alma materAs humans we are comfortable with the familiar. We like big brands and name drop with pride (consciously and subconsciously). Exclaiming, “I drive a Mercedes insured by Geico, with music synced to my iPod, while sipping a can of Coke” is much different than declaring, “I drive a mid-sized sedan insured with PIP insurance, synced to my Mp3 player, while sipping a can of Kirkland cola.” Right now you are probably asking yourself, “What’s Kirkland cola?” You may get a similar reaction by peers or employers who may have never heard of the school you attended. As a career coach, I have frequently heard job seekers blame the lack of popularity of their school name for their lack of success.

Let’s begin with some figures. According to Infoplease.com, there are over 4,000 colleges and universities in the United States alone, so the odds are you have not heard of all of them either. Furthermore, the popularity of your school will vary depending on many factors, including the region you are located, size, public presence, and the reputation of their alumni (that’s where you come in).

Regardless of your school size, staying connected with your fellow alums is important, whether in-person or virtually. This gives you a sense of connectedness and builds your personal school spirit. Attend networking events, even if it is just once a year, and connect through social media groups such as those found on LinkedIn.

If you encounter an awkward moment where someone may seem to be questioning the validity, or even existence, of your alma mater, be prepared to educate them accordingly. Know the name of the national or regional body that accredits your university. In addition, determine if your degree program has a program-specific accreditation. Equipping yourself with information will give you the confidence to overcome anyone’s concern.

Remember, the further away you are from your graduation date the more your own reputation will matter. A degree from any institution, Ivy League or not, is not a one-way ticket to success. What are you doing as an individual to build a good name for yourself in your community? The legacy of a great alma mater is built around the legacy left by its alumni.

By Cathy Francois, Career Coach at American Public University

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