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Last updated April 25, 2023

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Using Regional Job Markets to Build a School List

Key Takeaway

Attending a top school isn't the only way to get a leg up in your career. If you want to go into a specific industry, consider looking at schools located near the industry's hub.

There's a narrative in some circles that the only/best way to get a “good job” is to attend one of a small handful of schools, particularly if you're looking to go into fields like computer science, engineering, or business.

While there's little question that top schools help boost post-grad employment opportunities, even relatively unknown schools can have strong hiring prospects if they're located in the right job market.

Alumni Networks Matter

Last year, one of my students was trying to decide between two comparably ranked, rural liberal arts colleges. A big part of his decision-making process came down to likely post-grad employment prospects.

I advised him to think about what he wanted to do after college—where he wanted to work and what field he was interested in jumping into—and think about his school choice through the lens of regional growth trends.

One school was about one hour away from the Seattle-Tacoma metro area, and the other was in rural Vermont. He wanted to go into tech. Can you guess which school he ended up choosing?

I recently read an interesting book called Fulfillment: Winning and Losing in One-Click America. It was pretty dark, but one of the points was clear: the biggest changes to economic access in the US are happening on regional levels.

Namely, certain urban centers are seeing an exploding share of economic development and opportunities while others aren't.

So if you're not a student who is set on attending one of the most selective schools in the country but still cares about post-grad employment opportunities, take a look at schools that are positioned in growing job markets.

The Importance of Regional Job Markets

You might never guess that my alma mater, the University of Puget Sound, would send a lot of its graduates to work for Microsoft & Amazon. After all, they aren't known for their CS or Engineering programs.

But because so many grads end up in the Pacific Northwest, and because Seattle is the epicenter of tech growth in the region, there are alumni everywhere and it's much easier to get a foothold in one of these companies. Internships are always in reach, and students regularly leverage those up into full-time positions after graduation. And not just in the sciences! Lots of students from my graduating class from political science or English ended up working for big tech in the region.

That’s right: not only is your career not determined solely (or even primarily in most cases) by where you go to school, your career also isn’t determined solely by what you major in!

Bottom line: slice your school search by region if post-grad employment really matters to you. You can also look at lesser-known ratings like Princeton review’s "town and gown" list: measurements of how close the connections are between schools and their surrounding community. This is usually a pretty good indication of how many connections a school has with the community around it.

In particular, take a look at schools in cities and surrounding regions like:

  • Seattle-Tacoma, Washington
  • Austin, Houston, or Dallas, Texas
  • Columbus, Ohio
  • Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina

And yes, we all know University of Washington, UT Austin, Ohio State, and Duke. But don’t sleep on Southwestern University, University of Houston, Kenyon College, or William Peace University.

Whether you are looking for small town liberal arts or large D1 state schools (or big city liberal arts, small town big schools…) you can find your niche with a realistic admission chance while also maximizing future career opportunities.

And of course, consider the old favorites:

  • SF Bay Area
  • The I-95 corridor: Boston, NYC, Philly, DC
  • Chicagoland

Of course there are some well-known and super-selective schools in these regions, but again you might find your niche–and amazing job prospects–at somewhere like Lesley, Fordham, Drexel, American, Loyola Chicago, or SF State.

But with those areas, and especially in the northeast, remember that the concentration of universities is really high. That means that you may be competing with a much larger pool of students for that internship. Don’t be dissuaded; be informed!

Think about the position of your school, the regional job prospects, and the competition you may be facing within the region for opportunities when you're crafting your list. Look for schools that are in major job markets but aren’t in geographic areas where there’s an over-concentration of schools.

Put another way: be open-minded. Sometimes we hear from students or parents who think the “only” schools in NYC where students land “good” jobs are Columbia or NYU. I’d challenge them to check out the list of top employers for Fordham graduates. Is UPenn’s Wharton the only place to study business in Philly? I’d take a look at the stats on Drexel’s business co-op program. Same for George Mason in the DC area or Occidental College in LA, and the list goes on.

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