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Do grad schools look at undergrad prestige?


phatlilpanda

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I've been googling this subject and have come up with mixed results. Some believe the name of your undergrad institution does affect an applicant's chances of getting accepted into a grad program and others believe it doesn't change a thing. What are your guy's thoughts on this? Do you think attending a top 10-50 university affect your chances of getting into grad school?

Edited by phatlilpanda
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I think it can help you, but won't necessarily hurt you, if that makes sense. 

 

Going to a top-5 or top-10 school and doing well is a benefit to your CV, but doing well at a lower-ranked (or unranked) school won't keep you out of a top program, from my experience. 

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Perhaps a little bit, but not because of the "name."  It's instead due to the perceived reputation of the undergraduate preparation at a place, and the institutions that get notice from adcoms are unlikely to be as narrow as, say, consulting or banking firms.  For example, there's no reason to believe that a Harvard grad will have a huge advantage over a Penn State grad for the vast majority of programs.  It might give you an advantage over the student coming from, let's say, Kutztown University of Pennsylvania or Valdosta State University, all other things being equal.

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Another reason why I ask, if adcoms are looking for students who have research experience, would they be more likely to pick someone that went to a research university (UCLA, UCB, UCSB....etc) vs. a state school (Cal State's) since UC's more theoretical vs. CS's which is more applied.

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I am 100% certain that my undergrad institution has helped me with all my post-undergrad applications. However, I think it is probably only the top 10 or so (not the top 50 -- at least not past 20) that would do so. Whether it should be that way or not, I don't know, but it has seemed to help me.

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I think it depends on the professor. I read on Katerine Sledge Moore's website that certain profs in the committee do prize prestige while others do not. She's been on an admission committee so her website might be of interest. The fun part is I found out about her website from this forum.

https://sites.google.com/site/gradappadvice/about

That might explain why some groups have students from all over and others only pick from top schools. I hope it helps

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How are you 100% sure, emmm?  Did someone on the committee tell you that?

 

 

 

Undergrad prestige does play a role in admissions. Take any (top) school and look at their list of PhD students. Most of them tend to come from known to well known undergrad schools.

 

 

This is partially because of selection bias.  Students who go to Harvard, MIT, Swarthmore, etc. are more likely to 1) be exposed to careers that require a graduate degree, and thus 2) more likely to want to get graduate degrees than students who went to, say West Georgia or Eastern Michigan University, and are 3) more likely to have access to the resources that help improve their chances of getting into those programs.  It doesn't mean that a student who went to Western Washington will find themselves unable to get into one of MIT's programs if they have an outstanding application package.

 

 

Another reason why I ask, if adcoms are looking for students who have research experience, would they be more likely to pick someone that went to a research university (UCLA, UCB, UCSB....etc) vs. a state school (Cal State's) since UC's more theoretical vs. CS's which is more applied.

 

Well, first, we're playing the "if all other things are equal" game, when they rarely are.  Grad professors are comparing students on a variety of things, NOT just their undergrad institution, so it really depends on the context.  Also, some PhD programs are more applied than theoretical, so they may prefer someone with a more applied focus.  I would imagine it really depends on the quality of the research experience and the recommendation from the person who supervised it.

 

Here's my example - I went to undergrad at what is IMO great LAC that's definitely not one of those prestigious/name-drop places.  It is, however, a top-5 producer of PhDs in the social sciences.  When I tell laypeople where I went to undergrad, most smile and nod vaguely, or maybe politely ask "And where is that?"  A few will say "Oh, that's a great school!" but it's clear that they are only vaguely familiar because they don't know some of the defining characteristics of it (it's a women's college, for one).  However, when I tell professors where I went, I typically get a head nod of familiarity and occasionally a comment like "Oh yes, they are great at preparing students for grad school" or something like that.  In fact, my advisor told me (after the fact) that me coming from my alma mater let them know that my undergrad preparation was solid, and once I got here, I actually met quite a few people at my university getting grad degrees who had gone to my alma mater.  More than I would expect given the tiny size and lack of general public name recognition.

 

That's what I mean - it's not that undergrad school doesn't matter at all; but it's that professors are in general familiar with a far wider range of institutions than the general public is, and they are familiar with those institutions in a different way than the general public is.  Sometimes they may have a grad school colleague or collaborator at the other department, or a 2nd-degree connection there that they can probe for information.  They are also drawing upon their own experiences with students who have come through their program, and that experience may very well include someone who went to Hendrix or Auburn or Montana State in addition to the usual suspects.  It's not the "name," professors are not going "Ooh shiny, UCLA!" especially if they work at a UCLA-type school themselves.  They're much more interested in whether they believe you will have solid, adequate preparation for the rigors of their program.

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