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Non-top 50 programs


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So, while I appreciate the concept of this thread, and I recognize that you said "the vast majority", I just feel the need to put something out there. You don't know anything about the backgrounds of the vast majority of us, nor what we are like in person. We are all under incredible strain and I'm 100% sure we don't always censor what we post as well as we could. That being said, in most cases, being able to get into a good grad school is not about the cards you are dealt, it's about what you do with them.

I went to public school from K-12, my parents are divorced, my family was solidly lower middle class. I went to a school with no AP, no IB, etc. I worked my butt off in high school to get good grades and on top of that loaded up my extra curriculars and volunteered while still holding down a part time job. I went to one of those "elite private" colleges that nobody seems to think they can afford and I paid less than in state tuition at the state school in my town. Some of it was loans, most of it was scholarships. That wasn't handed to me. I worked for it, plain and simple, and I didn't do it with tons of money from my parents. I also worked 30+ hours at an outside job during all four years of college in order to pay my own living expenses. I am in serious debt. I will be paying it off for a while at what, given my career goals, is not likely to be a particularly generous salary. It was worth it in my opinion, and it was worth all the hard work to get here.

I know lots of folks applying to grad school this year who are in at top programs. Yes, some of them have the background you seem to assume. Wealthy families, private schools, etc. Many, in fact the majority, do not. Most of these people are folks I went to undegrad with which means they also went to an "expensive private school". Many of them were on scholarship, all of them are in debt, all of them worked hard to get where they are, and very very few were dealth a royal flush. Even those that were, you have no idea what their lives were like. A friend I know who is going to be at a great program in the fall probably meets your definition of being dealt a "royal flush", but what you wouldn't know till you got to know him is that he has had to overcome a serious learning disability to get where he is.

My only point is this. You don't really know the people on this board, or the people who got into top programs. Looking at their numbers and their few posts here is not indicative of who they are and, in general, tells you -nothing- about their background. When you make assumptions about them based on extremely limited information, you are as predjudiced against them as you have said you feel like they are against you, and that's not any more fair to them than some of them may have been to you.

You do a great job of showing that many kids do come from not-the-greatest backgrounds and still make it. I guess I should have mentioned in my post clarifying that "royal flush" was about money and not "being an alcoholic as an adult," that what is really the most important is the undergrad institution (which usually requires money). The undergrad institution effects everything: the relative value of your GPA, the quality of your letters (both the standing of those who write them and their experience reading great ones every year), the research opportunities you've had, and the advising needed to write a killer personal statement. The only thing undergrad doesn't effect is the GRE, which is almost useless since everyone has a great score in this game. You can overcome all of the aboved mentioned troubles of an unknown undergrad by working hard, but it is NOT the same.

Fortunately for you, you worked your butt off, got into a good undergrad, and made it work, and for that I can only say congrats and nice work! While the "royal flush" of money obviously made things more difficult for you, however, you likely had the support of your family (correct me if I'm wrong). Coming from a poor background, one must have people around them supporting their desire to go to a good undergrad institution. A lot of modest-income families don't see the need in going to a great school and, quite frankly, think it is a disgrace to your upbringing when you ask to essentially be "better" than your parents. They are incredibly unlikely to sign any loan papers you'd need. For most people, it is a money and a support problem. For some lucky ones like you, it is only a money problem (which I am not suggesting is anything easy to overcome). Ultimately, if you can manage to still go to a good undergrad without either money or support, then THAT is impressive. It's not strictly money that makes contributes to the "royal flush," it's the culture of the family and community you have.

I think this is a valid point.

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Can we just end the "NO I WAS BORN MORE UNLUCKY THAN YOU WERE!!" rant to prove a point and let this part of the forum for those who would initially want to discuss their futures at the non-top 50 programs? Yeah, some of the things the OP said were uncalled for. But let's be grown ups and let people be what they are?

end.

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Can we just end the "NO I WAS BORN MORE UNLUCKY THAN YOU WERE!!" rant to prove a point and let this part of the forum for those who would initially want to discuss their futures at the non-top 50 programs? Yeah, some of the things the OP said were uncalled for. But let's be grown ups and let people be what they are?

end.

Agreed. It's just stupid to say "My life sucks worse than yours." There is always someone who has it worse than you.

It would be like a kid who grew up in a house with drugged parents and a kid whose parents helped them with their homework everynight. The latter says, "It was just as hard for me to get an A in our 3rd grade class as it was for you." No it wasn't. Even people at the bottom could be lower.

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Agreed. It's just stupid to say "My life sucks worse than yours." There is always someone who has it worse than you.

It would be like a kid who grew up in a house with drugged parents and a kid whose parents helped them with their homework everynight. The latter says, "It was just as hard for me to get an A in our 3rd grade class as it was for you." No it wasn't. Even people at the bottom could be lower.

I agree too. When I said I was dealt air, I was merely saying that I did not attend the best undergrad and that my stats were not that great, yet I was able to make a pretty strong move towards success in getting into a good program. In the end I think we all have things to overcome and things that work to our advantage. Ultimately this should add to the diversity of the discipline, our departments, our research, and our ability to positively influence students. People of all kinds from all sorts of backgrounds tend to underestimate and misunderstand diversity, and what it really means for an environment of learning.

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Woah. I wasn't even remotely trying to imply that my life sucked worse than anybody's...or that it sucked at all actually. My life didn't (and doesn't) suck. I was trying to point out that people from all backgrounds with all kinds of challenges aim high and some, even many, of them succeed. Hence my comparison of people's experiences besides mine.

Moving on however, as requested, a member of my family went to a not even remotely top 50 program in his field and has gone on to have a very successful career. He did his post-doc at one of the best programs, possibly the best, in his field, and though he chose to move to a smaller, less prestigious place to teach, he had other offers and based his decision on his desire to focus on teaching and to raise a family in a particular place. He could have chosen to be at a top 25 program to teach if that had been his goal. So, I think that if you work hard and are impressive, you can most definitely become highly successful. Also, I think that where you end up shapes you, and if you picked good fits, regardless of rankings, you will find a path that makes you happy.

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Precisely what I am saying. Some people have to chose undergrad choices due to price, not it's ranking.

I have no disagreements with your comment per se but it just made me want to share something. A buddy of mine who did his undergrad at an unranked, "no-name" state institution in the middle of nowhere recently got accepted by a US News top-20 (overall) institution and furthermore the same institution was ranked top-10 in both of his subfields of interest. I'm not saying that this one example proves that anybody can make it to a top grad school from any undergrad institution but it is certainly not an impossible feat.

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I have no disagreements with your comment per se but it just made me want to share something. A buddy of mine who did his undergrad at an unranked, "no-name" state institution in the middle of nowhere recently got accepted by a US News top-20 (overall) institution and furthermore the same institution was ranked top-10 in both of his subfields of interest. I'm not saying that this one example proves that anybody can make it to a top grad school from any undergrad institution but it is certainly not an impossible feat.

I think buried in the OP's thread is the idea that the other thread has some individuals who moan their situations, even after receiving offers from top programs (in some cases top 10).

People like that really discouraged me. Its interesting that more often than not, the posts that had encouraging comments for others, came from people who had the least options.

Most people are fairly cordial (so the most people were pricks comment was a bit unreasonable), but I do agree that there were some who still wanted more and were ridiculously neurotic even after getting into places like Michigan, Stanford, Berkeley, etc.

That was my impression anyways.

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What surprises me about this thread is that everyone seems to take the rankings as canon. According to US News and World report:

“Rankings of doctoral programs in the social sciences and humanities are based solely on the results of peer assessment surveys sent to academics in each discipline. Each school offering a doctoral program was sent twosurveys.”

Put differently, in ten years some people on this board will be filling outthose surveys. Now does anyone really believe that Ohio State is better than Cornell or that Michigan is better than Yale? Perhaps more realistically Cornell and Yale rejected more people than Ohio State andMichigan, yet minted fewer degrees. Similarly, places like Johns Hopkins and Georgetown get a bad name in the academic community because they have loads of civil servants getting their doctorates and masters simply to get GS pay scale jump.

Also, the rankings only ask professors at schools offering doctoral programs, thus fellows at think tanks such as Brookings or AEI or professors colleges likeAmherst or Pomona are not counted.

While the professional rankings are grounded in test scores and employment rates, the rankings for academic programs appear arbitrary at times.

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What surprises me about this thread is that everyone seems to take the rankings as canon. According to US News and World report:

“Rankings of doctoral programs in the social sciences and humanities are based solely on the results of peer assessment surveys sent to academics in each discipline. Each school offering a doctoral program was sent twosurveys.”

Put differently, in ten years some people on this board will be filling outthose surveys. Now does anyone really believe that Ohio State is better than Cornell or that Michigan is better than Yale? Perhaps more realistically Cornell and Yale rejected more people than Ohio State andMichigan, yet minted fewer degrees. Similarly, places like Johns Hopkins and Georgetown get a bad name in the academic community because they have loads of civil servants getting their doctorates and masters simply to get GS pay scale jump.

Also, the rankings only ask professors at schools offering doctoral programs, thus fellows at think tanks such as Brookings or AEI or professors colleges likeAmherst or Pomona are not counted.

While the professional rankings are grounded in test scores and employment rates, the rankings for academic programs appear arbitrary at times.

I promise you. Ohio State is better than Cornell and Michigan is *much* better than Yale.

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  • 9 months later...

There are plenty of good places outside the top 50. Some will have smaller faculties, and so you need to make sure that your interests match. Here at USC, for example, you'd be mad to come to study Theory- in fact, we wouldn't let you in because masochism is hard to watch- but it is great for any number of other things: China, Congress, Post-Soviet stuff, Middle East, non-proliferation, law and public policy, IR Theory etc. If you have a match, then check out the last few years of placement. Now this isn't meant to be a commercial for USC, but it is what I know. We've got recent PhDs at Oregon, Oklahoma, Baylor, U-Mass, New Mexico, Florida etc. And post docs at Brown, Florida etc. And that placement rate will get better as the program has got more competitive. Again, I am sure that other schools ranked similarly have done similarly well. It's just to knock on the head the idea that you can't get a great R1 or liberal arts placement from somewhere not on the USNWR radar (although the NRC rankings were kinder to us).

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A little bit of thread necromancy there, dude.

There are plenty of good places outside the top 50. Some will have smaller faculties, and so you need to make sure that your interests match. Here at USC, for example, you'd be mad to come to study Theory- in fact, we wouldn't let you in because masochism is hard to watch- but it is great for any number of other things: China, Congress, Post-Soviet stuff, Middle East, non-proliferation, law and public policy, IR Theory etc. If you have a match, then check out the last few years of placement. Now this isn't meant to be a commercial for USC, but it is what I know. We've got recent PhDs at Oregon, Oklahoma, Baylor, U-Mass, New Mexico, Florida etc. And post docs at Brown, Florida etc. And that placement rate will get better as the program has got more competitive. Again, I am sure that other schools ranked similarly have done similarly well. It's just to knock on the head the idea that you can't get a great R1 or liberal arts placement from somewhere not on the USNWR radar (although the NRC rankings were kinder to us).

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