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Does the reputation of my undergraduate education matter?

  1. Mar 27, 2012 #1
    Hello everybody, I was recently accepted to the University of Washington. I am a resident of Washington state, but I fear that I will not be able to pay for the tuition costs of this institution. I am currently applying to as many scholarships as I can, but due to my parents income, I will probably not be receiving anything more than Stafford loans. My parents have made it quite clear that I will not be receiving any financial help to pursue my educational goals, and I understand there reasoning quite well.

    I was in the process of applying to Eastern Washington University a month or so back, and even though it is past the priority deadline I feel that I would have a good chance at being accepted there. The tuition rate there is extremely low in comparison to the University of Washington, but the ranking of the school is quite low as well though. I am planning on finding an apartment next year for me and my girlfriend, and we would both pay rent in order to be together and cut the cost of living. The cost of rent in Seattle is pretty high as well unfortunately, so I am feeling kind of sketchy moving there only to run out of funds. I will have my associates degree upon graduating from high school, so I was planning on taking an intro engineering course, a physics course, and a differential equations course in order to see where I wanted to major in.

    I really want to receive the best education I can get, but due to my financial situation, I feel that it isn't as easy as I planned to fund an undergraduate education. I don't really know exactly what I want to do in the future as I have mentioned before, but looking into different research being done at UW, I have high aspirations to indulge myself into research in a wide variety of subjects. I would feel terrible if I receive degree from a EWU just to be told that it would severely limit my post undergraduate opportunities.

    I'm sorry for writing this sob story, but I guess what I am really trying to ask is: "Is UW really worth the price tag in comparison to other universities such as EWU?"
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 27, 2012 #2
    Rankings are useless for this sort of question. What you'll need to do is to go to both campuses and see how will you fit in.

    Physics undergraduate curriculum tend to be rather standard, and it's possible that you may get a better education in a smaller school if the faculty are more student focused. Or maybe not. This is something that you can't figure out from the rankings.
  4. Mar 27, 2012 #3
    An undergraduate degree doesn't go very far now of days, as long your not getting it from a diploma mill, it really does not matter where your undergraduate degree is from.
  5. Mar 27, 2012 #4
    I have a feeling it does matter and I have heard similar notions from staff here. But mainly, my brother went to a bad undergraduate school and left with a stellar UG record (3.8 physics gpa, years of research, publications, etc, etc) and didn't get into many 10-20 schools and I think part of it was the reputation of his UG school but I am speculating.
  6. Mar 27, 2012 #5


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    It doesn't matter. Perhaps, he didn't do research, or other useful actions. Remember that every year tons of internationals apply to graduate school in the USA from unknown UG institutions, and they are still accepted.
  7. Mar 27, 2012 #6
    Sure, I didn't say a poor UG institution immediately gets a rejection but I imagine the name of your school does matter. A committee will know more about a student with a 3.9 from Caltech than say, No Name University of San Bernardino.

    And I have heard it matters from staff directly but not a lot (many staff have emphasized that the GRE is more important for students from unknown schools for one).
  8. Mar 27, 2012 #7


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    Not really, the GRE is worthless. The GRE is only a problem is you get a bad score, and that typically means a rejection. The focus is on courses, GPA, and on recommendation letters. They want a researcher, so if you have research that is a plus! (most people have research done, so even if your brother had GPA 3.8, but zero research that could lead to rejection).
  9. Mar 27, 2012 #8

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    While the General GRE is worthless, the subject GRE is important.
  10. Mar 27, 2012 #9


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    Yes, sorry for the confusion. PGRE is important, and yes it is used to see students performance especially from unknown schools as well.
  11. Mar 27, 2012 #10
    This may work against you. For example, there is a general (and in my view correct) belief that GPA's in big name universities are somewhat inflated over big public universities.

    The other thing is that from personal experience, getting an undergraduate degree from big name university doesn't mean automatic acceptance everywhere. I couldn't get into my top choice of graduate schools. Looking back it's probably a good thing that I didn't, and if I was on the admission committee for the schools that rejected me, I'd likely reject my application.

    The most important thing is how you fit with the environment. I went to a big expensive undergraduate, and it was worth it, because it was an environment in which I thrived, but I know people that went to the same school and just burned out. It's like joining the Marines. Some people love the military life, but some people hate it.

    One problem with these sorts of discussions is that it's impossible to redo history. I *strongly suspect* that the reputation of my undergraduate university really didn't help me that much, but it's impossible for me to know. Part of the reason it's hard/impossible to rerun history is that if I had gone to another school, I would be someone else. One reason that it's important to talk to alumni and upperclassmen is that often the choice of school ends up doing a decision on who you want to be, and if you talk to alumni, you'll get a hint of what you'll look like in ten years.
    Last edited: Mar 27, 2012
  12. Mar 27, 2012 #11
    I was referring to the math gre most specifically, but either way, I'm just reiterating what I've been told from professors.

    I clearly stated my brother had research and publications btw.

    Of course it doesn't mean automatic acceptance.

    Also, I use to hear about grade inflation but I'm not as convinced anymore it's inflated. I've been meeting more and more people from schools such as cal, caltech, harvard, etc and their students really are on top of their game and from visiting those schools, TAs have iterated the same ideas - the students are just very good at those places (as a whole). Just look at what one does in calc I at caltech as opposed to UCI as opposed to CSU SM. I have trouble seeing a 3.9 from there hurting one at all in the sciences, but maybe it does.

    I agree about the environment part definitely. I wouldn't pick a different UG institution if I could go back because I made a few strong bonds I wouldn't want to lose by UG institution was not for me. I'm trying to pick graduate schools more wisely now.
  13. Mar 27, 2012 #12
    I think the important question is whether he got in anywhere. In physics in the United States, if you get in *anywhere* you are doing great. If you get in to the bottom school based on whatever ranking is important to you, you job as a graduate student is to make that school a top school.

    One reason I like the US system is that if you get rejected by one school, then there may be some random issue which you can't control. If you get rejected by six to eight schools, then there is something seriously wrong with your application and you were doomed anyway.
  14. Mar 27, 2012 #13
    Sure, he got into a good school, top 20, I have just wondered whether the UG institution made a difference. As you say, there are so many people who apply and are qualified, if you have to choose between a person from a school where we know what to expect and a student, with the same qualifications, but the school is a gamble, it's easier to pick the known.
  15. Mar 27, 2012 #14
    I've seen courses at both UT Austin and Harvard. The grades at Harvard are ***severely*** inflated with respect to UT Austin. It's worse in the humanities classes.

    The average student at MIT and Harvard is smarter mathematically than the average student at UT Austin. *However*, the average CS or physics major at MIT or Harvard is roughly the same ability as the average CS or physics major at UT Austin. UT Austin puts physics majors through hell in lower division classes order to get rid of them, whereas MIT bends over backward to make sure that everyone learns physics.

    There's also a sense of entitlement. It's much worse at Harvard than MIT, but most Harvard students have a sense of entitlement so that if you grade very harshly, then people will scream and there is a lot of pressure on the TA's to grade less harshly. I saw this first hand in an humanities class there, and I formed a reasonably good bond with one of the teachers at Harvard because I wouldn't moan if she gave me a low grade.

    The other thing is that people will adjust the grading system to make sure that people have the right GPA's and get into graduate school. MIT grades the tests extremely harshly, but then adjusts the final grade so that people end up with decent GPA numbers. The engineering departments tended to grade more harshly than the physics department because employers don't care about GPA's. Physics courses at MIT were A/B centered whereas engineering courses were B/C centered.

    Finally, there was a dean at MIT that told me that GPA policies changed a lot in the 1960's. The problem is that a low GPA put someone at risk of getting kicked out of the university, and that meant a trip to Vietnam.

    Culture matters a lot. Some of the major cultural things that I learned at MIT is openness, brutal self-criticism, and a weird sort of self-hating anti-elitism. Harvard has a wildly different culture, and I don't think I would have enjoyed going there. On the other hand, if I had gone there I would have absorbed their culture, and I'd be someone else today, who couldn't have imagined going to MIT.

    One other thing is that admission rates at elite universities have been trending down, and one thing that I keep in mind is that if I had to review my college application to MIT today, there's a good chance that I would have rejected me. There are *far* *far* more people that are qualified to go to MIT than can be admitted, and MIT tuition is too damn high and its getting worse.

    Not everyone takes Harvard Math 55. Also, you can have a harder class with easier grading. One thing about MIT students is that the students are less "grade motivated" so you don't have to use grades as much to "crack the whip."

    The one big advantage of going to a big name school is that you can say nasty things about big name schools.
    Last edited: Mar 27, 2012
  16. Mar 27, 2012 #15
    This post was interesting, let me mull it over, thanks.
  17. Mar 27, 2012 #16
    This is a factor in hiring of business graduates and law school students, but I don't think this is an important factor in physics graduate school admissions.

    The undergraduate physics curriculum is pretty standard across different schools in the United States, and if you go to North Podunk University you'll be taking more or less the same classes and same curriculum as you would going to MIT, and it's likely that the teachers at NPU are better at classroom instruction than MIT professors, who for the most part aren't selected on their teaching skills.

    PGRE's and the recommendation letters level out the field even more.

    UG institution *does* make a difference, but it's in getting the physics degree.
  18. Mar 27, 2012 #17
    interesting post...

    As to the original poster, If your State undergrad Eng is good +accredited+locally respected then there is no reason to go elsewhere unless u are getting lot of aid/money etc......
    As Far as I know state eng schools are usually good in a lot of places (choose the best campus location in the state as far as overall rep/strength goes of course)......
    Some state university eng schools are good enough that lot of residents from neighboring states would come to ur school as well..(for example some of them in my case came from NJ,NY,IL,Texas to name a few)
  19. Apr 5, 2012 #18
    Hello, I was in a similar situation to yours :P

    I was accepted to EWU, Gonzaga, and UW. Although I was accepted into the Honors program and given a full ride to UW, they would not cover my living costs. At that time, there was no way I could afford the living costs...although I really wanted to go to UW, I ended up going to GU due to the fact that they gave me a full ride plus some to afford living in Spokane (much much cheaper).

    Three years later, how am I faring? Well there are advantages and disadvantages:
    -save $$$
    -Gonzaga is small...I get probably the same amount of individual attention as I would get being the Honors Program (small class sizes are guaranteed if you get into the honors program from what I have heard). So I am currently working on research with a professor and have given multiple presentations on it.
    -family and relationships: Yes, I consider this to be important, regardless of what people might say. I am still with my high school sweet heart (5 years going on 6). There was no way he could pay to live in Seattle either.

    -Lack of name. A 4.0 here probably does not mean as much compared to a 4.0 for UW. Just saying. I applied to some REUS for this summer and did not get into any...despite 4.0 GPA, taking almost all the math classes offered, math lab tutor, and research. A math student from UW (5th place in mathematics, I think) is going to look nicer than a math student from GU. IE: My subject test is going to have to be stellar when I apply for grad school.

    I understand that you are debating between EWU and UW, not GU and UW. However, I did go to EWU for the running start program (essentially taking college classes there as a high school student). Here is what I will say: It not a very good school. Provided, I only took classes from their bio and math department...but I was not impressed.

    If it is not going to be too much of a burden and depending on what you major in, I would most likely choose UW over EWU.
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