Choosing a University for IT Education

In previous articles I have tackled the questions around approaching university education and selecting a degree program but, thus far, I have not provided any guidance in selecting an institution at which to study.  That will be rectified now.

There are basically five categories of universities in the United States that we need to consider.  These types of educational institutions are:

  • Unaccredited schools
  • Accredited Trade schools
  • Accredited Online schools
  • Accredited Brick and Mortar Private schools
  • Public Brick and Mortal schools

There are more types of schools than these but we can basically lump all schools into one of these categories as these are the general categories that a hiring manager will view schools on a candidate’s resume.  University education has two key benefits, the first is in broadening thought processes and introducing students to many topics through liberal studies.  The second is in providing beneficial resume line items and for this second category we need a university that provides a positive reaction.

So assuming that we are concerned about putting our degrees and education onto our resumes, we need to consider carefully how our choices of educational institution will reflect on us.  You will notice that I carefully did not say that universities provide skill training to prepare workers for the jobs that they will do.  This I have covered in other articles; the university system is not intended nor generally capable of training people directly for work.  There is no mandate to do this, no expectation and little potential capacity especially when we are considering highly technical or quickly changing career fields.  IT maybe be among the most extreme of these kinds of fields, but this issue applies across the board.

Because such a huge portion of the value of a degree comes from how that degree is perceived by a hiring manager, we have to consider that impression very carefully.  And this produces what I would consider “the dead line” in selecting educational institutions.

For a large percentage of hiring managers, and much of the population, only certain types of universities are considered valid.  This is not a judgment call, only an observation of hiring reality.  Whether the quality of education, rigors of study and such are valuable or not, certain categories of schools are considered non-valid in enough of the marketplace that we must effectively discount them from consideration.

From the list that I have provided, any school that is unaccredited, purely online or a tech/trade school should be completely avoided.  These three categories are routinely views as such a strong negative that in a great many cases a candidate will be eliminated based on this one factor alone.  It is commonly said that hiring managers will see one of these schools and throw a resume directly out without any further consideration, but in reality in many cases an HR filter will do this before any human even sees the resume.  The same logic that says that we use degrees to get passed human resource gatekeepers to get our resumes in front of hiring managers based on “black and white” filter requirements, also tells us that we must avoid schools that would be considered to be on a “black list.”

This leaves only two categories of schools for any serious consideration: private, accredited brick and mortar schools and public, accredited brick and mortar schools.  Now, it must be noted, that just because a school is brick and mortar does not mean that they do not also offer online or alternative classes.  And at no point has it been suggested that it is necessary to attend a school in person.  What is critical is simply that the school be perceived as a valid, traditional educational institution.  In many cases, online classes are the best option as they provide more flexibility and better use of time avoiding time wasted in commuting, moving between classrooms and such.

Of this remaining category, public schools fare far better than private ones because the lower cost of attendance lowest, quite dramatically, the risk inherent in spending time and money on education: the less money spent, the less risk taken.  In only rare cases are private schools any better than public ones and in very many cases, they are worse.  The risk/reward calculation on most public schools is simply far better in the majority of cases.

With any school choice, reputation matters.  Schools with a good reputation are best, especially those that are broadly known.  Schools that have no reputation can be fine, as long as they truly are unknown and fall into good categories.  Schools can get a bad reputation regionally or globally, however, and this poses a risk that is difficult to predict or to avoid.  What is a top ranked school today can be poorly viewed tomorrow, and vice versa.  Large schools have the advantage of increasing the chances that someone on a hiring team will have attended that school increasing personal affinity.

There is no simple answer to selecting the right school.  Does the school benefit you through education, reputation or association (with people that will help you later in your career) is unique to each person and school combination.  But he universal guideline to follow is to stick to accredited, broadly well respected, brick and mortar, public or private not for profit schools and consider cost carefully.  Avoid online and/or for profit schools or any school that lacks proper accreditation.

As a modern side note: many schools, even sometimes others good ones, that advertise heavily especially on television or radio, often earn a bad reputation simply because of the medium of attempting to lure students.  If you have seen a school because of their marketing campaign, assume that a hiring manager has as well and while some good schools do this, it may not matter.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *