Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The College Choice

I’m back… Sorry for not posting in almost 5 months. Time flies when you are writing code…

I travel back to Tennessee several times a year, but during one time each year, I manage and run the technology the Tennessee Future Business Leaders of America State Leadership Conference. After the conference, a student came up and introduced himself to me. We talked for a few minutes about his event, and I offered to help him prepare better for it since he would go compete at the national level. He did not require my help and was able to place in the top 10! It is a huge accomplishment when you compete from the best of the best from across the country.

Recently, he found me on Facebook and proposed a question (summarized) that I have thought about for a long time:

I’ve decided that computer engineering is something that I want to take seriously, and I would like to know what you thought of your experience at University Bar. Do you think I would be better off going to University Foo, or perhaps another school even out of state?

[Soapbox Warning] For those that know me, I went to the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and majored in Computer Science. I have been very impressed with the level of education that I received. The professors are top notch, intelligent, and work hard to ensure their students receive a world-class education. The facilities are excellent, and it allowed me to explorer some interesting topics in computer science.

While working at Microsoft, I have had the chance to meet engineers from all over the world and recruit at universities across the United States. These experiences have taught me one thing: the university you attend is meaningless… to me. It’s harsh, but it’s true. Remember, this is only my view. For others, they may have a different opinion.

When I look at a resume, the school the student attended has no bearing with me. I do not believe that attending a certain school shows that one student is “better” than another from a different school.

There are many factors that influence a student’s decision to choose one school over another.

A chief judge for dancing tells his judges to not discount a dancer because they may wear an outfit that is not as pricy as an outfit from another competitor. They may not have much financial means to purchase nicer clothing. He tells judges that they must find a dancing reason to separate competitors.

So with that factor in mind, universities have differing costs associated with them. The location could be a major consideration for a student. Feel free to name your differing factor.

I have had one philosophy with higher education that a high school teacher once instilled in me: once you reach college, the level of education that you receive is up to you. Colleges offer courses and professors assign grades, but you ultimately have the power to decide how much education you receive and what you take away from it. After all, you are paying for your education at this point.

I took the opportunity at UTC to utilize their facilities and leverage the faculty to get the most of my education. Could I have done better? Absolutely. There is more I could have done. However, I decided to focus on certain aspects of my education and try to excel when it meant most to me. Did I succeed? Absolutely!

So back to the question at hand. A few years ago, I noticed that some recruiters get excited when students from a prestigious university applies for a position, and those students often received higher priority and status with the recruiter. However, I am seeing that trend change for the better. It is a huge shift. So while some recruiters do prefer a “brand name”, others are seeing the potential with students from lesser known universities.

Ultimately for a recruiter, they look at how well you fit with a position and your risk level for becoming a long-term employee. I will have another blog post on reducing your employment risk soon. Students from “brand name” universities have less risk because students before them have done very well and showcased that the school produces great talent. Now all the recruiter has to do is find out whether you would be a good fit for their open positions.

For someone from a lesser known university, it can be tougher to get noticed by a recruiter. How do you get noticed by recruiters? You need make yourself stand-out and reduce your risk.

You should first define what your objectives are for higher education. Some thoughts for objectives while you are in school:

  • Determine your focus,
  • Focus on those aspects of your education,
  • Take advantage of any opportunities that come your way,
  • If no opportunities present themselves, make them yourself,
  • Leverage the faculty and facilities as best as you can,
  • And most all, have fun!

Overall, you should choose a university that offers what you want to learn.

  • Look at the courses that the universities offer and determine if they fit your career path.
  • Take advantage of student visit days.
  • Schedule some time to talk with the professors about how they teach, what they teach, and what they expect you to take away from their courses.
  • Talk with students that graduated to see how the courses helped in their quest for higher learning.
  • Talk with current students about what they are learning and how they use leverage the facilities.

Determining the right university can be tough. I wish students well in finding the right university and their future job searches. It’s a tough market… just be yourself!

Oz