Why College Rankings Don’t Matter

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“If you know someone, let me know.”

The moment there was a job opening in my team at Google, we had the first pick and the ultimate say. Within days, each of us submitted our referrals, who we knew as intelligent, sociable, and reliable. And before the job had even been posted online, the position was filled.

And so the story went on, at every place I worked, from Wall Street to Market Street, from startups to establishment – it never really mattered what college you attended. As long as you knew somebody (and you knew your stuff), you were set. Being a UC Berkeley student working in the stock market, my first boss was from a lower ranking school, Cal Poly SLO — a political science major. Being a UC Berkeley alumnus now working at Google, my second boss was from UC San Diego — also a political science major. Naturally, it didn’t take me long to realize the truth: the idea that going to a higher ranking school would get you “further” was not only inaccurate, it was morally wrong. What parents and students subject themselves to nowadays in order to get to those schools is numbing, to say the least.

Yet, most of my students seem to have fallen for it. After all, the “best” and biggest companies hire only from the likes of Stanford and UC Berkeley, right?

Wrong.

San Jose State University is the top feeding school to Apple. Western Washington outranks any UC in terms of employees at Amazon. And even outside of tech, Brigham Young tops UC Berkeley and Stanford at Goldman Sachs, one of the world’s largest investment banks.

Bob See, a former recruiter for Google Engineering, even points out that only about 6% of Googlers originate from Berkeley or Stanford. Of the 94% that remain, I imagine that while some went to Ivy Leagues, most went to schools parents would consider no-name or not-worth-considering. Second tier at best. Yet, among my teammates at Google were undergraduates from Florida U, Temple, and Bucknell. Have you ever even heard of Bucknell?

As best-selling author and New York Times columnist, Frank Bruni, puts it: Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be. For it is who you know and what you know that end up dictating where you’ll go and how successful you’ll truly be.

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