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Does Schooling really matter?

  1. Apr 24, 2009 #1
    That is, how much does anyone care about the name brand of your degree, in the "real" world?
    I think that the stress from grades, gpa, etc. is causing me to lose focus of the reason I like mathematics in the first place, and the reason I'm working so hard on just getting points is because of graduate school.

    But does graduate school really matter? Or does the "real" world care less about the shiny degree and more about the actual research you do?

    Is it really worth it constantly stressing over the name recognition of potential graduate schools? Especially since my realistic chances of making it into a "top" program are slim?
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 24, 2009 #2


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    Why is it that it must be "top tier" program, or bust? Is there nothing in between?

    The problem here isn't about the schooling. The problem is your unwillingness to looking beyond such top tier schools.

  4. Apr 24, 2009 #3
    Don't get me wrong, I am DEFINITELY going to graduate school. That's exactly what I'm asking actually, that does the "level" of the school's prestige really matter that much, in the real world? How much of a difference does it actually make?

    Back in high school, things were much easier and I only competed with the general population, whereas in college I have to compete with smarter, physics-oriented populations. So that's why I am wondering if its worth it to go through undergrad completely stressed, make it to the "big league" schools, and then graduate only to realize that nobody gives a damn about the name on your diploma? Or is it better to take my time, smell the roses, understand the equations, instead of trying to memorize them, and simply learn without caring about credentials?

    And, just to clarify, yes the way I was raised, it was top tier or bust. So I am not used to considering anything but the popularly named "elite." So, I apologize if I sound that way too much :)
  5. Apr 25, 2009 #4


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    According to the 2008 Job Outlook Report

    Hiring managers look at these things with this much weight
    when influencing their hiring decisions

    5.0 point scale, where 1 = no influence, 5 = extreme influence

    Has held leadership position 4.0
    Major 3.9
    High GPA 3.7
    Co-curricular activities 3.6
    Volunteer work 3.0
    School attended 2.9

    National Assn. of Colleges and
    Employers, 2008 Job Outlook Survey

    They care more about volunteer opportunities than school attended.
    I do think in academia they put more weight in school attended but those jobs pay
    a whole lot less than industry jobs.
  6. Apr 25, 2009 #5


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    Let's say you eventually want to go to graduate school and got into some "top tier" school (pick any Ivy League school). You then realized that you have this acute interest in Atomic/Molecular physics. You are at, say, CalTech and thinking that you MUST be at the best place to major in this.

    Well look again! Where do you think http://grad-schools.usnews.rankings.../top-science-schools?s_cid=related-links:TOP" ranked as the #1 school for that subject matter? University of Colorado at Boulder! Oh wait, maybe you want to do Plasma Physics instead. Guess again! University of Wisconsin and University of Maryland ranked way ahead of Caltech in that subject area as well! In fact, they are both ranked at #2 in the country in this area!

    None of these schools are what most would immediately consider as "top tier" schools, but yet, they have as solid of a program as any of those brand-name schools! The point that I'm making here is that NOTHING is sillier than simply putting on blinders and going after those brand-name schools simply for its perceived prestige without even knowing what you're getting into. No one would argue that Caltech is an amazing school, but I can easily show you that in the field of angle-resolved photoemission spectroscopy, a small school such as the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) has a more well-developed program (and more well-known) than Caltech!

    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 24, 2017
  7. Apr 25, 2009 #6
    Haha, I've never heard an anti-prestige argument that leans on US News and World Reports, usually they correctly go after the << profanity deleted by berkeman >> process US News... uses to "rank" schools.
    I guess I have another question for you then. When applying for graduate school, are you supposed to know what field you are going into beforehand? Because you have to admit, that in Plasma, Princeton was ranked 1 and MIT also tied for two, in Atomic, Colorado was followed by Harvard and MIT... if you go to a specialized school without knowing what exactly you'll do, wouldn't that really limit some options?

    But the main point is, if these schools are really as good as they're reputed to be, they probably have some "name brand" power in academic circles as well, right? Probably, getting into them for those programs would be pretty difficult as well, and I'd have the same problem as before. Those programs are top tier...but my question is, in the academic world, do top tier programs count for much or does top tier research count a lot more? That's my core question.
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 24, 2017
  8. Apr 27, 2009 #7
    cute but we all know that all 3 of the schools you mentioned are actually just as difficult to get into as the brand names
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 24, 2017
  9. Apr 27, 2009 #8


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    I don't know how accurate an analogy this is, but with respect to finding work after graduate school, let's say each paper you publish is worth a dollar.

    Conference abstracts are worth somewhere between a quarter and fifty cents.

    Having a specific, desired skill can be worth anywhere from a quarter to five bucks.

    A brand name degree might be worth somewhere between a penny and a nickel - if you happen to walk into a store that deals with that brand.

    My advice to avoid killing yourself for a nickel when the real money comes in the form of 'dolla dolla bills yo'.
  10. Apr 28, 2009 #9
    I think your motivation is somewhat off.

    You should not prioritize schools by their ability to land you a job, rather by their ability to teach you the things you are interested in knowing.

  11. Apr 28, 2009 #10
    Its not like lack of a particular program is ever going to stop me from learning what I want to learn. But the real world value of certain degrees very well could stop me from progressing further. Especially in academic circles...I want to eventually become a professor. So far the messages seem to indicate rigor of the school is less important than rigor of your own academic work, but why is it that it seems most departments are packed with their own alumni?
  12. Apr 28, 2009 #11
    Are you talking graduate programs here, or faculty positions? I think if you really look at stats, most departments are not "packed" with their own alumni at either level. What they are packed with is people that have comparable degrees or better, and I'll explain why:

    Sometimes graduate programs will admit their own undergrads if the undergrads aim too high and do not get accepted at the graduate schools to which they apply. However, the admissions committee that I was on (that University of Colorado at Boulder), did not do so. I personally know of many cases where we denied admission to undergrads from the institution as well as individuals who did REU experiences at the institution. I think this would be typical of most "top-tier" universities (those with high-profile areas of speciality like Boulder, or brand-name recognition like CalTech -- where you do tend to get applications from all the superstars interested in that research area or that brand name). Often these universities do admit students with high GRE's and interesting research experience from other, smaller universities... although you have to stand out as a superstar perhaps a bit more than if you come from a comparable university (where you still have to be "very good" -- aka. do substantial research work and have excellent performance).

    It's a similar case when seeking a faculty position. To get a faculty position at a top-tier university, you pretty much must be a research superstar. That COULD happen at any university, if you get lucky in your research... though it's probably more likely to happen if you're at a place already known for that level work. But direct hires from the graduate degree to faculty position do not typically happen -- you have to have a good post-doc or two somewhere else and prove your "superstarness". Perhaps you'd have the advantage of connections (being more likely to therefore postdoc in a good lab)... but you still have to continue to be a superstar in that lab -- and even up until you get tenure in your own lab.

    The question is... how many people can hold up that superstarness for that long? I'd imagine not many (there's luck required in the lab, as well as dealing with other things that might crop up and impede things... say like family-concerns of various types).

    So what I'm hitting at here:
    A) You need to be a "superstar" (or nearly one) to get accepted at or hired at a university that is above the "ranking" of the university you've attended.
    B) You need to be very, very good (at least "almost a superstar") at your present "ranking" to get accepted at or hired at a university that is at the "ranking" of the university you've attended.
    C) It's much easier to get accepted at or hired at a university that is below the "ranking" of the university you've attended.

    After all, there are only a few departments that are "top" in certain research areas... a bunch that are middling, and tons that are weak or have no substantial research in that area... or even no research at all (community colleges or many undergraduate colleges that you've probably never even heard of that may be private and religious, etc... and may offer a few physics classes, but not offer a degree).

    It's OK to aim high... but what I state above is what I honestly see as the reality of the academic situation -- and it's across fields, not just in physics. It's okay to be motivated... but don't get too disappointed if things don't work out. It's very hard to be a superstar... although they are out there, they are few and far between. So I think people are just noting that if you aren't one of them, you need to gradually accept yourself and learn to work with what you've got. Happiness can be found there. Don't waste your energy on resentfulness (which is, btw, what seems to be implied in the selected quote from your post).
  13. Apr 28, 2009 #12
    My opition being a physicist is that your "brand" of school means nothing.

    I went to a rather unknown Uni in England
    got my:
    And PhD

    Went i left it was hard to find work but physics is a hard area to get into.
    Took me 2yrs till i was somewhere i enjoyed working (I now work for CERN at the LHC studying Quark-gluon plasma and i love every moment)

    I would say at the more expensive schools there will be more well known professors and better facilities so there is a plus to it.. but if you are good at what you do then it shouldn't matter what school you went to.
    (personally i don't think they are worth getting into stupid amounts of debt for though)

    hope this helps
  14. May 3, 2009 #13
    Hmm, that does make a lot of sense. At least, it gives me a lot to think on.
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