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Applying to graduate school - how important is undergrad institution?

  1. Jan 7, 2012 #1
    I've seen and heard some scary things when it comes to graduate school applications and for all I know, these could be complete rubbish. On the off chance that these claims are indeed correct, I'd like to know.

    In general, when a physics/math department is looking at applicant profiles, how much weight is placed on the school they attended? What I'm asking here, really, is whether I'll have to make a herculean effort to be able to have even a half-decent shot at getting into a specific research group, if the college I went to is not very well known. I get that I will have to work very hard no matter which school I go to but from what I understand, things are somewhat harder if no one knows where your school is and for all they know, it could be from a "give me some $$ and I'll give you a degree" college. In that case, would very good scores on the subject GRE be enough to help?

    This is quite important for me, seeing as I would rather not get into too much college debt. Going to one of those "not very well known" schools would be a good way for me to do that... :-) :-)
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 7, 2012 #2


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    People from "give me some $$ and I'll give you a degree" don't exactly perform well on the things the matter, such as the PGRE, research, publications, and letters of recommendations. Your undergrad institute, in terms of having it under your name on your application, is fairly low on the importance list.
  4. Jan 7, 2012 #3

    This applies for international students as well?

    Do strong applicants typically already have papers published under their name? :O
  5. Jan 7, 2012 #4
    I'm going to be more pessimistic than Pengwuino. Your undergrad institution CAN (and does) play a role in determining if you get into a program or not. For example, a student with a 3.7 GPA from Regional State College is going to have a more difficult time getting into a highly-regarded grad program than the kid who went to Stanford, Yale, etc., with the same GPA.

    In my case, I went to a very good state university for undergrad. However, it's definitely among the least prestigious institutions represented by the students in my grad program. My cohorts went to Princeton, Stanford, Caltech, Berkeley, etc. In fact, if I hadn't gotten an NSF fellowship, I don't know if I would have been admitted to my program at all.
  6. Jan 8, 2012 #5
    Your undergrad institution is more than a name. Lowly ranked schools are usually the schools with small grad programs and a slim selection of classes. If you didn't take as many classes as some other students, then the gradschools you're applying to might think you don't have as good a preparation as students from other schools.
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