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How Important is the "Prestige" of Your Undergrad Degree?

03/29/2012 1:04 AM

I'm about to be finishing up my associates at a local CC, and trying to decide if its worth it for me to incur more debt and attend a more prestigious school (University of Illinois) than a closer more affordable option (Northern Illinois University).

I figure it will cost me an extra 10-20k in debt to attend U of I. The fields I'm most interested in are Electronic engineering and Aerospace engineering. From what I understand Aerospace is more competitive. Does the school I attended matter enough to take on the extra debt?

I'm interested in electronic engineering and U of I is ranked top 5 school in the country for it. Would you say it would open up opportunities I wouldn't have if I had a degree from NIU?

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#1

Re: How important is the "prestige" of your undergrad degree

03/29/2012 1:23 AM

I think that depends on the employer....If you have a firm in mind I would contact one of the principals there and ask them for advice....never too soon to establish a relationship....

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#2
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Re: How important is the "prestige" of your undergrad degree

03/29/2012 1:58 AM

Thanks, I have been thinking of Hamilton Sundstrand. So I figured I would contact them regarding any open internships they have.

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#3
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Re: How important is the "prestige" of your undergrad degree

03/29/2012 3:04 AM

Yes that's an excellent idea....good luck, and keep us posted...

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#4

Re: How Important is the "Prestige" of Your Undergrad Degree?

03/29/2012 9:40 AM

A lot of the time I have serious doubts about those college rankings, as they tend to be more "perceived" more than anything else.

The first thing I'd do is compare the curriculum of the two....compare apples to apples, not apples to oranges.

Secondly, find out where the graduates of both universities (in the fields that you want to study) have historically been hired. Make sure this analysis covers at least the past 10 years and not the last 2 or 3 years.

From what I know, the Aerospace industry tends to ebb and flow in cycles, and is greatly dependent on military budgeting and the economy as a whole. Keep that in mind. You may be lucky to land a job today, but maybe not after you graduate....or you may land a job after graduation but find yourself on the unemployment line a couple of years later.

Good luck in your future studies!

====signed,

CaptMoosie, PhD, PE

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#22
In reply to #4

Re: How Important is the "Prestige" of Your Undergrad Degree?

03/30/2012 1:33 PM

Good answer Moosie. In my AE career I've seen multiple bust and boom cycles, the first one being in the early 70's just as I graduated. We are probably entering another big one right now with cutbacks in Defense spending and NASA's budget, and with widespread economic problems affecting commercial air travel. I would advise considering a engineering degree in chemical, petroleum, mechanical or civil as the career prospects are much better. If you insist on aero, I would recommend that you try to get a job with the government (DoD, FAA, NASA, etc.) The money's not as good but the career stability is a lot better. As far as the school's prestige, degrees from top schools such as MIT, CalTech, etc. are always a plus IF you can swing the cost without incurring massive debt. Otherwise, you are better off finding an affordable solid engineering school in your own state. I would recommend Auburn University or Ga. Tech myself, but then I'm prejudiced.

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#5

Re: How Important is the "Prestige" of Your Undergrad Degree?

03/29/2012 11:44 AM

Go to the career fairs at each school. You'll gain some good insight by seeing which companies have recruiters there. If company X has flashing neon signs and is handing out free lunches at one school, but doesn't even show up at the other, one might be able to infer they have a hiring preference!

Make sure to talk to the recruiters/reps that are there (most are happy to share any insight they have with you). You might find that they indeed hire the majority of their employees from a certain school and perhaps it is one you haven't even considered!

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#6
In reply to #5

Re: How Important is the "Prestige" of Your Undergrad Degree?

03/29/2012 12:13 PM

Excellent idea and advice CI! A GA for you!

I might add that the OP should schedule a meeting with either the Dean of the Engineering School or the Dept. Head of the program he/she is interested in, to gain some insight. Also, he/she should talk with some of the Undergraduate Seniors about what the have discovered in terms of companies hiring etc etc etc.. This approach should be applied to any school the OP is interested in.

TAKE COPIOUS NOTES DURING THE MEETINGS!!!!

OP: My advice to you is not to rely too much on the slick pamphlets and brochures as they tend to gloss over things....and most likely were the product of Madison Avenue "Spin Doctors" & marketers (ie, professional ad agencies).

Also, talk to you Adviser at the CC you are currently attending to get some insight on the various programs that you are interested in.

There are certainly references in your college library (and on the net) regarding how well the various colleges place graduates in their respective fields. Offhand, I cannot remember the exact name of a very important one that I used prior to attending CMU for my Doctorate. If I remember it I will post it here, but it's been a while....

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#7

Re: How Important is the "Prestige" of Your Undergrad Degree?

03/29/2012 10:01 PM

Interestingly I went through what you are trying to avoid, smart poster. I actually have a degree in Mathematics and we went through a huge debate over whether I could be paid on the Engineer scale. (These split scales are gone now btw, but at the time allowed us to advance non-degreed people of qualifications)

There are two criteria, but within those the choice is yes/no.

1. Do you have a Bachelor's in a hard Science. Yes / No

2. Is the university accredited? There is an easy question to ask the HR department of the company you want to work for as this is not State accreditation but a National accreditation, the name of the accreditation escapes me (ABET ACET?) but is easily researched.. Yes / No

Unspoken, the local college can be an advantage depending on the alumni, employers in Phoenix, who also are graduates of Arizona State like hiring graduates of Arizona State. BUT I have never seen this exclude a candidate.

Within my field, I restrain myself from things I don't know how to do, I don't design circuit cards, I don't do stress analysis, but circuit card designers don't do stress analysis or vice versa; but I have kept happily challenged and employed for 30 years.

And Aerospace is suffering a huge lack of engineers entering the field, hurry up! We need you to take my place.

P.S. I graduated from University of La Verne Residence Center at Pt. Mugu, ca.

No one else has ever heard of it either.

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#8

Re: How Important is the "Prestige" of Your Undergrad Degree?

03/29/2012 10:05 PM

Thanks everyone for the advice. That is a great idea about the job fair, i was planning on a visit but scheduling it during a job fair is a great idea. After a bit of research I've found a co-op program with a local engineering firm, that alters one semester of full time school work with one semester of paid internship. It seems like it would be a great learning experience, giving lots of hands on experience but it would also delay my graduation by about a year and a half.

From other sources i've asked about this i've gathered that the more "presigious" schools are helpful for networking and building important relationships, but that a good GPA will open up a lot of doors irregardless. Is that something you would all agree with?

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#9
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Re: How Important is the "Prestige" of Your Undergrad Degree?

03/29/2012 10:28 PM

You are all over it!

Moderate long story about internship - skip if you don't care

We brought a really good intern on board at the beginning of a major aircraft certification effort - these are three to five year efforts balls-to-the-wall.

He was everywhere. He touched everything, he threw skills he had learned at problems we had, he basically made himself essential to the effort.

We asked him to extend his internship at the cost of his education, we paid well but he wrangled more in exchange.

He became MORE essential, he worked, he slaved, and most - he was smart!

We asked him to extend again, he waffled, he wanted to finish school, he wanted to finish his Private Pilot's license. But he was essential.

So we dragged him into the Chief Test Pilot's office to address his needs. (Chief of Test is God until you get certified, you are BURNING money for four years)

And 15 minutes later he left with a blank check at the simulator equipped training company across the street, an agreement he would be fully trained and qualified in the latest model aircraft we were building in exchange for two more years of killing himself helping us get certified.

So it cost him four years, we paid him as well as our engineers, and he left us fully qualified in the left seat (and 400 hours time in the books) on a brand new prestigious business jet. He knew more about how that bird worked than any trained pilot. And had an armload of 6 figure offers to be junior pilot and maintenance liaison to the factory for a dozen different firms.

Don't know if he ever went back for that degree.

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#12
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Re: How Important is the "Prestige" of Your Undergrad Degree?

03/30/2012 8:21 AM

Attending a University that has a Co-Op program may be a very good idea, especially if you land a job at that local engineering firm. First, you gain valuable experience working there, which is what companies are looking for in new grads. Secondly, you earn money to offset the expense of college + earn some spare cash to live on while attending college.

I know this for a fact. When I attended the Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester NY (a national pioneer in engineering Co-Op programs BTW, having instituted it decades ago) for for my BSCE in Civil Engineering, the curriculum included a Co-Op program. The only drawback to the program was that the University operated on a Quarter system instead of a Semester system. As I understand it RIT is currently in the process of changing over to a Semester-based system.

Anyhow, the Co-op program allowed me to go back and work for an engineering consultant firm in Albany NY that I had begun working for during my Freshman year at the local Community College. It was a fantastic way to continue my "real- life" engineering learning and career enhancement, plus I made money to help pay for college that the US Army didn't pay. I truly believe it made me a better engineer....I also had some great mentors, my bosses, who did everything in their power to make sure I had a job with them when it came time to work (5 Quarters), even when the economy (esp. the construction industry) was a shambles in the early 1980's.

You should seriously consider the University w/ the Co-Op program. More and more universities are going this way instead of the traditional theoretical-only based education. Hands-on training is the wave of the future!

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#13
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Re: How Important is the "Prestige" of Your Undergrad Degree?

03/30/2012 8:27 AM

Agree, Practical over theoretical.

But I could be bias.

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#14
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Re: How Important is the "Prestige" of Your Undergrad Degree?

03/30/2012 8:59 AM

Bias, hell no!

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#15
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Re: How Important is the "Prestige" of Your Undergrad Degree?

03/30/2012 9:10 AM

Phoenix, when I attended Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI, Troy NY) for my MSCE Civil Engineering it was all theory and nothing but theory. It drove me nutzzzz that I had more practical experience that most of the PhD candidates and Profs, who had never worked in the "real world", and didn't have a freaking clue. Brilliant yes, but most didn't possess an once of common sense or practical knowledge how things really work in the real engineering world! Hells bells, a lot of them live in their Ivory Towers and are just plain ignorant, as well as live in a fantasy La La Land. It got so bad that I almost dropped out of the program during the end of my 2 year of study because of this + long fuming feud with some of the PhD candidates (who acted as seragates/baby sitters for the Profs. I nearly tore my Thesis in half I was so peeved.

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#19
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Re: How Important is the "Prestige" of Your Undergrad Degree?

03/30/2012 10:16 AM

Theory.

I went on to get my B.Sc degree in project management, because I saw a need for that.

Doing this, I want to call them instructors, the BS (that's bu!!$#it) they where spreading was just that. I told him, the people actually doing the project are going to laugh at you.

He straighten me out and said. I don't care if you were a engineer, designer, fabricator or welder. As a Project Manager your above that.

I was left mouth open, windless as well as speechless. Needless to say, I receive a 'D+' in that class, which by the way was 'Costs and Budgeting'. I was the few people that actually understood C&B, I'm not going to get into the reason for the grade but, I must have a nack that I do this to myself, Some more BS.

Anyways, at the time he was also a PM at a shipyard and worked on the LCS project. Six (6) months later, I get a email request from him for a recommendation. My response to him was, industry's that are looking for PM's are looking for Project Managers with actual practical experience in the fields on the projects they are managing.

His response was, "I know, that's who they replaced me with".

I did asked if he had any other skills sets?

The answer he gave me, if I were an instructor I would grade an 'F'.

In a sinister way, I laughed to myself.

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#10

Re: How Important is the "Prestige" of Your Undergrad Degree?

03/30/2012 1:04 AM

Solar Eagle said it well...depends on your employer! We hired a kid straight out of technical college and he was green as they come. He modeled a hex bolt with 8 flats!!! Anyway, after 2 years of being immersed in a hardcore design environment where he was forced to learn and had good instruction, he's now a superstar designer and makes 120K year! The point being if you have potential and are fortunate enough to find an employer who's willing to let you get a foot in the door, a degree may not always be that important. That being said, guys with degrees usually get picked before guys without so they definitely help you get a start. Best of luck to you.

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#11

Re: How Important is the "Prestige" of Your Undergrad Degree?

03/30/2012 7:53 AM

Its interesting about tuition, (2) weeks ago I heard on NPR I believe was that (University of Wisconsin) UW system was talking about charging price of tuition Dependant upon the degree.

i.e. If Student 'A' has a Philosophy Major

and Student 'B' has a Engineering Major

And both take the same class in, say Statistical Math.

The Engineering Major will pay more in tuition for that very same class on the grounds that the prospects that it would pays more after graduating. Liberal thinking.

Back to the subject, What you are doing is the best approach, To go to a lower tuition school first like a CC, and as long as the credit transfer, than look at the more specialized and higher priced colleges.

For the extra 20K, an undergraduate degree does make a separation from the pack, like a graduate degree would down the road.

The other question you have to take into account, is your age for the pay-back.

The reason I asked, I had recently had taken a course in college. One of the students age was '66', just getting his graduates degree this spring.

The government subsidised him something like 15K a year for going back to school because he was unemployed. He said he was going to retire after he graduates.

The point I'm getting at is to look at your Return On Investment.

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#16

Re: How Important is the "Prestige" of Your Undergrad Degree?

03/30/2012 9:26 AM

You didn't mention whether your associates is in science or technology. Significant difference if you are considering higher education. Think of your education like a dealer thinks about the provenance of his antiques or an art dealer about his paintings. Good provenance usually trumps appearance. Once you become established in your field, the specifics of your education become less important, but they are a huge help in becoming established.

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#17

Re: How Important is the "Prestige" of Your Undergrad Degree?

03/30/2012 9:50 AM

I would say that some weight should certainly be placed on school "prestige", or "caché". While I firmly believe that you can get a fantastic education at any institution, and that what you get out of your time at school is directly dependent on how much effort you put in, having a top-notch name on your resume can be a game changer when searching for a job. When a non-engineer HR person is scanning through scores of resumes, you need every advantage you can get to stand out of the crowd, and a top-5 program is pretty impressive.

That said, I agree with your point about a high GPA helping a lot as well. And, all of this is just going to help you get the interview. I would rather hire someone from a local CC who aces the interview than someone from the top school in the country who has no practical aptitude or people skills.

Geographical considerations should also come into play. If you're planning to stay in Illinois then the difference between the names on your resume may have more of an impact. People in your area will have heard of both schools and be more familiar with the distinction between the two. If, however, you're looking to recruit in New York, California, or some other geographically distant location, HR might not not be as aware that UI is that much "better" than NIU.

And then there is the financial piece. I'm of course in no situation to comment on your financial situation, but a 10-20K investment now seems like a very reasonable price to pay for a nice badge you can put on your resume for the rest of your career. And, as an electrical engineer your starting salary should be pretty solid, allowing you to shoulder this additional debt.

So, no verdict here, just things to consider, and you will of course have to make the final determination. In full disclosure, I graduated four years ago from a top-rated engineering program on the east coast, with a big pile of student-loan debt on my hands. I have seen the impact that having that name on my resume has had, and I firmly believe that it had a significant effect on both my starting salary out of school and my ability to land interviews in my job searches since graduating. I think paying for the top-name school was worth every penny, and I gladly (well, maybe not gladly) send my loan-payment check to the bank every month.

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#18

Re: How Important is the "Prestige" of Your Undergrad Degree?

03/30/2012 10:07 AM

I graduated from a state university with about $6000 in debt, and I work side by side with engineers who went to UK and graduated with $60000 in debt (go wildcats!). Regardless of what school you choose, you've opted to major in fields where the demand for workers is good and so is the pay, so stick with it, and you'll do fine.

That said, the biggest long-term advantage of opting attend a big university is that there are likely more high tech industries located around it, so there are probably more opportunities to co-op with those industries. The hardest part of landing a job after college is getting a foot in the door. In future job interviews you will probably spend much more time discussing your co-op experience rather than your course load.

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#20

Re: How Important is the "Prestige" of Your Undergrad Degree?

03/30/2012 11:00 AM

As an employer I'm more impressed an applicant who enrolled in an accredited college/university not only started but completed what he/she started and received a bachelor's degree in the process. This reflects the character of the applicant which is even more important than the scholl attended. Finishing what one starts suggests reliability, I.E., doing what one says one will do!

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#21

Re: How Important is the "Prestige" of Your Undergrad Degree?

03/30/2012 11:10 AM

Michigan241;

as an ex Michigander with a BSEE from 48 years ago, I suggest you locate the company you would like to work for and check out their policy about education. Some will fund an employees education partially or even fully based on maintaining a specific grade on each subject. I just finished a 7 year stint with Honeywell. One of my compatriots earned his masters degree on their behalf. Myself, I came out of "Tri-State College" now Trine Univ. with the BS. Have worked many interesting places, but also have done some interesting things. Worked on the electrical system of the L-1011 which was a competitor of the DC-10 Aircraft. When I came out of school, I knew a lot of theory but it was getting paired with someone that knew more than me and being mentored by him. The biggest thing there was sticking to the fundamentals, as in E=IR etc. While there may not be a lot of DC circuit type work around, it is still a fundamental. I might mention that my mentor had an MSEE from Case Institute in Cleveland. I was young and perhaps brash, but comparing our knowledge and the effort he indicated he'd gone through as well as the difference in our compensation, made the decision not to seek a higher degree.

Speaking of Honeywell, my crowning achievement there was designing the RF chain from antenna to modem for a new NASA ground station in Guam. Not too bad for an old BSEE.

Good Luck whatever your choice.

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#23

Re: How Important is the "Prestige" of Your Undergrad Degree?

03/30/2012 2:05 PM

Previous responses have given you a lot of things to think about and digest. There is only one thing I can add for you to consider and be frank about!

1. Consider yourself and your capabilities, how well do you think you can successfully handle the course work required or necessary to fulfill your dreams. Are you now an "A" student without any difficulty?

2. What do you perceive your performance is going to be the real world after finishing a BS, an MS or even a Phd?

There are those who were able to tackle all required course works yet encountered difficulty in transitioning to the reality and therefore end up staying within the academe, ending up as a teacher!

I believe, a happy productive and successful individual is the one who always have the feeling of self accomplishment in whatever she/he does. So I think you should conduct a self analysis first on, what is it that you want to do that will really makes you happy and continue to enjoy doing?

Same advise I had given to my son awhile back, Ultimately It is you, your performance as a student that makes the school, Not the school, making the student successful as an individual!

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#24

Re: How Important is the "Prestige" of Your Undergrad Degree?

03/30/2012 10:10 PM

Wow, I never expected this many responses. Thanks everyone for your input. Now to answer a few of the questions/issues brought up along the way...

@phoenix as for as ROI I'm in my late 20's so Its entirely possible that the more expensive school could work for me in the long run.

@ welderman I'll be graduating with my associate of arts, because i was told it would be easier for me to transfer to a 4 year university. My coursework has basically been Calc Chem Physics a fair amount of business courses and gen ed stuff.

@ Tritium My plans are more or less to stay in IL unless a great job offer comes up somewhere else. Once i become a bit more seasoned in my field i would probably take something that was more interesting for me. But thats really putting the cart before the horse.

@vsar as far as my confidence in my abillities its a mixed bag. Full disclosure i wasnt always an A student. I'm in my late 20's and i did attend a business college right out of high school for all the wrong reasons. I didnt put in any effort and fell into a depression that crashed my grades and my spirit. Fast forward 8 years or so and things in my life had equalized quite a bit and i found a new passion and drive that i had not had before. I was an A student while working 40+ hours a week. This term i may have a B sneak in though. I am making plans now to drop to a part time job when i do transfer to the 4 year university so that i can dedicate more of my time/attention to school. Im thankful for my job, especially in this economy it pays the bills. But its not my passion, and it is only a means to an end. I feel that if i apply myself like i have been I will be successful.

@ Lou Bindher yea I've figured this will be my biggest weakness. Comparing my recent success with my past failures. It's nothing that im proud of and i think part of the reason why im pushing myself so hard to succeed now.

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#25
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Re: How Important is the "Prestige" of Your Undergrad Degree?

03/31/2012 8:16 AM

"@ welderman I'll be graduating with my associate of arts, because i was told it would be easier for me to transfer to a 4 year university."

In your case I suggest you pick the school that will allow you to transfer the most credits. I have had experiences with schools that tell students that their associate's course credits did not meet four-year standards and that proficiency tests must be passed or courses repeated. It's a delaying tactic to get more money out of you. Make a deal before enrolling.

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#26

Re: How Important is the "Prestige" of Your Undergrad Degree?

03/31/2012 8:59 AM

One thing is sure and you know it! if you so decide to go to a name brand school you're guaranteed to spend a fortune and debts to repay later after graduation.. Landing a good paying job after graduation to facilitate repayment of that debt still remained at best as a big MAYBE!

Good luck!

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vsar
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