Résumé Bait and Switch

On December 10, 2013 · 13 Comments

New reader "Thomas" sent an email to 12MC concerning an institution of higher learning seemingly out of place geographically. The University of California has a number of affiliated campuses, although none of them are located in Pennsylvania. Yet, oddly there’s a California University of Pennsylvania. As always, there was a twist to the situation as I looked closer. The university was placed in a town called California outside of Pittsburgh. The town was founded in 1849, presumably in commemoration of the California Gold Rush that was happening at the same time. The university simply took the name of the town and the state. I replied that it reminded me of another geographically counterintutive institution from the same state, Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

California University… of Pennsylvania

This could provide an exceptional opportunity for mischief, I thought as I considered the possibilities further. What if people wanted to misrepresent where they earned their diplomas, maybe pad a résumé or impress their friends, or for some other unknown reason? Maybe it would be easier or cheaper to attend a soundalike institution instead. If miscreants said that they’d graduated from Cal, would it be their fault if others assumed they were referring to UC Berkeley instead of lesser-known Cal U in PA?(¹).

I am certain that all of the similarly-named colleges and universities are perfectly fine places with solid reputations. However, the better known versions could convey additional benefits or prestige whether academic or athletic if used deceivingly. Those of questionable moral standing could easily employ a bait-and-switch.

I was curious to discover the prevalence of such opportunities even though I don’t condone improper use. The examination began with a listing of colleges and universities in the US, UK and Canada. I sorted for similarities and compiled a lot of close matches in a shared Google Doc. I distilled that down to a handful of optimal deceptive options.

Ivy League

Spring @ Cornell
Spring @ Cornell by matt.hintsa, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) license

Several options presented themselves for those unable to gain admission to an Ivy League school or those unwilling to shoulder a six-figure student debt upon graduation. I called these choices the "Cheap Ivies" (not to be confused with the Public Ivies).

How about Cornell College in Iowa instead of the Cornell University in New York? They were founded by distant cousins from the same family so they’re practically the same. Any of the Columbia Colleges (Missouri, South Carolina, Illinois) could substitute for Columbia University. Finally, nobody would really need to know that Penn referred to William Penn University instead of the University of Pennsylvania.


Notre Dame Band, Notre Dame Stadium, University of Notre Dame DDZ_0303
Notre Dame Band, Notre Dame Stadium, University of Notre Dame DDZ_0303 by NDomer73, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0), license

Not everyone will want to attend a big-time athletics school. Those universities tend to have tens of thousands of students. They can be very impersonal places. However everyone wants to be associated with a winner, right? A certain image would come across if someone mentioned he was a Notre Dame grad. It could quickly become a launching point for a thousand barroom conversations (or brawls) as long as he didn’t mention his preference for the Notre Dame Falcons from Ohio instead of the Fighting Irish. Similar situations existed for Georgetown in Kentucky, and Miami University of Ohio. How about Pitt? One could easily substitute Pittsburg State University in Kansas for the University of Pittsburgh.

Was it be Seton Hall University or it’s nearly identically-named Seton Hill University? They’re both named for the same person, Elizabeth Ann Seton, so go for it.


Cambridge University
Cambridge University by Caffeinehit, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0) license

The University of Cambridge and its 31 constituent colleges in England are known throughout the world. There have been 90 Nobel laureates affiliated with the university. Stephen Hawking has long been associated with Cambridge. Isaac Newton went there. Its long list of famous alumni have made some of the most important contributions to mankind for the last several centuries. Wouldn’t it be so much easier to pursue a degree from Cambridge College in Massachusetts? "I completed my studies at Cambridge" would be a completely true statement.

Other substitutions could include Ottawa University in Kansas in lieu of the University of Ottawa in Ontario, Canada. Then there were the Yorks. There are York Colleges in Nebraska, New York and Pennsylvania, along with York University in Ontario and the University of York in England. Go ahead and substitute any one for any other.

Something Different

Lincoln Memorial
Guess I should use one of my own photos while I’m at it

I found a similar situation with the Lincolns. There were Lincoln Universities in Missouri and Pennsylvania and a University of Lincoln in England. None of those were the unusual one. That honor went to Lincoln Memorial University in Tennessee. Someone could have so much mischievous fun with Lincoln Memorial.

It wasn’t their fault, though. The founders established Lincoln Memorial University in 1897. The Lincoln Memorial — the edifice in Washington, DC — wasn’t constructed until 1922.

(¹) Actually that would be completely and utterly wrong so don’t do that.

On December 10, 2013 · 13 Comments

13 Responses to “Résumé Bait and Switch”

  1. Steve says:

    When one mentions California University of PA, there is a rule that one must also mention Indiana University of Pennsylvania which, despite the color scheme of the logo, has nothing in the world to do with University of Indiana in, um, Indiana.

  2. Fritz Keppler says:

    I remember back in Vietnamese Language school at Fort Bliss TX that a number of my classmates and fellow draftees were from Iowa, and several of them had gone to Cornell College. They found it an easy way to impress their dates (when they were a safe distance from Iowa) to state accurately that they went to Cornell. It apparently impressed the dates no end. Only rarely was any of them pressed for more specific details, such as when it turned out that one of the dates had gone to Ithaca College not far from Cornell University.

  3. Philip Newton says:

    You may also be interested in this article about similarly-named colleges in the Universities of Cambridge and Oxford in England: http://fanf.livejournal.com/89717.html

    (Which currently gives me a 503 cache error, in which case you might want to try Google’s cache or some similar: http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:kllxfqwqtfAJ:fanf.livejournal.com/89717.html+&cd=1&hl=en&ct=clnk )

  4. RSN says:

    A minor point of contention: Miami University in Ohio predates the founding of the city of Miami by 16 years, and the founding of the University of Miami by 116 years. One could say that those attending the Florida school are the real pretenders.

    Also: Lake Forest in Illinois vs. Wake Forest in North Carolina. “I played basketball for *mumble*-ake Forest” would probably work on the ladies, too.

  5. TB says:

    The mindtrip the NFL ‘sArizona Cardinals pulled on some football fans not familiar with the Grand Canyon State by playing at first in Arizona State University’s home stadium and then inside a stadium named after the University of Phoenix might not technically qualify in this category, but boy, it’s up there.

  6. January First-of-May says:

    I used to think that the Russian abbreviation for Moscow State University is shared with at least two other universities in Moscow. Turned out one of them doesn’t appear to exist, and the other has a different abbreviation. (There are, apparently, several universities elsewhere that do have the same abbreviation; but not in Moscow.)
    Nizhny Novgorod State University[1] has a funny situation with how it’s abbreviated in Russian; the Russian adjective for “Nizhny Novgorod” is, technically, a single word, and there is actually only one N in it (for complicated historical reasons), but the abbreviation has two Ns anyway – possibly because the version with one N is already the abbreviation for Novosibirsk State University 🙂
    And while it’s not particularly useful as bait and switch, it is certainly pretty funny that so many of the world’s top universities are located in Cambridge (the entire top three, according to one study).

    [1] aka “Lobachevsky State University of Nizhny Novgorod”, apparently

    • You’ll be happy to know that the University of Idaho is located in Moscow. Well, the Moscow in Idaho.

      • January First-of-May says:

        I would certainly be very happy to know that 🙂
        I actually wondered whether there were any universities in any of the American Moscows, but wasn’t sure and didn’t want to search too much. So your reply was very helpful in that regard.

      • January First-of-May says:

        PS: And looking at the Wikipedia article for Moscow ID, apparently, “Main Street runs north-south through Moscow along the 117th meridian west”. That’s pretty cool (even though, according to all map sites I checked, the actual meridian is one block east at Washington Street).

  7. Michael says:

    Legend has it (citation needed) that the founders of California, PA had set out from the east coast with a slogan of “California or Bust”. They did not make it nearly as far as intended, (I guess traveling was harder than they anticipated) but, to be men of their word, they established the town of California at the spot where they gave up.

  8. Peter says:

    Some administrators and others connected with the University of Central Florida want to change the institution’s name, which perhaps isn’t entirely surprising given the lingering prejudices against directionals. They’ve successfully agitated for sports media to refer to the school as UCF.

    One proposal that’s been getting some support is to change the name to University of Orlando. Bad idea, I’d say. While some perfectly fine universities have “University of [City]” names (e.g. Chicago, Houston, Miami, Pittsburgh), any new additions are too likely to be suffer by association with the University of Phoenix. That’s a worse taint than any directional name.

    Actually, if there’s a Sunshine State university that’s urgently in need of a new moniker, it’s the University of South Florida. Not only is Tampa geographically not in the southern part of the state, the term “South Florida” has a very specific meaning – Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties – that needless to say excludes Tampa.

  9. Brandon but says:

    Figured it’s worth a mention that there’s a College of Notre Dame of Maryland located in Baltimore that wasn’t mentioned on your Google Doc. It definitely causes a little confusion for out-of-towners. And it famously has the unfortunate abbreviation of C.O.N.D.O.M. That’s made for a quite a few jokes over the years… I went to Loyola University across the street from Notre Dame (another university that has 4 similarly named locations across the country, but I have a feeling they’re all somehow related), and the jokes about the school were endless. It doesn’t help that they’re an all-girls college…

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