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Does prestige really matter?


John Stamos
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If I choose NC State for the mentor being the leader in the field and a really good fit over an ivy league without the better fit (more general acceptance and find your adviser latter) am I screwing myself by going to NC State? People keep saying that Ivy leagues don't matter for PhD grad school but then why am I so concerned about it when everything at NC State is perfect for funding and mentor? I'm so glued on the ivy league thing and people keep telling me I shouldn't be....but I must be for a reason....Right!??

Edited by John Stamos
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Short answer is no.

Ph.D program curricula are largely independent of the school itself. For example, Purdue University is not particularly competitive with undergraduate admissions, but ranks #1 in the country for analytical chemistry (above all ivys). That being said, the "rankings" you see on U.S. news etc. are literally surveys they send out to departments where they ask people to subjectively rate a given program (one they may not even know) in different areas on a numeric scale. I would personally do your own research for each program to find out things that actually matter like program funding/resources, outcomes of graduates, and professor/student accomplishments.

There is no real way to quantitatively rate the "prestige" of a phD program so it's bogus. So if your gut is saying NC state, then go there! I really think the only reason to get your phD at an ivy level would be if you want to be a professor at another ivy. 

side note: the "ivy" league is actually just a name for the sports league that all the ivy league schools are in, like ACC or Big 10. 

Edited by crackademik
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For grad school, "prestige" is probably more tied to the program/department than to the school name, and certainly quite separate from the undergrad. If I read the top publications or look at CVs of big-name people in your field X, and very often see a certain school, then the X department of that school would be "prestigious" in the field, in my opinion.

That said, it sounds like you don't think the ivy league in question necessarily "lacks" good potential mentors for you, it's just up in the air and you'll decide about advisers later on (perhaps I'm misunderstanding here). If that's the case, you should contact potential advisers at the said Ivy and have a rough idea of your chances at actually working with someone you want to work with.

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1 hour ago, John Stamos said:

If I choose NC State for the mentor being the leader in the field and a really good fit over an ivy league without the better fit (more general acceptance and find your adviser latter) am I screwing myself by going to NC State? People keep saying that Ivy leagues don't matter for PhD grad school but then why am I so concerned about it when everything at NC State is perfect for funding and mentor? I'm so glued on the ivy league thing and people keep telling me I shouldn't be....but I must be for a reason....Right!??

Depends on what field and what you want to do after. Academia career in the humanities - you want the pedigree. Science and engineering not so much.

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40 minutes ago, DiscoTech said:

Depends on what field and what you want to do after. Academia career in the humanities - you want the pedigree. Science and engineering not so much.

This might even be simplifying it too much. There are some subfields even within some departments that are well-known beyond what its rank would imply. For initial placements into certain R1 schools, ranking might matter. However, most openings are at undergraduate-focused teaching colleges and they care more about your teaching ability and record than they do about your publications.  

As you move on throughout your career, (past your post-doc/first placement), the name of where you obtained your PHD matters less and less. 

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11 minutes ago, Warelin said:

This might even be simplifying it too much. There are some subfields even within some departments that are well-known beyond what its rank would imply. For initial placements into certain R1 schools, ranking might matter. However, most openings are at undergraduate-focused teaching colleges and they care more about your teaching ability and record than they do about your publications.  

As you move on throughout your career, (past your post-doc/first placement), the name of where you obtained your PHD matters less and less. 

True, it is simplifying things. But did you read the OP? Literally the most general "prestige" question one could ask. 

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1 minute ago, DiscoTech said:

True, it is simplifying things. But did you read the OP? Literally the most general "prestige" question one could ask. 

I think far too many people think going to a certain school alone is enough to grant them to certain positions. And it might to an extent. But I think it's because highly motivated individuals might apply to a certain subset of schools. However, I've realized those who choose not to apply or accept their offers at certain schools and really take the time to develop themselves within the profession are able to do quite well for themselves. I've seen it happen multiple times that individuals not from the ivy league are given a job offer over the individual from the ivy league. I think a lot of time it does come down to previous accomplishments, "fit" (even when you're done applying to grad school), and letters of recommendation. Motivated people tend to do well regardless of where they obtain their degree from and I think being happy with where you're at plays a major factor in your work-quality level and reduces the chance that you'll drop out.

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If your mentor at NC State is a leader in your field, than that is far more prestigious than being an ivy league. In graduate school, the top programs are highly ranked because of the faculty and research located in that program. Also, that faculty's connections will probably open way more doors than a lesser known individual in an ivy league. Often times, ivy league schools have the prestige because of the doors they open, but if the key is the POI at NC State, I would go there. 

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