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Undergrad influence on grad school

ValdezVivasMRValdezVivasMR Registered User Posts: 451 Member
edited April 2005 in Graduate School
Hello there.

I'm wondering if anyone knows how one's undergrad eduaction will influence one's acceptance to grad school. For example, would it be better to get a bachelor's degree from an ivy league school or from a state school to attend an ivy league grad program? My reasoning is that since a bright individual will likely stand out more in a less-competitive state school, they will have a better chance of acceptance if they apply to a prestigious grad school than if they were a mediocre student at an ivy league college (due to universities trying to obtain diversity). Can anyone please tell me if this is good reasoning? Please cite personal experiences if necessary.

Thanks.
Post edited by ValdezVivasMR on
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Replies to: Undergrad influence on grad school

  • mol10emol10e Registered User Posts: 445 Member
    Graduate programs do pay attention to your undergraduate insititution so a 3.5 from an ivy is going to count much more than a 3.5 from a middle of the road school. But grad schools are also looking for the quality of your undergraduate preparation for your discipline, research work in your field, GRE scores, letters of recommendation, and other academic acitivites. if you went to a state school honors program, got good grades, did well on the GRE's and had the advantage of involvement with faculty on scholarly activities, one could reasonably argue that this would be a good plan particularly if you can avoid undergraduate debt. However, if you can be a star at an Ivy than many doors open for you which may be closed to students from other schools.
  • ValdezVivasMRValdezVivasMR Registered User Posts: 451 Member
    just a quick little bump in case anyone is still interested
  • newmassdadnewmassdad Registered User Posts: 3,848 Senior Member
    It is hard to generalize about grad school admissions, as the nature of the departments varies so much from place to place. One place may have a small number of applicants to its programs, such that they can carefully read each applicant. Others will have huge numbers and do quick numerical cuts at first.

    So, at the risk of generalizing to much, let me give you some inside views, based on faculty (including spouse) that have been on departmental admissons committees.

    - a key factor is knowledge of the school of the applicant. If past kids from your school were accepted and did well, it's a plus. If they struggled...

    - the national "names", lets say the top 100 or so, are all known quantities, including grading (don't apply from Harvard with only a 3.5, that's almost like failing...).

    - recs and contacts can be as important as grades at top programs.

    - the departmental admissions committees are far less awed by "names" than we lay folks. They know slackers get into top schools. They want to know what you can do, not where you went.
  • meowmeow2281meowmeow2281 Registered User Posts: 19 New Member
    I have been on a couple interviews for Ph.D. programs (top universities), and the students come from a wide variety of backgrounds. I have met people from all over the place, ranging from Ives to small colleges I have never heard of, and several state schools.

    All of the people from lesser-known schools had something in common - they had something stellar and unique about them. Like they had excellent research and/or scholarships, or did a masters or worked a year or more after graduating.

    I guess the condition seems to be that if you do go to a small or less-academically challenging school, you have to other find ways to make yourself special. Like doing summer research a hot institution.

    Although name recognition is good because it gives some idea of the academic calibur of your undergraduate course, I see that it's not as important as I used to think it was in my earlier years of undergrad. When you interview for Ph.D., you will be surprised at the diversity of the prospective students.

    I do think if you go to a not-so-top college but are the star of your class, that is better than being average at a top-ten.

    As far as I see it, mediocrity is safest if you are applying to a graduate program at the university you attended for undergrad.
  • jhsujhsu . Posts: 278 Junior Member
    < As far as I see it, mediocrity is safest if you are applying to a graduate program at the university you attended for undergrad. >
    I'm not so sure. Wouldn't the people making the admissions decisions KNOW that you are mediocre and reject you? At least if they don't know you, you have a chance if you put your best foot forward and the person reading your applications happens to be in a good mood at the moment.
  • emeraldkity4emeraldkity4 Registered User Posts: 35,861 Senior Member
    No matter how well you did in college even if it is a widely known school- you still have to stand out- and apply to more schools than you think you need to.
    At least that is the lesson I am getting from my nieces experience who is graduating this spring Phi Beta Kappa- magna cum laude from a top school ( US news LAC- 16 ranked), she applied to 5 graduate schools, a few of them flew her out to visit and put her up- she was highly encouraged and really liked the programs.
    She just recieved notice that she has not been accepted to any of the programs she applied to- since she did so well in college- she is stymied as to next steps. Don't let this happen to you- graduate schools have fewer students and can be pickier than undergrad. Apply to some safety schools even if you don't think you need to. :(
  • vg1026vg1026 Registered User Posts: 72 Junior Member
    Top GPA at a top 20 will definitely get you look alot better. Also, who you studied under during undergrad. If you go to a non-top 20, I advise you to publish articles and apply to present at conferences so you can make any necessary contacts and gain some sort of reputation among your field.
  • TransferTransfer Registered User Posts: 740 Member
    Right. If you're in #21... man... you just are a waste of space
  • simfishsimfish . Posts: 1,125 Senior Member
    Aren't Ivies known for rampant grade inflation, however?
  • sakkysakky - Posts: 14,759 Senior Member
    don't apply from Harvard with only a 3.5, that's almost like failing

    That, I would dispute. There is grade inflation at Harvard, but not THAT much grade inflation. A 3.5 is above average at Harvard. True, not very much above average. But it's still above average.

    http://www.gradeinflation.com/harvard.html

    It is also true that we are talking about Harvard here - so even being a little bit above average at Harvard indicates that you are better than the vast majority of students at other schools. Let's face it. The quality of the average student at Harvard is significantly higher than that at almost all other schools.
  • epiphanyepiphany Registered User Posts: 8,438 Senior Member
    sakky,
    I respectfully disagree with your broad generalizations about Harvard & "the average student there" versus the "vast majority of students elsewhere." As an example, we know of someone who applied this yr. to 5 or 6 Ivies, got into none of them *except* H. She was also not recruited, URM, legacy, or a Val. No off-the-chart scores, either. (So not "overqualified" for other Ivies.) However, she had a couple of things going for her, academically, which H. probably saw as promising for her future there, & personality-wise, it was probably the best fit for her. (They probably saw her as fitting in.) She's about 4th in the Sr. Class. People above her (with same background) received more acceptances to top-level schools, including Ivies.

    So just be careful of some of the generalizations. Some of it may be mythology or "urban legend." ;-)
  • sakkysakky - Posts: 14,759 Senior Member
    Epiphany, come now. Averages are, by their very nature, generalizations. I think it is an undeniable fact that the average Harvard student is better than the average college student nationwide. Think about all the other schools out there in the country - that includes all the state schools, all the no-name places, all those places. The elite schools that can compete with Harvard, and might be considered peer schools, are a tiny tiny handful compared to the vast majority of all the other schools out there. There are literally several thousand bachelor's-degree granting institutions out there, only a tiny fraction of whose average student can compare with the average student at Harvard. Almost all of those other schools, you must agree, cannot compare when we are talking about averages.

    Yes, we can all point to some Harvard students who are stupid, and some super-geniuses at a no-name school. But that's not what we're talking about here. We're talking about average students at those schools. Those Harvard students who are stupid are not representative of the average Harvard student population, just like those super-geniuses are not representative of their school. You pick one random student out of the Harvard undergraduate student body, call that pick "A" and then you pick one random student out of all undergraduates in the entire country, call that pick "B" and you and I both know that it is likely that A is significantly more likely to be a better student than B. Not guaranteed of course, but if you were a betting person, you would always bet on A every time. On occasion, you would lose, but you would win more times than you would lose.
  • epiphanyepiphany Registered User Posts: 8,438 Senior Member
    sakky,
    Your post #13 does not say what your post #11 says; both of them are too general, but the earlier of the two was even more all-encompassing. The problem I have with both of your posts is that you single out H as if it's in a diff. category than "most other schools." I profoundly disagree with that. If you're going to identify the average student at a top-20 school -- which would include some top publics -- then I would agree with you.

    And "the elite schools that can compete with H might be considered peer schools"?...... There's no "might" about it. They *are* peer schools. H is not a separate category of school, except mythologically. Equally brilliant minds attend UCBerkeley, U of Chicago, Swarthmore, Princeton, Rice, etc.

    I was not giving you "stupid student" examples. The student I singled out is not "stupid." It's just that she's definitely not top of her class. The 3 above her were not interested in H; they applied to other Ivies & top-20 & got into theirs. Their GPAs, scores, & accomplishments were a little higher than hers. She was not admitted to the Ivies they were admitted to. It's just one of the many examples of why H's reputation as "most selective" is unearned. In the case of our h.s. this year, H was LESS selective than the other Ivies applied to.

    To put it another way, the student I mentioned got extremely lucky that no one else from our school applied to H, especially not the top 3.
  • epiphanyepiphany Registered User Posts: 8,438 Senior Member
    P.S. The other Ivies applied to, by the top 3, included Y and P (with better results than that student). A couple of the top 3 also cross-applied to S, similarly with better results than that student.
  • sakkysakky - Posts: 14,759 Senior Member
    Come now, epiphany. Of course Harvard is different from most other schools. There are several thousand schools in the US. That's a huge number, and you have to concede that Harvard is indeed different from almost all of them.

    Furthermore, it is estimated that there are about 10 million enrolled undergraduates in the entire country. Harvard has about 6000 of those undergraduates. I think we can all agree that the average Harvard undergrad is better than the average undergrad in the nation.

    Don't worry, epiphany, I know what you're saying. You want to talk about other schools like MIT, Yale, Caltech, and places like that. Fine. But none of them take away from the simple fact that there are still thousands of other schools and millions of students who don't go to places that can approach the level of quality and selectivity of those schools. Places like HYPSMC and the like are, at most, the top 1% of all schools out there and probably the top 0.5% of all undergraduate enrollment out there. Please don't tell me that you are trying to equate Harvard with, say, Southwest Missouri State.

    You can check my post - you will see that I didn't say that Harvard students were better than all students at all other schools. I said they were better than the vast majority of students out there, and at almost all other schools. I think that's indisputable. Of all the schools out there, we can say that the average student at Harvard is better than the average student in at least 99% of all the other schools in the US. Is that something you want to dispute? If not, then why do you have a problem with my talking about a 'vast majority'? 99% is the vast majority by anybody's book.


    Finally, epiphany, you can talk about how the #4 student in your class got into Harvard, whereas the top 3 didn't. But you know and I know that plenty of other people in your graduating class ended up at schools that are less-good. For example, where did your #100 person go? So you can talk about how the #4 person didn't do as well as the person who graduated #1, but we can all agree that she did far better than the person who graduated #100.

    I would also state that something you implied is dubious. You say that your #4 person was lucky that your top 3 students didn't apply to Harvard, which implies that if they did, they would not have admitted the #4 person. Why? How do you know that? Harvard does not have a set quota of a number of students to be admitted per school. It is entirely possible that if #'s 1-3 applied, in addition to #4, then all 4 of them would have been admitted. Or maybe only #1 and #4 would have been admitted. Why not? Happened at my school - the top 7 students all applied to Harvard, and #'s 1, 3, and 7 got in, and #7 was not a recruit/URM/legacy. Hence, the #7 was clearly not hurt because the 6 students in front of hiim also applied. You're making a strong assumption when you say that your #4 would not have gotten in if #'s 1-3 had applied. We simply don't know what would have happened if they had applied.

    We can all talk about some of the weirdness that happens in the very top. I know the #2 person in the class was rather irritated that he didn't get into Harvard whereas the #7 person did (although #2 ended up at MIT, so I don't exactly feel sorry for him). But still, while it is true that the #7 person obviously didn't do as well as the top 6, he still did far far better better than the vast majority of the rest of the class. The #100 person clearly had no shot at Harvard, or MIT, or any of the other elite schools.
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