What's in a name?

by Leina McDermott | 1/7/16 10:14pm

Campus is blanketed in snow, Canada Goose jackets are visible all around and the Class of 1953 Commons is open for business. In other words, it’s officially winter term 2016. Like the beginning of any other term, this one was accompanied by President Hanlon’s quarterly “Welcome back!” message to the entire Dartmouth community.

In it, he emphasized the importance of the liberal arts education Dartmouth provides, specifically, the attractiveness of liberal arts graduates in today’s job market. He stressed that the skills gleaned from a liberal arts education are not only “the capacities employers will seek”, but also those capacities that “humankind will need to advance progress.”

Dartmouth’s commitment to the liberal arts is one of the qualities I love most about this school, but as I read the president’s email I began to wonder how employers really view the liberal arts graduate and more specifically, the Dartmouth graduate. With its status as a member of the prestigious Ivy League and as a world-class institution, Dartmouth has a name that clearly carries some weight, connoting intelligence, ambition and future success.

If someone asks me where I attend school, my answer is often followed by something like “Ivy League? Dang!” or “Good for you! You’re going places!” responses that I’m sure most Dartmouth students have heard. But beyond the realm of impressing the average person, how much weight does the Dartmouth name really carry in a job interview or an internship application? To find out, I spent this week interviewing a variety of Dartmouth students about their experiences, thoughts and opinions concerning the Dartmouth brand.

As it turns out, the Dartmouth name wields considerable influence, but does not ultimately seem to secure someone a job.

Naturally, getting hired based solely on where you go to school is highly improbable ­— if not impossible. That being said, almost every student I interviewed emphatically acknowledged that attending Dartmouth improved their chances for potential employment and in some instances even compensated for qualifications they might have been lacking.

Julia Pomerantz ’16, who was hired for a winterinternship during her junior year by a pension fund in Toronto, Canada, experienced this exact scenario. A chemistry major, she was the only person recently hired by the firm who did not have a finance background.

“The Dartmouth name definitely helped there,” Pomerantz said, noting that she was one of the few employees who went to school in the United States. She said that studying outside of Canada, coupled with the Dartmouth name, made her an appealing candidate for the job, despite having less knowledge about finance than her peers.

Ian Speers ’17, who has worked for the American Red Cross, American Public Health Association and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, expressed a similar sentiment about the College’s positive reputation in the workplace.

“[The response to the Dartmouth name] was always positive, people generally seemed to know the school, and, you know, it’s pretty well-respected. I didn’t have any negative or less than positive responses.”

Although one might think that Dartmouth students interviewing with prospective employers could encounter some measure of unfavorable bias due to the negative press the College has experienced in recent years, nobody with whom I spoke had experienced this or spoke of anyone who had.

Despite its status as an elite institution, the Dartmouth name might not have the same level of recognition as other elite institutions, especially one like Harvard University.

Isabel Alexander, a sophomore at Harvard, explained that she and her peers refer to saying where they go to school at “dropping the ‘H bomb’”. Due to Harvard’s history and international prestige, everyone knows the name, perhaps more than other schools, even comparably prestigious ones like Dartmouth.

“In fact, I think that’s why many students choose Harvard over other high-caliber schools.” Alexander said. “Its international clout grabs the attention of employers all over the world.”

Alexander said the name recognition of Harvard and Dartmouth may be only equal on a regional level, and not as much on an international one.

Alexander noted, however, that along with the prestige, Harvard’s name can also carry connotations of pretentiousness. The Dartmouth name is probably less associated with this quality.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if Harvard’s elite name backfired in cases where the job involved working with underprivileged individuals,” Alexander said. She noted that she once wore a Harvard hat to a soup kitchen and received snide remarks from some customers and employees.

Of the six Dartmouth students I interviewed, four had been hired through the corporate recruiting process. Sophie Hoffman ’16 went through recruiting during her sophomore summer and was hired as an intern for Goldman Sachs, where she will be returning full-time after graduation.

“The Dartmouth name definitely attracted a lot of employers to the school for recruiting and made it much easier to find opportunities,” Hoffman said.

Jacob Savos ’16, who was hired by Wayfair through corporate recruiting, echoed this. He noted that the consulting, finance and technology companies recruit heavily from Dartmouth. So in these sectors, Dartmouth “does well.”

Hoffman said that for students interested in other sectors the Dartmouth name might have less of an impact.

“I have friends who are interested in different types of opportunities who it was much harder for,” Hoffman said.

While the College’s reputation in the corporate world opens doors for many students, it does not always help those interested in internships and job opportunities in other fields.

Alexandra Sclafani ’18 plans to major in environmental science and said that in her experience, her less common major makes it slightly harder to find jobs.

“You kind of have to go out of the way to find things for yourself, it’s not like they come to Dartmouth to find you, like finance does,” Sclafani said.

Speers, who is majoring in anthropology and psychology and hopes to find a career in global health, felt similarly.

“It’s a little harder to understand where you are in the process, or, you know, NGOs or governmental organizations don’t fly you down to do an interview,” Speers said.

While both Sclafani and Speers were able to successfully find opportunities outside of Dartmouth channels, the same is not true for everyone.

Soyeun Yang ’16 is an English major who has not always felt the Dartmouth name provided her an advantage. She said that outside of corporate careers,“the Dartmouth name is a lot trickier.”

She noted that in her experience employers look for business undergraduates or students with specific refined technical skillsover those from liberal arts colleges such as Dartmouth.

Yang said thatinher junior year,finding internships in retail, her primary interest,proven difficult due to her lack of a merchandising background.

She saidthat while students should leverage their major and background as much as they can, ultimately, the technicalabilitiesthat the employer and industry seek outmay be more important the professional skills the student possesses.

Pomerantz expressed a similarly passionate response about the high number of students who complete corporate recruiting.

“I’m just realizing everybody goes into finance or consulting,” Pomerantz said. “Everybody. It’s crazy! And that’s why, because that’s where we carry clout, I guess.”

However, one of my most important discoveries was the strength of the Dartmouth alumni network, regardless of major or intended career trajectory.

Dartmouth alumni are everywhere and they are eager and willing to help students from their alma mater. Every student I talked to mentioned connections they had with Dartmouth alumni and the benefits these connections provided. In fact, many students mentioned that the alumni network was a major factor in their decision to come to Dartmouth. The alumni network, I believe, is an asset that sets Dartmouth apart from other elite institutions. Regardless of your field, major, experience or location, the Dartmouth name will always carry weight with another graduate from the College.

Hoffman said that as she went through corporate recruiting, all of her interviewers were Dartmouth alumni. In fact, the internship program she participated in at Goldman Sachs was designed specifically for Dartmouth students.

“Every week we would have lunches with partners or very senior people in the firm and there’s a lot of structure in place to connect us with other Dartmouth alums at the firm,” she said.

Other students said that Dartmouth alumni provide support and opportunities outside of finance.

The position Speers held at the CDC was part of a program initiated by a Dartmouth graduate through the Dickey Center for International Understanding.

Beyond the career opportunities alumni provide, the sheer size of the alumni network is impressive. Hoffman said that once a student graduates she has an “incredibly strong alumni network.”

No matter how much the Dartmouth name factors into the employment process, alumni enthusiasm prevails.

Correction appended: January 14, 2016

The original version of this article incorrectly stated that the internship Julia Pomerantz discussed was during her junior summer; it was in her junior winter.

The original version of this article did not specify the time during which Soyeun Yang was searching for internships in retail; it was during her junior year.

The original version of this article also incorrectly stated that Yang had described employers looking for students with refined technical schools; the phrase has been amended to technical skills.

The original version of this article also included an incorrect paraphrase of Yang’s quote about the characteristics of the job application process; the paraphrase has been amended.