, and focused on their projects (writing novels, making professional music CD’s,studying Massage Therapy, and one has a new Youtube channel where she spreads her messages (a cool prophetess at age 16), who also is writing a book soon to be published. I think college is a HUGE waste of time and money. See the video on youtube called: “Why I hate school but love Education.” We all, as a family think that college in our current time in history is stupid, and making a living needs to be a life passion and purpose. All the money/security will follow. But we MUST put God first. Just my opinion. Your blog is amazing, Penelope. Keep it up!

  12. Ladyjen Famelias
    Ladyjen Famelias says:

    Also, to each his own. In my family we are devoted to the Lord Jesus and He really leads our way. But we really, as a society, are changing (see Sir Ken Robbins), and must realize that the internet IS the marketplace in so many ways. I never knew the plan for our kids while we home educated with all of our strength and faith. People just have to jump out of the “home school” box and use their creativity and wisdom God gave them. We are not “career” people. We are in the arts industry mainly, and we will succeed there. Whatever the child is gifted in you must pursue in every facet and put them next to the BEST teachers/mentors in it. College may not even be necessary! You usually meet professional drop outs who never “did” but rather failed out and “taught” instead. HUGE difference. Life and people are our best teachers!!! That’s why parents are the best leaders for our children.

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