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Factors in choosing a grad school

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  • Thread starter Hercuflea
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  • #1
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Main Question or Discussion Point

How much should one weigh a grad school's location when choosing? Especially when it means living close to family and friends? If you had a choice between a rank 25-30 school in mathematics with an advisor who isn't famous, but does research which you are very interested in, and the school is right in your hometown, vs. a number ~10 school with an advisor who works in the same area but is slightly more famous, but the school is 12+ hours away? Which would you choose?
 

Answers and Replies

  • #2
TeethWhitener
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This is an extremely personal question that depends on the status of your relationships, your career, and your ambitions. I chose to go to a very highly ranked grad school that was ~12 hours away from home, but I was 22 years old and relatively unencumbered by personal obligations to move around the world. On the other hand, later on in my career, I left a postdoc early to move closer to my wife. Both decisions were right for me at the time, but it all depends on your personal situation.
 
  • #3
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Can you afford applying to both?

My budget meant that I couldn't apply to more than the number I did (or else Stanford, Caltech, MIT would have been on it as well)
 
  • #4
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If you've met the potential advisors at each school, I'd lean towards the one you think will do the most to help you improve and possibly help you with getting a job after you finish.
 
  • #5
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Can you afford applying to both?

My budget meant that I couldn't apply to more than the number I did (or else Stanford, Caltech, MIT would have been on it as well)
Yes, thankfully I had fee waivers for a few schools because of a national internship program I was in. I'm just more concerned about quality of life at this point because both schools have professors who do research I'm very interested in.

If you've met the potential advisors at each school, I'd lean towards the one you think will do the most to help you improve and possibly help you with getting a job after you finish.
I've talked to both of them through email. If I get accepted to the schools I guess I can do a Skype interview or something. They both do research I am interested in. The one who is far away does more numerical stuff, and he's probably got a much better CV, but the one in my hometown does analytic theory. He's not as famous, but he was a Courant instructor at NYU so I guess that helps. I'm concerned about moving off to a town where I know basically nobody to work for the other guy and for a somewhat higher rank school, when I could just stay home and go to a 'good' school and still work in something interesting to me.
 
  • #6
radium
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Most people go away from home for grad school. A good portion of my class is international. It's not unusual to not know anyone when you first arrive. I knew a few people from undergrad in the area (not in my year) but many people didn't.

I would definitely go to the higher ranked school. Prestige actually does matter in the real world. It's not as important if there's not too much of a difference, but top ten is a lot significantly different from top thirty. Going to a top ten school opens a lot of doors that are harder to access from other schools.
 
  • #7
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Most people go away from home for grad school. A good portion of my class is international. It's not unusual to not know anyone when you first arrive. I knew a few people from undergrad in the area (not in my year) but many people didn't.

I would definitely go to the higher ranked school. Prestige actually does matter in the real world. It's not as important if there's not too much of a difference, but top ten is a lot significantly different from top thirty. Going to a top ten school opens a lot of doors that are harder to access from other schools.
So even if I prefer the research done by the less famous guy, I should choose a school that has more "prestige"?
 
  • #8
radium
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You shouldn't go to a school for just one professor. You should make sure you have at least two people you are very interested in possibly working with.
 
  • #9
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So even if I prefer the research done by the less famous guy, I should choose a school that has more "prestige"?
Beyond school prestige, you still have to achieve... if you think you can be more productive with the less famous guy, because he has a supervision style more suited to your personality, then it might be the component that could tip the scales in the favor of that guy.
 
  • #10
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Beyond school prestige, you still have to achieve... if you think you can be more productive with the less famous guy, because he has a supervision style more suited to your personality, then it might be the component that could tip the scales in the favor of that guy.
Another thing about the more famous one...when I emailed him the first thing he responded to me with was "send me your CV, GRE, and transcripts." I understand he may have a lot of students interested in him but it seems pretty rude to ask someone for their GRE scores and transcripts literally in the first email you send them...when all I wanted was to talk to him about his recent papers and research interest.

My main question I guess is...if I go to a lower tier school, that essentially means I will have a glass ceiling as far as the rank of institutions I may be able to land a professorship at. Is it possible to still do quality, reputable and widely cited research as a professor at a lower-ranked university?
 
  • #11
radium
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Of course you want to have an advisor who you get along with and who you share interests with. But it is very advantageous when looking for a post doc to come from a top school. Also, even a large number of the professors at lower ranked schools got their PhDs at the top schools. The job market is very competitive, especially for areas like math and theoretical physics.

Another great thing about going to a top school is your peer group. You learn a lot from your peers in grad school about literally everything in your field. In general (not true for everyone at a given school) you can sense a difference from the very elite schools (top 5 or so) and even top (15-20) schools.

Are these your only two options? As I recall, my friend who started a Math PhD program didn't start hearing back until January.
 
  • #12
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My main question I guess is...if I go to a lower tier school, that essentially means I will have a glass ceiling as far as the rank of institutions I may be able to land a professorship at. Is it possible to still do quality, reputable and widely cited research as a professor at a lower-ranked university?
I would be inclined to say yes, especially since some professors at top-ranked institutions, in fact, worked at lower-ranked institutions beforehand. Mark Trodden is but one example of such a case: PhD at Brown (top-30 or top-40), worked at Syracuse for a couple of years and now at UPenn.
 
  • #13
radium
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While of course it's possible, it isn't all that common. If you look at the web pages of even top 30-40 schools most of the professors came from top ten institutions.
 
  • #14
Vanadium 50
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If you look at the web pages of even top 30-40 schools most of the professors came from top ten institutions.
Be careful of the conclusions you draw.

  • The highest ranked schools are the biggest, so they produce the most graduates.
  • Faculty rosters reflect the situation long ago - about five to ten years before the faculty were hired
  • Look at the roster at Chicago, for example. You'll see Princeton and Berkeley. And South Carolina. And McGill.
 
  • #15
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I can only speak for myself on this matter. I went to a graduate school 200 miles away from my hometown after doing an undergraduate at my hometown. The graduate school had a slightly lower ranking, resources and faculty. There was no decision for me to make though. My GPA would never allow me to continue at my undergraduate school. Nevertheless, it was the right decision to study away from home. My GPA skyrocketed and I passed my quals in the first year.

My family is close-knit and if I stayed home, I would never have studied appropriately for success in graduate school. Family imposes too many possibilities of distraction. My parents were understanding and supportive of my need to leave. It helped that my identical twin brother went away to law school 300 miles away at the same time.

You might consider it an actual advantage to remove yourself from your hometown for a while. It might be the right decision even if you had to chose a graduate school with lower resources and prestige, and it sounds like your case is even better.
 
  • #16
QuantumCurt
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That's a very personal decision. I'm in a fairly small town in northwestern Illinois, and the nearest university to me is about an hour away. So commuting could feasibly be an option for me. But going to a better school and getting a better education is a bigger factor to me. I love my family of course, but we aren't a 'close' family in the same way as some families are. I wouldn't hesitate to go to grad school on the east coast or west coast if it meant going somewhere like Berkeley, Caltech, MIT, etc. Being geographically close to my family isn't really a big factor for me though. For some people, it's a huge factor.
 

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