As I make my way through my final year of undergraduate study, the search to secure a meaningful and stable career is high on my list of priorities.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 1.8 million bachelor's degrees are expected to be awarded in the 2016 school year.
In 2014, approximately 10 percent of 20 to 24 year olds, who had already completed an undergraduate program, were unemployed.
It's easy to see just how competitive the job market is for new college graduates.
One of the scariest parts about the job search is the fact that one person holds the power of deciding whether you prove yourself enough on paper to get the opportunity to prove yourself in an interview.
At least during an interview, you get the chance to prove yourself.
You can elaborate on how your passions align with the company's values, and ensure it is known just how hard you are willing to work to excel at the opportunity.
If you don't look good on paper, however, it's safe to assume your application will be discarded with hundreds of others.
Do all of these things really matter? Does your GPA correlate to how well you will execute the responsibilities of a future career? How important is the name of the university you are graduating from?
Students choose a college for the name, the alumni network, the athletic reputation, the geographical location, the history, the price or a combination of these and other factors.
As a finance major, I have shifted to face-to-face classes for my final year of undergrad. The education I receive here is second to none.
The compassion and knowledge of the faculty, the closeness of the student body, the spirit to carry on the university traditions and the small east Texas town that encompasses campus all makes this experience wonderful.
While I couldn't be more proud to soon be able to call myself an alumna of this amazing university, the doubt of securing a position with a company on my list weighs heavily on my mind.
Why? Well, many people haven't heard of SFA (Stephen F. Austin State University) because it isn't ranked at any type of national level.
While I am not a soon-to-be graduate of The University of Texas at Austin with a 4.0 overall GPA and a résumé filled with an abundant list of extracurriculars, I don't believe I am any less qualified for a position at a prestigious company.
I am different, but ever so proud of that.
While many recruiters and alumni of prestigious universities would say it's best to graduate from the "best," I want to assure these individuals I would still choose a small, unranked, no-name university over a large, highly-ranked, prestigious university any day.
Here are the reasons why:
1. Education paired with professional experience should be valued more than a background containing solely educational experience.
The decision to put off college was one I made with a clear mind. After getting the professional experience I felt I needed, I began attending SFA.
SFA has had faith in my abilities from the beginning, even though there was a two-year gap in my educational background. Things are real here.
Even though I work as a student assistant for the university, I am not belittled, micromanaged or treated as being incompetent.
As a student in the classroom and as a student assistant in the offices, you are trusted and trained on the same processes as the full-time staff.
I am willing to bet not many soon-to-be alumni from prestigious universities are given the same real-world opportunities, both in and out of the classroom, as I receive at SFA.
Don't get me wrong; excellence in education is important. But books can only get a candidate so far in a professional atmosphere.
2. Classes with less than 50 students ensures the important connection between student and professor.
How can students, both advanced and lagging, get the proper education they need with hundreds of other students around them?
When the maximum number of students per class is limited, the speed and quality of a course can be adjusted to fit the needs of the students.
This makes it easy to raise your hand to state you don't understand something, or for the professor to understand what incorrect steps you are taking when you don't arrive at the correct answer.
With fewer students, the professors are easily able to relate a name to a face and vice-versa. It is clear our instructors want nothing but the best for us.
3. Small university enrollment in a small college town results in peer-to-peer relationships, which are second to none.
What can I say about the students here?
They are some of the most amazing, talented, compassionate, hard-working and spirited individuals you will ever meet. It is impossible to go anywhere without seeing someone you know, which leads to talking about your day, or your plans for the weekend.
This can be both a blessing and a curse, especially if it's a Saturday afternoon and you just rolled out of bed.
I wouldn't trade this small town feeling for anything, though.
It's one thing to know your peers in passing, but it's another thing to know your peers on a level in which you all truly care about each other.
This isn't a competition. This isn't about one student excelling over another in a course, or for a leadership role in an organization.
4. It's not logical to pay 40 percent more for the same shirt simply due to the prestigious name of the retailer.
You wouldn't pay $42 for a shirt being resold at a small boutique when you could get the same one from a big box retailer for $30, would you?
To me, it doesn't make sense to overpay for identical amenities. Luckily for all of us, every institution of higher education discloses its cost of attendance to the public.
As a non-resident attending a public Texas university, for example, the cost of attendance for four years at The University of Texas at Austin is approximately $188,000.
The cost of attendance for four years to receive the same degree at Stephen F. Austin State University is $137,000.
The Bachelor of Business Administration program at both universities is accredited by the same organization, which must mean the curriculum is identical.
Since the average student takes 21 years to pay off his or her debt, the cost to obtain a bachelor's degree should be a heavy factor in the college decision.
5. Our intellectual capacity and professional ability shouldn't be defined by four years from our late-teens to mid-20s.
A lot of people say college is the best time in a person's life.
What I believe they mean by this is the memories and connections made during the college experience will be some of the most valuable in your lifetime.
This may be true for some, but couldn't be farther from the truth for others. Others say the time you spend in college and the work you do there will be the most important aspect to set you up for future success.
In the grand scheme of things, however, is it really reasonable to base a person's future success on how well or poorly he or she does in his or her undergraduate courses?
Is there any correlation among our college, our GPA, our test scores, our interview skills and our ability to understand, perform and succeed in a career field?
According to Laszlo Bock, senior vice president of people operations at Google, GPA and test scores don't at all correlate with success at Google, a company ranked as the top one to work for by both Fortune and Glassdoor.
Google also found no correlation between how well a recruiter or manager thinks a candidate performed in an interview, and how well the candidate performed at his or her role with the company.
So, if one of the most profitable tech companies doesn't care what university you are a soon-to-be alumna of, why do so many prestigious companies only recruit at top-tier universities?
I believe it all relates back to being partial to recognizable brand names.
Companies want to be able to brag about securing John Doe with a 4.0 GPA fresh out of a top-tier university because it sounds honorable, even though Jane Doe received the same education from an unranked university.
I'll leave the recruiters and college seniors in pursuit of securing their dream job with one final quote from Mr. Bock:
Academic environments are artificial environments. People who succeed there are sort of finely-trained; they’re conditioned to succeed in that environment.
So, even a top HR executive at a leading company believes every candidate should be given a fair chance.
Maybe you should, too.