How much does a university reputation mean on the job hunt?
July 8, 2012 9:54 PM   Subscribe

Does a Bachelor degree from an online university hurt my prospects on the job hunt?

I am 6 months away from completing an online degree in Instructional Design from Walden University. I am worried now that I made a terrible decision. The school program I am enrolled in seems legit and I have definitely learned a lot, but I fear that the schools reputation translates to a degree that is worthless (being an online for-profit school).

I am working extra hard on curricular job skills such as graphic/web design, HTML/CSS and JS and the principles of ID to bulk up my resume, but I worry that the school's rep will bar me from any legit opportunities that are out there once a hiring manager sees the Alma mater.

Am I out of luck? What advice would you give to someone (me) that will be done with the program soon, and is looking to break into a new career path? Any managers out there that could tell me if seeing the Walden or UofP grads mean circle bin for them?

posted by anonymous to Education (11 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Have a portfolio of your best work available online and make sure your resume links to it (your resume is likely to be viewed online, so have the link embedded to facilitate easy click-through.) It's ok if it was for classes rather than commercial projects, just make sure it's all work you're proud of, and make it easy to view all of it (i.e. not a slide show.) Good luck.
posted by fingersandtoes at 10:31 PM on July 8, 2012

It does, if your goal is to go strongly corporate. Coke and Pepsico likely won't be banging on your door to redesign their websites - unless you have good strong connections with them - and those connections and your talent would be what would land you your job - not your school credentials (beyond a diploma checkbox for formalities).

Otherwise, most people won't be familiar with your school. You didn't go to Harvard for web design, or even Florida State - the name recognition is what is lacking. They may find out that the degree is online via investigation, but realistically, if they've investigated your resume enough to search out your school, they've looked at your portfolio at that point as well (and as pointed out, that needs to be a good portfolio). In other words, it is passive to your job search, or if it isn't it is something investigated along with your portfolio.

Is it worthless? No, but recognize it for what it is: a checkbox for the requirement of a college diploma with acknowledgement that you know som coding and design. There are lots of talented folks that do have the same checkbox and the same skills. Your portfolio and personality (if the portfolio is strong enough to warrant an interview) is what will land you your job.
posted by Nanukthedog at 10:49 PM on July 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

In my experience, an online degree is a huge red flag. Many owners/managers/hiring personnel I know will send the resume toward the circular file.
However! Since you are in a field which demands a portfolio, I think your chances are better. The advice above is key - have your very best work available, and easy to access, and understand that you may be starting from a 'disadvantaged point' in re your degree, so you'll have to be extra personable and fantastic in your interview.
The good news is, (again, this is anecdotal) that being in a field which is more subjective may mean that potential bosses are willing to look at your skills, rather than the diploma - thus you will be on a more level playing field regarding your job search.
Best of luck to you!
posted by PlantGoddess at 11:29 PM on July 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

Just to note, the discipline in question is Instructional Design, not web design.

I was an employee of Walden University for several years, around 7-10 years ago. I don't have any connection with it any more. My opinions on it are really just based on my experience there and the knowledge of it I gained working for them. I don't have any experience or particular knowledge with your degree, however.

It is reasonable to have concerns about the reputation of for-profit, online education, both in terms of stigma and obscurity. These attitudes are definitely still out there, particularly among traditional college academics. It is an arena of education that is continuing to grow, however, and these attitudes are by necessity getting more flexible. A knee-jerk reaction against an online degree is no longer the norm.

Within the sphere of online education, furthermore, Walden has a relatively good reputation. Their graduate degrees in education and educational administration cater to working professionals and there are a very significant number of working education professionals out there with degrees from Walden at this point.

One of my jobs (in the Health and Human Services department) was to interview former students for a newsletter. I had a lot of firsthand contact with people who were very successfully advancing their careers on the basis of their education at Walden.

Think carefully about your experiences with faculty and about their connections and affiliations and pursue several solid letters of recommendation from professors you had a good experience with and who you respect that you can keep as references.

Obviously it is a tough market for new grads, but don't get hung up on your educational choice. It wasn't terrible or even bad and it is not going to automatically disqualify you for the job market. Focus on your skills, strengths and competencies and make sure you are out there with an outstanding resume and outstanding portfolio.
posted by nanojath at 11:42 PM on July 8, 2012 [5 favorites]

I notice degrees from online programs, but it isn't something that would automatically disqualify you. All things being equal, I'd prefer to hire people from traditional universities, but all things are rarely equal. Some of my hiring managers would be unlikely to even recognize that Walden is an online school. I'm in the tech field, FWIW.
posted by Lame_username at 12:13 AM on July 9, 2012

Having any Bachelor's degree is better than not having a Bachelor's degree. Could it hurt you? Possibly but the fact that it isn't University of Phoenix is a giant help here.

There are a LOT of people who would never know that was an online degree, in fact I'd say most or my hiring managers would have no idea. I didn't know until about a year ago and then I only know because of this forum.

Don't worry about it so much.
posted by magnetsphere at 6:41 AM on July 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

If I saw Walden University on your resume I wouldn't immediately know that it is an online university. I suspect the same is true of many, if not most people.
posted by COD at 6:43 AM on July 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

Where are you going to be applying for jobs? Are you planning on applying for Instructional Design jobs at other universities? Because I think traditional universities are probably 1) the most likely to notice that you have an online degree and 2) the most likely to hold it against you. If you're applying to other online universities, public schools, or other organizations, maybe it will be less obvious.

I think it really depends on what you're planning to do with the degree.
posted by mskyle at 6:46 AM on July 9, 2012

As a part-time resume writer/editor, my best advice for you is that unless you have zero job experience prior to this degree, your need to order your resume like this:

Work Experience
Technical Proficiencies
Education, phrased, "B.S., Instructional Design. Walden University, Minneapolis, MN."

That way, you grab whoever is reading your resume with your experience and ability first. If those areas are written well, they'll assume you have a degree anyway, and at the end, have that assumption confirmed without a lot of thought as to the name.
posted by juniperesque at 7:02 AM on July 9, 2012 [2 favorites]

Agree with those who say that online universties really only help if you are just trying to move up with your current employer by having more letters after your name. At my current place of employment, everyone is aware of Walden, Phoenix, and the like. Those schools are met with skepticism. Further, for someone like me who has friends who have served as professors at online schools to make extra money, I can assure that the (negative) reputation of these online schools proceeds them. It's not that the professors are all awful. It's that the calibur of the students requires the professor to lower the quality of their teaching or bend the curve so that they can end up with an even distribution of grades. So, if your goal is to learn and you are smart and knowledgable, you may not get so much out of it either.

At a former employer, they hired a grad of an online school and he ended up being forced out because he couldn't write at all, nor was he all that analytical. It may have been about him, but many people in management mentioned that it was likely that his online school just didn't prepare him for that.

To be fair, I taught at a brick and mortar, low ranked University as an adjunct for a little while, and I was asked by the department to essentially lower my expectations and my standards for grades because I "wasn't teaching at a top tier state school, much less an Ivy." I was also told that, "students just don't do that much homework at this University because they weren't prepped for it in high school." So, this is a problem in other places too.

Again, not all students at these schools fit that mold, however, many smart students may suffer because the professors have to teach to the middle. So, I just think that, if you're going to spend the money, spend it and make sure you learn as much as you can by the best people you can get access to. Education is an investment that can pay dividends.
posted by superfille at 7:39 AM on July 9, 2012

I've never heard of Walden University... it is also likely that the person viewing your resume haven't either...but everyone has heard of University of Phoenix.
posted by drstein at 6:48 PM on July 9, 2012

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