Magazine article Workforce Management

The New College Try

Magazine article Workforce Management

The New College Try

Article excerpt

As I write this column, I am caught up in the annual March Madness. No, not the nail-biting thrill of college basketball games. I mean the nail-biting anxiety of the college admissions game.

Like most high school seniors right now, my son is closely monitoring his email inbox for admission decisions. By the time you read this, he and most of America's Class of 2015 will have learned their fates.

Nervous applicants are well-aware that the competition to get into top-rated colleges couldn't be fiercer. Many schools say they are screening more high-caliber applications than ever before and are feeling a bit overwhelmed by the volume--as many as 30,000 candidates for 1,500 or fewer spots. Stellar SAT scores and near-perfect grades no longer guarantee access to a prestigious university; thousands of students can claim those credentials.

Admission decisions may hinge instead on the cleverness of an application essay, high school leadership experiences or a particularly glowing letter of recommendation. Oh, and it doesn't hurt if there's an alum in the family. Brown University even acknowledges the value of legacies on its website: "Brown takes into account the natural affinity for the university that often emerges among family members of our graduates. In particular, we will note when an applicant has a parent who has attended Brown."

I realized just how cutthroat the admission process had become when my son and I attended a college information session last summer in Massachusetts. It's all about "the strategic packaging of yourself," the admissions official said. "This is no time for humility."

All of which got me thinking: How much does your alma mater really matter to employers--and to your career?

Quite a lot, it seems. Studies by economics professors have shown that prestige pays. Graduates of Ivy League and other elite colleges tend to command premium salaries throughout their careers compared with their counterparts from other schools. What's more, they form valuable lifelong connections with their classmates and the school's powerful alumni network.

Alumni relationships and college reputations can strongly influence talent recruitment. I once interviewed a frustrated recruiter at Johnson & Johnson who faithfully interviewed students each year at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School. …

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