Majors in which undergrad prestige matters?

I’ve seen some discussion of majors in which the prestige of the undergrad program isn’t much of a concern–computer science is an example I’ve heard. Let’s say, though, that a person wants to get into a top grad program later on. Are there are any majors where admittance to a top grad program is difficult without having attended an undergrad program held in high regard for that major?

For instance, I’ve heard that as far as hiring goes for professors, many universities will hire professors only from graduate programs ranked at or above the level of their own school (which, coincidentally, is something I have heard about computer science.) I don’t know to what extent this situation exists in terms of undergrad --> grad school. I have heard, though, that top philosophy grad programs pretty much exclusively select students from top undergrads.

In what other majors is this the case?

In computer science, whether the school matters depends on whether you assume that prestige is the only benefit of attending a top school. However, may be that the level of rigor, and difficulty of projects at top schools is higher than would be possible with less accomplished students. I don’t think you can take a group of students with 25 ACT score students and cover material with the same rigor and project difficulty that MIT does, for example.

It also depends on the role you are interested in. For coding it does not matter on the west coast. However, if you are in New York City, Boston, or Philly and applying for consulting, product management or more business-related roles, it matters more.

“For instance, I’ve heard that as far as hiring goes for professors, many universities will hire professors only from graduate programs ranked at or above the level of their own school…” Highly ranked PhD programs are highly ranked for two closely related reasons that, when combined, explain what you’ve heard. The first reason is that the members of the departments produce highly regarded, leading edge research in their field; the second is that their PhD students go on to get tenure track positions. Kinda makes sense that the PhD’s from the programs doing the best research and known for getting their grads hired are the programs that, well, get their grads hired.

As to which specific majors this applies to, I’d say pretty much any field where the primary PhD motivation is an academic career. The major exception would be where grad school admissions are largely GPA + test based which means “trade” schools like Law and Med.

@afslex Business is a field where undergrad prestige matters a lot. elite firms have so-called target schools in which they recruit more heavily than other school.

For Econ professor positions it is common wisdom that a school will hire almost only PhD graduates from programs ranked higher or at best the same os their own.

Seems like the OP was mainly wondering about which subject PhD programs care most or least about the in-major prestige of one’s BA/BS school.

For example, suppose someone wants to become an economics professor. S/he decides that attending a top-end-for-economics PhD program is necessary for that. But s/he wants to know whether the prestige (in economics, math, and statistics) of his/her BA/BS school matters for the purpose of getting into a top-end-for-economics PhD program.

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The OP is mixing apples and oranges to a degree. Do not confuse prestige of PhD programs and the job market for professors with prestige relating to your undergraduate degree and job prospects/grad school prospects.

Re graduate school, having done well at a “top” school is certainly a plus, but many, many professors across all fields went to schools not considered “worthy” or “prestigious” enough by the people that haunt these forums. Graduate school admissions cares about three things primarily–your grades, your standardized test scores, and most importantly the letters of recommendation from your professors in the field you wish to pursue. An A student from Ole Miss with solid test scores will have a better shot at a top PhD program than a HYPS grad if the Ole Miss student has terrific letters of recommendation while the HYPS student has mediocre “s/he was a good student who did well in my classes” letters. Interestingly, this is one area in which all the hype about the superiority of an LAC education may have merit, because students at an LAC may have a better shot at really getting to know their professors and getting good letters of recommendation.

To answer the first part of the OP’s question, “prestige” of your undergraduate school certainly matters for business majors, especially because top employers with terrific starting jobs may not even recruit at schools too far down the list. Once out in the workforce for a few years, that edge from a prestigious degree will mean less and less, but it will still impress people in a world where first impressions matter. People don’t fight to go to Wharton or Harvard for MBA’s because the quality of the education is that much better than other schools.

I would go to any of the top school’s websites and look at the CVs for their professors in areas that interest you. I bet you will find that many went to their state flagships. I noticed that once when looking to see where some philosophy profs got their degrees.

PhD admissions is always very field-dependent, but in general I’d say your personal statement and research background matter far more than GRE scores. For the humanities, language preparation is also far more important. Your GPA doesn’t need to be spectacular, as long as you have a good academic background; 3.0+ overall and 3.5+ major is probably minimum for most of the best PhD programs.

Why compare an Ole Miss student with good recs to a Harvard student with mediocre recs? It’s a ridiculous comparison. Most of the best PhD programs are so selective that they can choose the best of both worlds – someone who worked with the top scholars at Harvard and got glowing recs.

While I certainly don’t disagree that state flagships provide excellent educations, I think is a useful exercise only if you look at people hired in the last ten years or so (and even that is probably not terribly useful). Academic hiring has changed quite a bit in the last couple of decades, not least because of the soaring percentage of adjuncts at many colleges. Learning where someone went to college in the 70s is meaningless for graduate school and job placement today.

Op, do you want to know for the purpose of PhD admissions? Or for the purpose of finding an internship/A job?

My statement was intentionally broad and generalize, but I know from many different examples, from humanities programs, that GRE scores mattered among a pool of candidates (this comes mostly from friends who are professors and some past graduate students who were told this by professors after being admitted). Are they the most important factor? Of course not. But depending on the program and the school they can indeed be important. Re “personal statement” that may matter, depending on your field, but again IMHO based on numerous examples what professors in your chosen field think of you is extremely important. I sat on two different committees at a university where the letters made the difference and were the focus of discussion.

It is not a “ridiculous” example. The whole point of this thread is “prestige,” and everyone on this forum knows, and every ranking states, that HYPS are about 100 places higher than a school like Ole Miss. I personally think Ole Miss is a fine school, and I know several professors who would never give up their job for a position at HYPS, but if we are talking about “prestige” in the sense of a generalized opinion, then comparing Ole Miss to HYPS is a perfectly logical comparison for illustrating the point.

Second, my example was expressly predicated on the different nature of the recommendations as a way to illustrate the relative weight of prestige versus recommendations. Your “best of both worlds” bears no relation to the question asked by the OP or to the point I was making.

I work in the financial industry and top companies like GSachs only recruit from the top finance schools: Harvard, stanford, upenn, umich, nyu, occasionally a cornell. Other schools virtually get no representation.

If the question is a broad question for general knowledge, a broad answer would be

  • International Relations (prestige of school OR of program)
  • IB (prestige of school first, of program distant second - ie., Indiana Kelley, Baruch…)
  • Humanities (the future Humanities major wants a school where Humanities have prestige, v. a school where the best students congregate into STEM)
  • Math

I would say that in the humanities prestige of the university may matter as far as internships and post-grad work is concerned. An English major from Yale or Stanford will be looked at differently from an English major at State.

Assuming the question relates to choice of undergraduate school, for “humanities” and “math”, it would be better to distinguish between potential post-graduation goals, such as high school teaching of the subject, PhD study in the subject, and various types of employment.

I believe “PhD study in the subject” was mentioned.
Although “post graduation work/not teaching” would also work for that list, except for Math.

Prestige matters if you want to go into a prestige profession. For most professions, the prestige of the institution can open some additional doors and provide greater opportunities at the start of a career, but ultimate career success will be in your own hands.

Prestige may matter less for engineering, computer science and similar majors where both the admissions are competitive/impacted and the skills are in high demand in the job market. Companies know that skilled engineers can be found at less prestigious colleges.