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Undergrad Institution as a Basis for Considering Applicants


PsychWannabee

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Hi all! In the midst of application season, I came across a thread on a different website where people discussed factors they considered when looking at psychology graduate applications, and one individual was very clear that they looked for a "high tier undergraduate institution". Some people pointed out that someone's choice of undergraduate institution could be situational/ circumstantial and not be reflective of that person's intellectual capacity, but that person insisted that it had to do with their aptitude. 

Personally, I am a bit biased in this situation because I graduated from a virtually unranked institution. This did not have anything to do with my aptitude as I graduated top of my class and had 95th+ percentile standardized test scores, excellent extra-curriculars, etc. I am a low-income, first-generation student, and, even with financial aid, there was no way I could financially be able to attend somewhere like UT- Austin even though I had automatic acceptance because of my credentials. So, in my humble opinion, it seems somewhat unfair and elitist (?) to disregard someone's application solely because of their undergraduate institution... 

My questions for you all are: In your opinion, what is your take on this issue? How much should undergraduate institution matter for graduate applications? Is it fair? Do you think it's completely valid even if it's unfair?

I'm speaking of instances in which the individual has great qualifications and the *blip* on their application is their undergrad institution, not lack of research, bad letters, etc.

Edited by PsychWannabee
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8 hours ago, PsychWannabee said:

Hi all! In the midst of application season, I came across a thread on a different website where people discussed factors they considered when looking at psychology graduate applications, and one individual was very clear that they looked for a "high tier undergraduate institution". Some people pointed out that someone's choice of undergraduate institution could be situational/ circumstantial and not be reflective of that person's intellectual capacity, but that person insisted that it had to do with their aptitude. 

Personally, I am a bit biased in this situation because I graduated from a virtually unranked institution. This did not have anything to do with my aptitude as I graduated top of my class and had 95th+ percentile standardized test scores, excellent extra-curriculars, etc. I am a low-income, first-generation student, and, even with financial aid, there was no way I could financially be able to attend somewhere like UT- Austin even though I had automatic acceptance because of my credentials. So, in my humble opinion, it seems somewhat unfair and elitist (?) to disregard someone's application solely because of their undergraduate institution... 

My questions for you all are: In your opinion, what is your take on this issue? How much should undergraduate institution matter for graduate applications? Is it fair? Do you think it's completely valid even if it's unfair?

 I'm speaking of instances in which the individual has great qualifications and the *blip* on their application is their undergrad institution, not lack of research, bad letters, etc.

Honestly, I have never had this experience before. I also graduated from a very lowly ranked institution with circumstances similar to your own and I have never felt that my undergraduate institution played a major role in admissions decisions. I do live in Canada, which might have different admissions procedures, but I have had no problem being admitted into top universities in the country based on my grades, letters, etc. 

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It's situational, honestly. I know that my undergrad institution (R1, consistently top 5 on USWR, etc.) definitely played a part in getting into some of my master's programs and jobs/internships (several masters programs have told me this outright). To say otherwise would be frankly privileged. That said, by the time I got to applying at the PhD level I don't think anyone cares anymore. They're much more interested in my research and clinical experience.

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1 hour ago, Desperate Clinical said:

Honestly, I have never had this experience before. I also graduated from a very lowly ranked institution with circumstances similar to your own and I have never felt that my undergraduate institution played a major role in admissions decisions. I do live in Canada, which might have different admissions procedures, but I have had no problem being admitted into top universities in the country based on my grades, letters, etc. 

Was just about to say I'm also in Canada, and I think its definitely different here. To reiterate, it doesn't matter which undergrad institution you graduated from--ranking doesn't seem to matter in Canada. Basically, an undergrad degree is supposed to be considered equal across institutions here. It's honestly for your graduate degrees that institutional ranking matters (especially if you pursue a career in academia after). 

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While most people would (correctly) argue that undergrad institution doesn't matter, it does. I was recently at an interview and nearly 80% of the other applicants were from Ivies or schools that were near them in rank. If your POI grew up in the American education system which values those types of rankings, (which are often dependent on SES + generation + social capital), if they don't explicitly state it, they at least have an unconscious bias about it.

This bias is also shown when you see how many people from tenure track positions are from upper tier schools. It's not fair, but it's how this system works.

Edited by 41l1!I2
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I graduated from a little known liberal arts university (a fantastic university in my mind, but I'm sure no where I applied had heard of it) and I made a point in my personal statement to use up a few lines emphasizing the benefits of the education I received. I talked about the courses that I felt had prepared me for graduate studies and strengths of my undergraduate institution. I have no idea if that helped or not, but I did get a few interviews and only one place asked me more questions about where I went to undergrad ?‍♀️ 

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12 hours ago, PsychWannabee said:

Hi all! In the midst of application season, I came across a thread on a different website where people discussed factors they considered when looking at psychology graduate applications, and one individual was very clear that they looked for a "high tier undergraduate institution". Some people pointed out that someone's choice of undergraduate institution could be situational/ circumstantial and not be reflective of that person's intellectual capacity, but that person insisted that it had to do with their aptitude. 

 Personally, I am a bit biased in this situation because I graduated from a virtually unranked institution. This did not have anything to do with my aptitude as I graduated top of my class and had 95th+ percentile standardized test scores, excellent extra-curriculars, etc. I am a low-income, first-generation student, and, even with financial aid, there was no way I could financially be able to attend somewhere like UT- Austin even though I had automatic acceptance because of my credentials. So, in my humble opinion, it seems somewhat unfair and elitist (?) to disregard someone's application solely because of their undergraduate institution... 

My questions for you all are: In your opinion, what is your take on this issue? How much should undergraduate institution matter for graduate applications? Is it fair? Do you think it's completely valid even if it's unfair?

I'm speaking of instances in which the individual has great qualifications and the *blip* on their application is their undergrad institution, not lack of research, bad letters, etc.

At least from my lab at a well-respected Clinical PhD program, I am fairly positive my mentor (and other faculty in the program) don't care where your undergrad was as long as you did well. Sure, an Ivy has the ability to bias everyone, but what is more important is seeing research productivity. I, and others, are more impressed to see someone with pubs in some high impact-factor places vs. someone with a "top tier" undergrad school on their CV but nothing else really to speak of at all. 

Edited by Clinapp2017
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32 minutes ago, Clinapp2017 said:

Sure, an Ivy has the ability to bias everyone, but what is more important is seeing research productivity. I, and others, are more impressed to see someone with pubs in some high impact-factor places vs. someone with a "top tier" undergrad school on their CV but nothing else really to speak of at all. 

I think some of what OP is noticing is confirmation bias as well - top tier undergrad schools (esp R1s) will probably have more access to productive labs and opportunities to get published. I'm attending an R3 for my masters degree (had a shit ugrad GPA), and I couldn't even find a lab to join because.... there aren't many. I had to drive to the neighboring town to participate in an R1's lab to get a couple posters to my name.

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I dunno. I have siblings who’ve went to lower tier schools and to me it seems super obvious that they’re really not equivalent in rigor to the higher ranked school I went to and it’s much easier to get higher class ranks/GPAs there. Maybe other lower tier schools are different; I know for a fact that other schools in my tier have substantially higher grade inflation. But I think people are wrong to suggest that the only difference between the top and lower tier schools is how hard they are to get into. Not even going to get into how hard they are to pay for (I was able to go to college because the top ranked schools are so rich and generous).

At the same time, the phd students at my current institution come from all around the country, from well-known and lesser-known programs. They are all super intimidatingly smart and that comes through no matter where they went for college; I think that even the ones who went to Ivies would’ve made it here if they’d gone somewhere else. I think much of the overrepresentation of ivy league students in grad programs might reflect the bare fact that ivy league schools are very good at recruiting the kind of students likely to go and succeed in graduate school. 

The other thing though is that while undergrad programs may be mostly identical, it seems almost certain from recent published research that top ranked research departments are orders of magnitude more influential than even slightly lower ranked ones. This probably impacts undergraduates’ futures, too, since the admissions process is so much about who you know and who they know — working in a well-known PI’s lab is widely known to be the best way to improve one’s career prospects in this domain. 

Because of the network/reputational system that currently organizes science and hiring processes, on reflection I suspect that success here is way more contingent on going to a series of brand name schools and labs and so on than success in relatively adjacent domains like medicine or engineering. Only by segueing into an approach that’s more numbers-focused and less concerned about departmental “fit” can these inequities really be addressed. And honestly, there would be a lot of downsides to that kind of shift too. Egh.

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Yes, I think most everyone would agree that your described scenario of discounting someone for graduate school solely based on their undergraduate institution would be unfair and possibly elitist. No self-respecting clinical or counseling psychology professor would disagree with your take. 

Students of course get accepted into graduate programs based on what they do in their undergraduate, not simply where they go.

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43 minutes ago, round2_ said:

The prestige/connections of your letter writers matter more than the prestige of your undergrad institution, though those often go hand in hand. If you have prestigious research experience (REU, NIH post bac, etc) it won't matter where your degree is from. 

Personal or semi-personal connections are huge from my experience.  I think my first accceptance was primarily based on the fact that my POI knew one of my LORs (and I hadn't any idea they knew each other personally, but that seems to have certainly initally captured my POI wanting interview me).  

I would stronlgy echo advice that's been previously said to really try and find LORs from the field of study to which you're applying and, if possible, LORs who are specifically researching the same research topics to that of your POI.

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