The Harvard Brand Matters

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Reflections on my interview process.

 

If there’s anything I learned this internship interview season, it is that the Harvard brand matters.

An increasingly vocal quarter of critics have called on high school students and parents nationwide to reconsider their collective craze over selective elite universities. They say liberal arts colleges or public universities can offer as fulfilling an education at a fraction of the price in an environment with a fraction of the anxiety.

But in an economy underscored by economic anxiety, it is only natural for parents and students to weigh job prospects when choosing colleges. And when it comes to jobs, elite universities like Harvard stand unmatched – as I learned first hand when interviewing this January for junior summer internships, often the gateway to full time offers.

The internship process involves a first round of resume drops. Those who make it past the resume screening are subjected to 2-3 rounds of interviews, each involving successive cuts until a chosen few win the gilded internship. A fair caveat – I applied to over 20 internship postings on the Harvard career services website and got interview callbacks for just over half of those. Even at a place like Harvard, jobs or interviews aren’t easy to obtain, not least because you’re up against a bunch of incredibly driven, talented peers.

But the very range and diversity of companies that decide to visit campus to interview is telling of a larger phenomenon. A representative of a prominent financial conglomerate confirmed that most tier one companies have ‘target schools’, which include the Ivies and other prominent institutions like Stanford and MIT. These companies do the bulk of their hiring from these target schools.

The companies come to these campuses and court the students through information sessions at fancy hotels or restaurants on campus; they often times hold coffee chats and breakfast events for interested candidates. Going into the application cycle, students from the so called ‘target schools’ are already better informed about navigating the job application process. Students from non-target schools often have to apply online: there are no on-campus visits and interviews, no courting. They often have to hustle their way to a round two interview by either working their connections or networking.

But the advantages do not stop there. Most Ivy League schools have a strong network of alumni at various companies, and this alumni network has your back once you make it to the interviews. Across the many companies my friends and I interviewed with, multiple alumni reached out, offering detailed assistance with interview preparation. Others even hopped on hour-long calls, telling us precisely what questions to prepare and what remarks to drop. Many of these alumni are placed high in their respective organizations and were able to arrange special pre-interview office visits to get a better sense of the work they did.

Going into the interview stage then, most students from these ‘target’ schools have a good idea of precisely what to expect, of what to say and of what not to say.

There are, of course, downsides to these professional advantages one obtains by simply attending a top school. Many say this courting creates a culture where students are mindlessly funneled into the corporate machinery; a culture where students are discouraged from pursuing their own passions, the collective campus passion devolving into finance or consulting. This is a debate for a separate day, but reading William Deresiewicz’s book, Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life, may be an interesting place to start.

 

Aditya Agrawal ’17 ([email protected]) shares an experience that is common on Ivy League campuses this time of year.