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Without evading the question (e.g. by abruptly changing to another topic)
or directly refusing (e.g. 'Sorry, but I don't wish to answer.' or 'This is a personal question.') that would seem strange because this question is common,
how can I politely avoid answering questions on which university I attended?

One reason: I don't believe in judging people and their character by their alma mater.

This question excludes contexts that necessitate knowledge of educational background, e.g. an application or interview for a job or education.

  • 3
    Wait what? You don't want to answer, because you don't want to be judged based on where you attended? Also, on the side, is this a specific situation that you are facing? The best questions include details on the exact issue and situation that you are having, and would include details such as how you view your friends, where you are in the world (cultural dimensions), and other aspects that are relevant to the question. You've also listed things that you don't want to say - are there reasons you don't want to say those things? – Zizouz212 Aug 3 '17 at 3:23
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    Welcome! Can you please expand on your question? Some additional details would be helpful (you don't have to tell us which university you attended). It's also particularly helpful if you actually include the question in the body. Right now, you're relying on the title for your question, which can be confusing. – Catija Aug 3 '17 at 3:24
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    Could you add a country tag to this question, and edit this question and add some information about the cultural context? The answer to this question will depend on your cultural context. – user288 Aug 4 '17 at 3:49
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    You not believing in judging people is a good reason for you not to ask such questions, but isn't really a reason not to answer the question when it's put to you. Can you edit this to explain in more detail why you don't want to answer? – curiousdannii Aug 4 '17 at 12:06
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    It is not clear whether you went to Harvard and don't want to brag, or whether you went to an obscure school and don't want people to think less of you for it. – user1760 Aug 11 '17 at 22:45
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Generally people ask either because they're using the information as a basis to judge you, like in a job interview, or they're just making general conversation, and looking for a way to get to know you better.

In either case avoiding the question is problematic.

In a job interview it's downright foolish. Omitting this information or avoiding the question can only hurt your chances.

In social situations, you have a little more wiggle room depending on how the question is phrased. For instance if they simply ask where you went to school:

Oh, I went to school in sunny Florida. Nice and warm down there, but the mosquitos will carry you away.

This isn't exactly an abrupt change in subject, but it accomplishes the same goal socially. Chances are they'll be thinking about Florida, the weather, or mosquitos now.

More direct question wording will be more problematic. If they specifically ask "what school did you graduate from?" You may have fewer options for diversion. Here cheap jokes can offer some help:

I graduated from the school of hard knocks.

I've been kicked out of some of the finest institutions in the North East.

I feel your pain here. The list of highschools I attended is... well... a little problematic professionally and socially. One of them was so exclusive that you had to be personally recommended by a sitting judge.


Warning and disclaimer...

The sort of people who are going to judge you socially based on your alma mater are likely going to just find some other criteria to judge you on. Often any answer that isn't the school they went to personally, or a better school, will be a mark against you. Such people should generally be avoided, because they're generally awful and their cloud of smug threatens to consume us all.

Find a better bunch of people to socialize with.

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    Would their "cloud of smug" be considered "academic smog"? – Witan ap Danu Aug 3 '17 at 6:44
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    It took me a while to decode "personally recommended by a sitting judge"! Obviously my sense of irony is turned off today. – AndyT Aug 3 '17 at 9:33
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    "Such people should generally be avoied because they're generally awful and their cloud of smug threatens to consume us all" -- this phrase is so perfectly and aptly worded that had me nodding with approval and satisfaction for a good 5 minutes. +1 just for that. – Tasos Papastylianou Oct 9 '17 at 11:16
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Sometimes I wish to evade this question too. The reason is a bit strange: as a kid I was quite a star at school and had the enormous privilege of attending one the most prestigious unis in the UK. Afterwards I returned to real life and continued.

Most people are impressed if they discover this. However, there are some grade A assholes in the world, and people who, on discovering that I have this rather impressive line in my CV, react very negatively indeed. I've had insults, bad names, slander, you name it. One drunken guy actually tried to beat me up.

So I have learnt to keep it hidden when meeting strangers. I say, "oh, down south". Then I change the subject.

  • Funny how this makes me really curious what university, but clearly I can't just ask you... – Sojourner Aug 10 '17 at 23:56
  • Ach! It was just the Fen poly – RedSonja Aug 11 '17 at 7:10
  • @ErikE From the phrasing of their question I'm guessing either Oxford or Cambridge. (I know other Unis in the UK are equally as good, but knowledge of them is usually more regional e.g. my parents couldn't tell you what are the best Unis in London) – Louise Davies Aug 11 '17 at 12:49
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In a social situation, I would answer the question "indirectly." I might say, "I have degree in engineering (or whatever your major is). Or. as another poster suggested, "I went to school in (geographical location). That addresses the question without giving them the answer they want.

In a job interview, of course, you would answer the question. That is "fair game" for a job interview, but not for social situations.

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This is a tricky one and depends very much on context. (in interview, or social chit chat)

Doing it politely can be relatively straight forward, just use polite phrasing to explain you do not want to answer that question:

I'm sorry, I don't want to answer that question

This will most likely result further questioning in any situation, however is a direct answer to the question you posed.

Politely avoiding the question elegantly, in a way that is not necessarily going to be noticed however is another matter.

Politicians try to do this kind of thing all the time and depending on context will use different techniques.

Refusing to answer is essentially the example I gave above. There are very few ways of doing this politely.

Turning it around: being vague and then asking them the question and moving the topic on

Where did you go to university?

Down south to study Bio Chem. How about you? what did you study?

Lying:

Where did you go to university?

Harvard. Yourself?

Transition the question, answer something similar:

Where did you go to university?

I find it interesting that people tend to ask where we studied before what we studied? For what it's worth I studied Physics. Do you think that it's because they're more likely to have things to say about a location and culture rather than the topic of study?

These tend to feel clunky and a lot like a politician talking. That's because it is very difficult to elegantly not answer such a direct and normally innocuous question (and I am not a politician)

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