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"Brand Name" UG School


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More relevant than whether or not your UG institution is famous is whether or not the department you are applying to knows the institution that you are from---whether they know your LOR writers, and whether they have previously had students from your institution/department who have been successful. There are occasionally excellent departments in certain fields with very famous professors in otherwise less-known schools, and there can be less-known professors and not-as-good departments in brand-name schools. It comes down to how much weight the department you are applying to can give to the different components of your application, and that will depend on whether or not they have anything to compare it to. If your LOR writers have successfully placed multiple students in your prospective program in the past, then her/his word is more likely to be trusted than if no one has ever heard of them. Also in that case, the prospective department can directly compare you to those students, to put your credentials in context. Along similar lines, if your LOR writers are famous/successful researchers with many years of training successful applicants behind then, again there is more reason to trust their evaluation of you. Also important, but not related to brand names: your ability to talk about your research experience in depth, explain what you have done and why it matters, and what you want to do in the future (= that is, your ability to write a compelling SOP). Admissions committees know where the good programs are and who the leading researchers in their field are. These have some correspondence to brand names, if for no other reason than that those schools usually have more resources and therefore they are able to hire more/better researchers and support their students better, but the brand name itself isn't what matters. 

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3 minutes ago, queerpsych2013 said:

I can see that. I think student affairs is a little more accessible being that it's a field that (I think) appreciates diversity more and you can get years of student affairs experience at pretty much any university.

I would think UG institution matters more in research based degrees. I have nothing to back that up, simply just starting what I think would be an interesting discussion. 

I'm only speaking from my experience, but I was just accepted to Penn for a masters in International Education Development, a field I have very limited experience in.  I have a pretty good GPA from a brand name UG school.  I am of the opinion that if that GPA was from a different school, I may not have been accepted.  I also feel like the only reason I got my first job was because of my UG school, that my job applications stand out and obviously so do my grad school apps.

Like the other poster said, I don't think it necessarily works in the reverse.  I think having a brand name HELPS, but having a non-brand name is NEUTRAL.  It's not like someone sees the name of a college and goes "WHAT A PIECE OF CRAP!" :lol: They've either heard of it and are impressed, or they're neutral.  In rare cases, people may have biases, but for the most part it's a college degree, let's see how you did with it.

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19 hours ago, vestigialtraits said:

Would anyone say having your bachelor's from an unknown university gives your application (specifically your GPA, LoR, and research experience of course) less weight?

A personal anecdote...

In 2008, I finished my first M.A. and applied for Ph.D's in a pretty competitive field (Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations). I did my Master's degree  to "prove" that I wasn't my undergraduate GPA (very low...I worked full-time and was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease that contributed to a lot of missed classes). I selected my Master's institution based on the fact that it wasn't a competitive program (aka: I could get in) and the faculty that taught there also taught at "Big Name" programs. I did well enough (3.7+), published/presented/adjuncted an upper-level religion class, did some fieldwork...even took a class with someone I was applying to study under (and was one of 2 people go get an A in that class).  

In applying to fairly prestigious programs, I was shut out of almost everything. (I was offered a partially funded M.A. with the professor that I had taken a class from and a partially funded Ph.D. at another school where the cost of living would be prohibitively expensive, so I didn't take it.)

In soliciting feedback for future improvements/rounds of applications, I was told that I simply wouldn't be competitive--regardless of what I did. Part of this was because of my undergraduate GPA (at that point, it was 5 years old), but professors repeatedly told me that I was up against "people with Master's degrees from Harvard and Yale" and there was no way that my no-name institution would stand up against that (their words, not mine). This happened at more than one school, more than one faculty member.

I left academia briefly to reconsider what my plan of attack would be in pursuing a Ph.D...since prestige *can* matter (to a degree), especially if all other factors are equal and I couldn't compete at that level.

Obviously, this isn't to say that prestige is the ONLY thing that matters (my underwhelming undergraduate GPA certainly didn't help). But it is a factor that seemed to play a role in admissions offers from my experience, but I think prestige also equated people taking every advantage of being at *known* programs--certainly the candidates had *big name* LORs, took a ton of language classes, etc. etc. In my case, going for a Master's degree at a "not academically rigorous" (their words) institution couldn't help me prove that I could do graduate work and couldn't stack up against more qualified candidates. 

 All this to say, prestige is nice if you have it. But if you don't, I don't think it's the end of the world IF your degree is from a respected institution. 

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Not that I don't think that a prestigious undergrad helps, but some of this is not really evidence.

I'm only speaking from my experience, but I was just accepted to Penn for a masters in International Education Development, a field I have very limited experience in.  I have a pretty good GPA from a brand name UG school.  I am of the opinion that if that GPA was from a different school, I may not have been accepted.  I also feel like the only reason I got my first job was because of my UG school, that my job applications stand out and obviously so do my grad school apps.

This is just confirmation bias...there's no counterfactual. So there's no way to know for sure.

Thank you for your honest and thoughtful post!  It's quite disheartening to read some of that, but realistic.  I can personally corroborate some of your experiences:  my undergraduate degree is from a prestigious school, and I have a 3.69 from that school.  My master's degree is from a public CUNY, and I have a 4.0.  Now, personally, I believe I had to work my ass off for the 3.69, and my 4.0 masters required very little effort/far less rigorous, but that's a separate issue.  As I am currently applying for a second masters (to switch careers), and am applying exclusively to name brand schools (mostly because those are the only ones that offer my program in the Northeast), having talked to people in-the-know, they said that they much more highly regard my 3.69 than my 4.0, because the 4.0 is non-reflective of academic excellence because of the school I earned it at.  Now, this next statement may be pretentious, but I actually do agree with them:  if you can earn a 4.0 and not feel intellectually or academically challenged, a school is not as strong as one where you feel like you strained every last brain muscle to achieve a lower grade.  In this circumstance, I'm grateful that the rigor of my undergraduate experience is recognized and valued.

Well, one, I don't agree. The teaching styles and methods of the second school might be better suited to your learning style, so you may have found it easier to grasp the material than you did the first time around. The first school may have been more sink-or-swim whereas the second school was more nurturing. Or maybe this is a field in which undergraduate preparation is difficult but graduate work is easier once you have a foundational knowledge. Personally I tend to be amused when people assume that brand-name schools' GPAs carry more weight because those schools are rather well-known for their rampant grade inflation. Having attended a brand-name school for graduate school and TA'd and taught some undergrad classes, I don't think I would ever give them more weight than a different school. In fact...I might give them less.

I think people make a lot of concomitant assumptions about prestigious or "brand-name" schools - that they are harder, better, more rigorous, more intellectually stimulating, tat their students are smarter, etc., simply because of the prestige. Some of those things may be true some of the time - prestigious schools do tend to have better resources to attract the top students. But I wouldn't make assumptions about the rigor of a school I didn't know anything about. In that sense, I think it's the same as what someone said above - a more well-known school may confer some benefit but non-well-known schools are just neutral. And what's well-known is different from what's prestigious, and will vary from program to program and professor to professor.

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2 minutes ago, Heather1011 said:

I'm only speaking from my experience, but I was just accepted to Penn for a masters in International Education Development, a field I have very limited experience in.  I have a pretty good GPA from a brand name UG school.  I am of the opinion that if that GPA was from a different school, I may not have been accepted.  I also feel like the only reason I got my first job was because of my UG school, that my job applications stand out and obviously so do my grad school apps.

Like the other poster said, I don't think it necessarily works in the reverse.  I think having a brand name HELPS, but having a non-brand name is NEUTRAL.  It's not like someone sees the name of a college and goes "WHAT A PIECE OF CRAP!" :lol: They've either heard of it and are impressed, or they're neutral.  In rare cases, people may have biases, but for the most part it's a college degree, let's see how you did with it.

Yeah, you hit the nail on the head! That's exactly what I meant. I didn't choose concise words.

That's really interesting to me. It kinda sucks because not everyone has the opportunity to go to brand name schools or maybe a brand name didn't fit what they were looking for in a UG university. Not saying it's necessarily an unfair advantage, it's just a privilege not accessible to everyone, in my opinion. 

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4 hours ago, fuzzylogician said:

. Also important, but not related to brand names: your ability to talk about your research experience in depth, explain what you have done and why it matters, and what you want to do in the future (= that is, your ability to write a compelling SOP). Admissions committees know where the good programs are and who the leading researchers in their field are. These have some correspondence to brand names, if for no other reason than that those schools usually have more resources and therefore they are able to hire more/better researchers and support their students better, but the brand name itself isn't what matters. 

 

This is exactly what I have observed. There are plenty of candidates that have technical knowledge.... and how you solve problems is important, but going into academia and research requires not only the ability to solve problems, but tell everyone exactly how you solved that problem. It's the latter that really gets POIs excited. 

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In addition to the points brought up above, some schools actually like to see applicants from lesser known schools because it adds an element of diversity that could be advantageous for the program. One of the programs I interviewed at had said something along those lines to me.

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3 minutes ago, anthrostudentcyn said:

I don't think so. My good friend has a BA from a mediocre state university, and just got an interview at her top student affairs program. I'm at a "top" (top 5) UG and I don't think it makes a difference. But others please correct me if I'm wrong. 

I can see that. I think student affairs is a little more accessible being that it's a field that (I think) appreciates diversity more and you can get years of student affairs experience at pretty much any university.

I would think UG institution matters more in research based degrees. I have nothing to back that up, simply just starting what I think would be an interesting discussion. 

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There are certain areas that will weigh a "name" school heavily.  Not sure student affairs is one of those.  Keep in mind that someone with a "name" school on their application may garner some attention and help move things along, this type of program is likely to take admits from all over the place.  It's another reason to have your recommendations, test scores, etc stand out where they can.

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29 minutes ago, fuzzylogician said:

More relevant than whether or not your UG institution is famous is whether or not the department you are applying to knows the institution that you are from---whether they know your LOR writers, and whether they have previously had students from your institution/department who have been successful. There are occasionally excellent departments in certain fields with very famous professors in otherwise less-known schools, and there can be less-known professors and not-as-good departments in brand-name schools. It comes down to how much weight the department you are applying to can give to the different components of your application, and that will depend on whether or not they have anything to compare it to. If your LOR writers have successfully placed multiple students in your prospective program in the past, then her/his word is more likely to be trusted than if no one has ever heard of them. Also in that case, the prospective department can directly compare you to those students, to put your credentials in context. Along similar lines, if your LOR writers are famous/successful researchers with many years of training successful applicants behind then, again there is more reason to trust their evaluation of you. Also important, but not related to brand names: your ability to talk about your research experience in depth, explain what you have done and why it matters, and what you want to do in the future (= that is, your ability to write a compelling SOP). Admissions committees know where the good programs are and who the leading researchers in their field are. These have some correspondence to brand names, if for no other reason than that those schools usually have more resources and therefore they are able to hire more/better researchers and support their students better, but the brand name itself isn't what matters. 

That's perfectly logical. 

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18 hours ago, fuzzylogician said:

More relevant than whether or not your UG institution is famous is whether or not the department you are applying to knows the institution that you are from---whether they know your LOR writers, and whether they have previously had students from your institution/department who have been successful. There are occasionally excellent departments in certain fields with very famous professors in otherwise less-known schools, and there can be less-known professors and not-as-good departments in brand-name schools. It comes down to how much weight the department you are applying to can give to the different components of your application, and that will depend on whether or not they have anything to compare it to. If your LOR writers have successfully placed multiple students in your prospective program in the past, then her/his word is more likely to be trusted than if no one has ever heard of them. Also in that case, the prospective department can directly compare you to those students, to put your credentials in context. Along similar lines, if your LOR writers are famous/successful researchers with many years of training successful applicants behind then, again there is more reason to trust their evaluation of you. Also important, but not related to brand names: your ability to talk about your research experience in depth, explain what you have done and why it matters, and what you want to do in the future (= that is, your ability to write a compelling SOP). Admissions committees know where the good programs are and who the leading researchers in their field are. These have some correspondence to brand names, if for no other reason than that those schools usually have more resources and therefore they are able to hire more/better researchers and support their students better, but the brand name itself isn't what matters. 

This has always been understanding as well.

Your letters really do matter, especially if your letter writers are colleagues with your POI. As noted by others, scholars who atop their field tend to work at prestigious universities, but that's definitely not always the case. Likewise, some universities certainly have programs which are ranked far higher than their overall average. The University of Oklahoma certainly isn't among a short lists of exceptional universities, but our meteorology program is certainly world-class.

I think my suspicion is that it does matter, but only because networks of scholars within top-ranked universities are more intertwined. 

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49 minutes ago, Neist said:

This has always been understanding as well.

Your letters really do matter, especially if your letter writers are colleagues with your POI. As noted by others, scholars who atop their field tend to work at prestigious universities, but that's definitely not always the case. Likewise, some universities certainly have programs which are ranked far higher than their overall average. The University of Oklahoma certainly isn't among a short lists of exceptional universities, but our meteorology program is certainly world-class.

I think my suspicion is that it does matter, but only because networks of scholars within top-ranked universities are more intertwined. 

I'd def agree with that (i.e., that if letter writers are colleagues with your POI that this can be shoe-in). I've noticed that at several programs I've applied to grad students, especially those coming from lower-ranking BA institutions, tend to have had faculty as advisors that knew or worked with their grad advisor. Personally, I tend to think of this as just a kind of "old boy" network, but if there they admit other grad students based purely on merit and research potential then I'm not bothered by it.

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9 hours ago, nevermind said:

A personal anecdote...

In 2008, I finished my first M.A. and applied for Ph.D's in a pretty competitive field (Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations). I did my Master's degree  to "prove" that I wasn't my undergraduate GPA (very low...I worked full-time and was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease that contributed to a lot of missed classes). I selected my Master's institution based on the fact that it wasn't a competitive program (aka: I could get in) and the faculty that taught there also taught at "Big Name" programs. I did well enough (3.7+), published/presented/adjuncted an upper-level religion class, did some fieldwork...even took a class with someone I was applying to study under (and was one of 2 people go get an A in that class).  

In applying to fairly prestigious programs, I was shut out of almost everything. (I was offered a partially funded M.A. with the professor that I had taken a class from and a partially funded Ph.D. at another school where the cost of living would be prohibitively expensive, so I didn't take it.)

In soliciting feedback for future improvements/rounds of applications, I was told that I simply wouldn't be competitive--regardless of what I did. Part of this was because of my undergraduate GPA (at that point, it was 5 years old), but professors repeatedly told me that I was up against "people with Master's degrees from Harvard and Yale" and there was no way that my no-name institution would stand up against that (their words, not mine). This happened at more than one school, more than one faculty member.

I left academia briefly to reconsider what my plan of attack would be in pursuing a Ph.D...since prestige *can* matter (to a degree), especially if all other factors are equal and I couldn't compete at that level.

Obviously, this isn't to say that prestige is the ONLY thing that matters (my underwhelming undergraduate GPA certainly didn't help). But it is a factor that seemed to play a role in admissions offers from my experience, but I think prestige also equated people taking every advantage of being at *known* programs--certainly the candidates had *big name* LORs, took a ton of language classes, etc. etc. In my case, going for a Master's degree at a "not academically rigorous" (their words) institution couldn't help me prove that I could do graduate work and couldn't stack up against more qualified candidates. 

 All this to say, prestige is nice if you have it. But if you don't, I don't think it's the end of the world IF your degree is from a respected institution. 

Thank you for your honest and thoughtful post!  It's quite disheartening to read some of that, but realistic.  I can personally corroborate some of your experiences:  my undergraduate degree is from a prestigious school, and I have a 3.69 from that school.  My master's degree is from a public CUNY, and I have a 4.0.  Now, personally, I believe I had to work my ass off for the 3.69, and my 4.0 masters required very little effort/far less rigorous, but that's a separate issue.  As I am currently applying for a second masters (to switch careers), and am applying exclusively to name brand schools (mostly because those are the only ones that offer my program in the Northeast), having talked to people in-the-know, they said that they much more highly regard my 3.69 than my 4.0, because the 4.0 is non-reflective of academic excellence because of the school I earned it at.  Now, this next statement may be pretentious, but I actually do agree with them:  if you can earn a 4.0 and not feel intellectually or academically challenged, a school is not as strong as one where you feel like you strained every last brain muscle to achieve a lower grade.  In this circumstance, I'm grateful that the rigor of my undergraduate experience is recognized and valued.

While it certainly promotes a problematic old-boys-club kind of thing, there is definitely some merit in weighing prestigious institutions more highly---they are, generally, prestigious for a reason---they are VERY academically challenging.  There are geniuses and dummies at all institutions, which is why you should never judge a book by its cover---I've known brilliant minds attending community colleges, and real ignoramuses at ivy league schools---but generally speaking, the average quality of academic ability corresponds to the ranking of the school, and that should remain somewhat relevant to your application, although hardly the most significant.

Edited by Heather1011
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I am from a brand name UG school, and it has definitely helped me (very decent, not tip-top gpa). Currently applying to grad school again and spoke with one of the members of the admissions committee who outright said that my UG school would help me, despite my being a non-trad who graduated many years ago (i.e. no letters from there this time around).

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