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Don Burleson Blog 








You can always tell a Harvard man - But not with the Harvard Extension School

Hiring Tips for Managers by Donald Burleson

December 29, 2015

I recently finished interviewing a job candidate who listed his degree from "Harvard University" plus a graduate degree from MIT.  I have interviewed many Ivy League graduates, and like most employers, we know that these scholars represent the finest minds in the world, overcoming intense competition to gain acceptable to schools like Harvard College.

This man presented himself poorly, and was not nearly as brilliant a person as I expected.  My first reaction was "alumni admission", but that was not the case here.

The old saying goes "You can always tell a Harvard Man (But you can't tell him much)!", and Harvard College remains one of the world's most prestigious colleges, largely because of their selective enrollment process. 

Traditionally, employers have used the Ivies as a screening tool, knowing that the top tier universities have some of the highest academic standards in the world.  Employers rewards those job candidates who have worked hard to gain acceptance into prestigious academic institutions.

But I learned that not all Harvard degrees are created equal.  The Harvard Extension school has an open enrollment policy, with none of the academic screening and competition of the "real" Harvard College program.  That's fine, but the problem is that this applicant did not mention the "extension school" on his resume, and wanted me to believe that he was a graduate of Harvard College. 

While I'm sure that the Harvard Extension School is a fine institution, it's deceptive of their graduates to suggest that they have earned a place among Pulitzer Prize winners and Presidents.

A quick internet search reveals that this resume fraud is a real problem, with marginal scholars touting their affiliations with Harvard University and MIT in hopes of fooling naive employers.

We have learned the hard way that not all Harvard, MIT and Cornell graduates are created equal. 

Resume deception should be a crime

All across America, HR departments struggle with resume deception and fraud, largely because unscrupulous applicants know that there is no risk, it's all perfectly legal to lie about your academic achievements.

I can understand why somebody would be proud to have been selected to attend Harvard where tens of thousands of kids from all over the world compete to earn admission into this most prestigious institution.  While I have never met a graduate of Harvard College was was not brilliant, I've met more than a few marginal scholars from the Harvard Extension School, and the only reason I encountered them was because they deliberately failed to note that they were affiliated only with the Harvard extension school program.

I met one Harvard Extension certificate holder who was functionally illiterate, I kid you not, she could barely read and write . . .  She is quite proud of her Harvard certificate and advertised her affiliation as "Harvard trained" in her newspaper advertisements. 

Of course, people instantly recognize that she has elementary school literacy skills and most folks feel ripped-off after wasting their time contacting this poser.

Not all Harvard degrees are equal

There is nothing wrong with getting these certificates (the Harvard Extension use the same professors as Harvard College), but it's a real fraud for Harvard Extension graduates to misrepresent themselves as Harvard College graduates.

  • The Harvard extension school is an open-enrollment night school which issues bachelors degrees, with none of the competition and selectivity that distinguishes Harvard College as a prestigious institution.
  • Unlike Harvard College, the Harvard Extension school does not require stellar SAT scores nor valedictorian-level academics.
  • Harvard Extension School credits are not transferrable to Harvard College, and it's next to impossible for a Harvard Extension School student to transfer into Harvard College.

Sadly, these ordinary extension students even get a Harvard e-mail address, further allowing them to pretend that they were accepted to Harvard College. 

Many of these Harvard e-mail addresses to try to mislead prospective employers ("I'm a Harvard man"), and sadly there are some employers who believe that these fellows underwent the same super-selective screening process as Harvard College students. 

However, some employers don't care that Harvard Extension degrees are not as worthy as the real-deal Harvard because they want to deceive their customer. 

It's very prestigious for a corporation to advertise that they have "Harvard educated" employees on their payroll.  Personally, it makes Harvard look bad and it also deceives the general public who believe that being accepted to Harvard takes years of hard work. 

Deception with MIT certificates

This problem is not unique to Harvard and unscrupulous job seekers will be deceptive about any prestigious schools that offer "extension" programs, like MIT and Cornell.

I had one scumbag tell me "I attended MIT" in an interview, when he hadn't completed any of the rigorous qualifications required for regular entry into the MIT undergraduate program.  This poser didn't even have a college degree!  Instead, he had earned an "MIT Sloan - Executive Certificate in Management and Leadership" without even having a degree, and he felt that this workshop entitled him to say that he had attended MIT! 

The easiest way to tell a "fake" MIT certificate holder is to ask to see their "Brass Rat" (The MIT class ring), which is only awarded to real MIT students.  Most MIT posers will not know what you mean when you say "Brass Rat".

MIT posers will not know that the school ring is called a "brass rat"


Ivy posers are out of their league

This problem of Ivy League posers is that they waste time and cost money, as HR professionals waste time and money on interviews and background checks from job applications whowant you to believe that they are Ivy league graduates. 

This type of misrepresentation shows the sad trend that some people are dishonest and deceptive.  I had one Harvard Extension student lie to be at a job interview, saying that the Extension had rigorous admission standards that were comparable to Harvard College.  It just ain't so. . .  

Hiring Managers - Accept no substitutes

Again, there is nothing wrong with these extension programs per se, just be forewarned that not all Ivy league degrees are created equal.

I'm sure that there are exceptional graduates of the extension schools, and my note here only serve as warnings to fellow managers against the "bad apples" who misrepresent their Ivy league affiliation to deceive employers.

Of course, not everyone agrees.

Please see below, where some students of the extension school have sent notes reiterating that they are just as good as graduates of Harvard College.  This reader feedback speaks volumes about the selectivity of the Harvard Extension School and the quality of their students. Judge for yourself . . .

Reader Comments:

Received April 17, 2015

Good day Burleson Consulting,

I recently came across an article on your web site bashing the Harvard Extension School.

 Was there a reason that the writer of that article picked on the Extension School's open enrollment policy. I would just like to point out that the open enrollment policy does not guarantee a passing grade in any of the courses offered. It appears the writer of that article could be one of those people that have tried to pass a course at the Harvard Extension School and Failed.

The writer goes on to bash the Harvard Extension School concerning those individuals that have misrepresented themselves concerning their attendance there. The writer fails to understand that these misrepresentations occur regardless of what college/universities they use on their resumes. Indeed there are individuals that have been fraudulent claiming medical degrees from Princeton University on their resumes (Princeton does not have a medical school), or business degrees from Yale (Yale does not have a business school).

Why the Harvard Extension School is singled out could only be due to a vendetta the nameless author has against it.

Sincerely, AV

I was searching online for some information about the Harvard Extension School and accidentally came across your article "You Can Always Tell a Harvard Man - But not with the Extension School" instead. I hope you will allow me a few brief comments, not necessarily in defense of the Harvard Extension School, but simply to offer a bit of clarification. I am NOT a student there, as I have my own negative perceptions of the Extension School as well, but I have taken classes there and while I'm sure it's not always comparable to Harvard College, overall it does offer a quality education.

Secondly, if you research the Extension School's admission requirements, you will find that there is a selective process for entry into the degree programs. It is true that anyone who can pay the tuition can take courses at Harvard Extension School. However, to be admitted to the degree programs, students must submit writing samples, complete at least 4 Harvard Extension School classes with at least a 3.0 GPA, and have a cumulative GPA of 2.5. Students who are admitted to the degree program and earn a GPA of 3.33 or higher after completing 32 credits are in fact eligible to take courses at Harvard College.

While there are plenty of "average" folks in the Harvard Extension School, there are also several very bright and talented students, so don't write it off completely. Please, in the future, take enough personal responsibility in your distribution of (dis)information to adequately research the topic.

First of all, the man neglected to mention that while the Harvard Extension School is open enrollment, there is a formal admissions process to enter the degree programs. Granted this admissions process is no where on the level of Harvard College , it is still comparable to a top tier state school. Take for instance The University of Washington, which requires a 2.5 GPA to transfer into their undergraduate college, that same MINIMUM standard is required to enter the Extension School 's ALB program. It is even higher for the MLA. Now if the author wants to discount the Extension School as being illegitimate than he should discount most colleges that require a 2.5 transfer GPA, not to mention the ones that simply require a 2.0.

I admit personally that there have been numerous people trying to pass off their Extension School degree as bonafide [sic] College degrees but their deception shouldn't undermine the exceptional work that many Extension School students put into the program. The author should?ve done a little more homework to realize that if a student maintains a 3.3 GPA average after 32 credits of study, he is granted Special Student Status, which allows him to take up to two College courses a semester. Now if your Consulting firm can find me another academic program from a top tier school that can get me into Harvard College off a 3.3 GPA then I would proudly hop on the anti-Harvard Extension bandwagon.

Some other nifty options that Harvard allows Extension Students to undertake are Research Assistantships, access to all the College Clubs and Organizations, and volunteering at the Philip Brooks House. The Extension School allows the student to make his or her own education worthwhile. The program is a work your way up Harvard program, where as long as you maintain a high GPA the more access you?re allowed into the many options Harvard has in store for you.

So while the article makes some valid points about some students using the Extension Program as a community college, it's more than just enrolling for classes that makes the degree worth it. It's what you do with your time there that makes it stand out more.

To whom this may concern,

Initially, I wanted to make a public comment in response to this particular article by Don Burleson:

However, your site doesn't provide a link (or at least a visible one) to do so.  I will keep this as short as I can as I'm sure you have things to do - For instance, blemishing the credibility of Harvard University Extension School.

I am currently living in Las Vegas and am taking a class online with the Extension School.  For your site to blatantly discount and discredit my school is a blasphemy, and your ill-intentioned writer needs to go back to school himself to study the method of "Conducting Thorough Research 101".  Most of his "facts" were clearly inaccurate, and still you published his article nonetheless.  You should be ashamed for misleading
the public who come to you for advice and keep your business afloat. 

For people like me who have families and full-time jobs, it's a blessing for an institution like Harvard to give us the opportunity to obtain a quality education from quality Harvard instructors.  Not only did this site belittle my choice to go there and the value of money I spent, but it belittled the work of acclaimed Harvard faculty who split their time between Harvard College and Harvard Extension School.  Those faculty members are a perfect example of people who care about education - no matter which school their students attend within the Harvard University family of schools. 

Your writer claims that Harvard Extension issues bachelor degrees, which it does not. Depending on one's field of study, one must first complete a certain amount of credits at Extension and then complete the rigorous application process to Harvard College's degree programs.  It is not until an individual is accepted into a DEGREE PROGRAM
offered at Harvard College (for which many Extension students opt to strive) that they can be issued a degree.  Again, tell your writer to do his homework. 

The Extension School grants people like me (the people whom your writer blatantly denunciates) the opportunity to transfer into a Harvard College degree program by first encouraging us to maintain a 3.3 gpa, and allowing us to take classes that help to build academic credibility. These courses do not harvest "serious idiots" nor are we "dishonest and deceptive".  To be honest, I'm extremely hurt by your writer's remarks.  And again, it's a shame that your writer abused his power to reach out to his readers by vandalizing the quality of Extension Schools (Harvard or other).

Perhaps your writer was disenfranchised by a particular isolated experience with an individual who used his/her Harvard CERTIFICATE fraudulently, but that doesn't warrant the horrible nature in which he wrote his article.  Please re-examine his credibility as a writer for your company.  And please rethink keeping this
article on your site.

Dylann Tejero
26 September 08

It is important to first clarify some things:

Firstly, I want to make a formal apology for some misinformation on my part. 

I mentioned that HES doesn't offer Bachelors degrees, but it indeed does.  Well, ONE to be exact, for Liberal Arts.  They also offer Masters degrees as well, but I digress.  Also, Extension credits are not transferable to the College like I thought they were. Extension students who do attend "The College" are those who are under "Special Student Status" who have earned the privilege by conducting their academic endeavors fittingly. The requirements for a degree mentioned in my previous letter are that of the Extension's in order to be considered for a degree program within that school, not the College.  All these things were clarified to me by my academic advisor after showing him your article. 

Again, please accept my humblest apologies for the misinformation on my part.  I may have confused your readers as I was confused myself, and was speaking in haste and frustration, so I apologize profusely to all. Perhaps we share the same fact checker? 

With that said, if that former applicant said he/she has a Bachelors degree, and it was for Liberal Arts, AND he provided appropriate credentials to prove so, I don't see why he should be labeled a liar.  But, that's your prerogative. I guess it all depends on individual people who intentionally leave out the "Extension School" portion of the school's name when in interviews.  I can't apologize for them nor speak on their behalf, but I do sympathize for the unfortunate situation.

Please know most of the people who do graduate from HES are proud to have the education that this school offers to its students.  And some of that pride does come from the "Harvard" name, considering most of the faculty teach the same material to both schools and that HES is, in fact, part of the Harvard family. And though your particular company makes the choice to hire only from the College when Harvard alumni apply for jobs, please consider the fact that the education received at HES is also quite exceptional. 

To further prove so, I beg you to please take some time to read this short article printed in the Crimson (it's very uplifting):

If you will print my last letter on your page, please, if possible, also print this one as to avoid any misguided discourse for your readers. I came upon your article after enrolling to get more information on the school, so if anyone else does the same, I'd hate for them to get confused. 

Thank you, again, for your time and prompt respose.

Dylann Tejero
3 October 08

Author Response:

Thanks for your feedback.

Please understand that I have no problems with your school whatsoever, it sounds wonderful.

What I have a problem with is the graduates representing themselves as Harvard Graduates, deceptively placing themselves among the finest scholars in the world. My company prefers those with degrees from Harvard College and we waste time every month with fraudsters who says that they possess a Harvard degree.

>> "Your writer claims that Harvard Extension issues bachelor degrees, which it does not."

Thanks for bring this to my attention.

I wrote this page in direct response to people whose resumes indicated that that had a bachelors degree from Harvard.

During the interview, they admitted that they attended Harvard Extension School. I guess the degree was a lie too. . . .

It seems that Mr. Burleson refuses to get his facts straight on the Harvard Extension School.

Even after he's received complaints about his article, he continues to repeat lies about the Extension School.

Graduates of the Extension School ARE graduates of Harvard, period. Harvard Extension School is not some office building on the other side of the Charles River with a half ripped banner that says 'Harvard Extension'. It is an actual school of the University situated on campus like the College, the GSAS and the Law School. The only difference is that it caters to adult learners part time. The Extension School does not issue Bachelors degrees, only the University and the Fellows of Harvard College do. Extension Students receive their degrees from them and them only. There is no Extension School bachelors degree. The people who told you that they received their degrees from the Extension School were just referring to their school (affiliation), like someone would mention they received their degree from the Law School. In reality though, they're both Harvard University graduates.

What part of this is Mr. Burleson just not understanding? It seems as though he did very little homework on the subject and decided to demean the school out of spite. An Extension School bachelors degree is upheld by the University as a legitimate Harvard University degree. Extension School graduates join the same alumni network as students from the College. They participate in the same graduation commencement, join the same clubs, and have access to the same alumni clubs all around the world.

So should a person interested in hiring a Harvard grad with an Extension degree really listen to Mr. Burelson's [sic] shoddy, spiteful advice or should he listen to Harvard University?

Ruben Borges

Author response:

>> Graduates of the Extension School ARE graduates of Harvard, period.

No, they are not.  Most hiring managers know only of Harvard College.

Harvard College is among the most selective universities in the world, and only accept the world's best scholars.  The Harvard extension school is not nearly as selective and accepts many marginal students. 

Corporation reply on Harvard to pre-select the best people in America, and it's ?posers? like you who commit fraud against the hiring community by pretending to be ?Harvard Men?. 

You waste our time, and our money.

It's deceptive, and my warnings to hiring managers are confirmed by your ridiculous statements of equality.

You have quite the nerve Mr. Borges, comparing yourself to the best and the brightest in the world.

Mr. Burleson,

With respect, I just wanted to email this to you, I know this was written last November, but I had happen to come across this while scanning through the internet, and wanted to respond, even though it has been 8 months. I didn't go to Harvard College, but I did go to Harvard Law School, which is almost just as difficult to get into, if not just as hard, based on the amount of applicants and percentage rate. Sometime after a personal medical injury I went back to school to Harvard Extension School for an ?engineering degree? (actually it was an Information of Biotechnology degree which was accredited by the  USTPO) to become a Patent Attorney;  like documented on some of the emails, there is a Bachelors degree as well as a Masters degree and even an Associate degree. You need to take the minimum of 3 classes as a unregistered student and have a B- or better in all of them to be accepted in as a HES student, then after 32 credits you can apply to the College if you have a 3.3 GPA to take 2 classes per semester, if you qualify (you won't be accepted into the College itself though). As a HES student you will have access to anything like a HC student will expect one thing, and that is the eligibility to play on their official sport teams.

I taught at a state school back in the day, and the Extension School is MUCH better and harder than any other state school in that state, plus the connections you get are great, because you are legally, (not by knowledge or respect) considered a Harvard University Grad., for example- if you go to  any other school and take their night classes, you will get the same degree as the day students do. Even though the HES diploma does state ?Extension? on it instead of College. The Extension school is one of 13 schools at Harvard University. No other school in the country, to my knowledge at least, states night school on the student diploma's even though it's easier to get into night school and/or continuing education than day school. So the school does credit those who do go to the College vs. the Extension in their own way.

But with that information put aside, I strongly agree with you, not that it is easy, but that is definitely EASIER to get into the Extension then the College and not the same requirements. Those that do get into the College deserve more  respect, acknowledgment and credit for getting into one of the best schools in the country, if not the best. In simple words I do agree, it is two different levels of planes or qualifications you are talking about, but the HES is also a very well recognized school itself and definitely above average on the standard of difficulty.

David Brownsville

This is in response to your article degrading extension school graduates. I decided to write my response to you in English, as you may not speak French, German, Arabic, or Spanish.
I am an Extension School student. I received Bachelors of Science in Management and Operations, from Faculty of Tourism and Hotel, School of Hotel and Restaurant Management, Helwan University, Cairo, Egypt. 

I expect that you are going to dismiss that school, just because you never heard of it, even though that the graduates of my class are managing, operating, and administering every upper class hotel in the Middle East and east Mediterranean, not mentioning that the bearers of our PhD program are currently teaching at Cornell, Lausanne, Maastricht, and Tennessee.

I expect that you are going to dismiss these schools too as insignificant, because they are not up to your standards. I am not sure also how many people you have interviewed in your life, but, given your high level of expectations, it seems that the number of people whom were granted the honor to meet your Excellency, is limited to a select few, who have caused you a headache by intruding on your comfort zone. Please excuse my English, it is my third language.
I am a Business analyst in a Mega Casino, with certificates from American Hotel & Lodging Association, American Society of Travel Agencies, Microsoft, Cisco, 3Com, and MySQL. I supervise four managers and fifteen employees. My direct supervisor is the Hotel Executive GM, who is a part owner of the Hotel/Casino.

You should appreciate that I dedicated 20 minutes of my time to respond to you, and tell you that your bashing of my school has left a bitter taste in my throat beyond your belief.

I work hard, dedicate 20 hours a week for my on-line classes, ignore my kids football games and choirs, leave my wife to go out alone, pay thousands of dollars from my own pocket and spend it on my education instead of buying things for my household, have sleepless nights before the finals, and travel hundreds of miles for the final exams, just to finish my Masters dgree [SIC] at Faculty of Engineering and Applied Sciences at Harvard University, through Harvard Extension School.
Then come your Excellency to destroy my image in front of my son, and everyone who may search for information about my school, just because you ran into a couple of bad apples. You are deliberately ignoring the bad apples that graduated YOUR school.

 Maybe it would be good for us to know what school did YOU graduate, so we can look for your worst peers, and make sure that we constantly consider their low level of performance as an example of what you may deliver in goods and services.
My field of study includes Database Management, distributed computing, systems programming, software design, which will include, but not limited to: UNIX, Oracle, Java, and Artificial Intelligence.

So let me say it delicately, but firmly; Due to your article of bashing my school, I had to spend 25 minutes with my son doing nothing but dismissing your article from the mind of my 12 years old son, who was looking on line for information about his father's school, to get encouraged to pursue education at Harvard Secondary school.

I will free myself later for a more solid response to you, and everyone who bashes my school later. For the time being, you may enjoy your claim of supremacy, as I see your style of behavior on daily basis in the hospitality industry.
Please, keep on your act of royalty, as we make a living on the balloons of ego similar to yours. By the way, if you think that this article is the best way to promote your business, you just lost one client here, and I promise you, there should be more to lose with your attitude.

Essam Mahmoud Awad (

And our response:

Thank you for your note.  Your response speaks volumes about the admission standards of the Harvard extension school and the personal integrity and intelligence of the students.



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