How much does choice of undergrad school effect grad school admission?

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  • #1
sydneyfranke
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I think the title pretty much sums up my question. I would like to get into the most prestigious grad school that I can (particularly MIT) but am worried that my choice in undergrad school might not be prestigious enough to get into a higher profile school. Do the ivy league(rs) really just let a certain pedigree in? Or will they look at what/how well I did at the school I attended? Can GRE scores, good essays, and recommendations help my cause or am I just wishing on a star that I can never really obtain regardless of my personal achievements. I am still far away from graduation so if there are some immediate changes I need to make, I still have time. Any help concerning this matter would really be appreciated.
 

Answers and Replies

  • #2
owlpride
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A senior from Bryn Mawr was accepted to MIT last year, for a PhD program in physics.
 
  • #3
twofish-quant
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I think the title pretty much sums up my question. I would like to get into the most prestigious grad school that I can (particularly MIT) but am worried that my choice in undergrad school might not be prestigious enough to get into a higher profile school.

First of all, I think you are more concerned about prestige than you should be.

Second, the prestige or lack thereof for an undergraduate school has very little impact on graduate school admissions as long as the undergraduate school has a quality physics program.

One curious thing is that if you want to go to MIT as a graduate school, you should avoid MIT as an undergraduate, as the physics department wants MIT undergraduates to go elsewhere for graduate school. On the other hand, MIT does have a very good undergraduate physics program. Personally, I think I would have had a higher chance of getting into a "prestige" university had I gone elsewhere for undergraduate, but looking back, the fact that I didn't get into a big name graduate school, was one of the better things that happened to me.

Do the ivy league(rs) really just let a certain pedigree in?

MIT is not Ivy League, MIT ***hates*** the Ivy League. Most good physics schools are not Ivy League, and some of the Ivy League schools do not have well known good physics departments.

I am still far away from graduation so if there are some immediate changes I need to make, I still have time. Any help concerning this matter would really be appreciated.

I think you care a bit more about prestige than you should. One of the really good things about an MIT education is that they teach you to hate prestige (and to hate MIT).
 
  • #4
Leptos
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MIT is not Ivy League, MIT ***hates*** the Ivy League. Most good physics schools are not Ivy League, and some of the Ivy League schools do not have well known good physics departments.
From what I've heard and researched, that's because the label "Ivy League" suggests several things: Good for general studies/overall the programs are good(e.g a school where you can do business, natural sciences, law, medical, etc.), very selective(students must meet a criteria that will make it so the student body at a minimum is good whereas with less selective schools it might be some good and some bad students), and a large endowment.

If you know exactly what you want to study, it's a good idea to look up schools by their programs for your specific area of study rather than overall ranking.

I think you care a bit more about prestige than you should. One of the really good things about an MIT education is that they teach you to hate prestige (and to hate MIT).
I thought MIT was one of the nicer selective schools since they have so many free lecture videos online.
 
  • #5
TMFKAN64
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I thought MIT was one of the nicer selective schools since they have so many free lecture videos online.

I've heard MIT called many things, but never nice. It's a top notch school, but it has a real "chew'em up and spit'em out" reputation. People who have actually been there can tell you if this is an accurate view or not.
 
  • #6
Leptos
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It's a top notch school, but it has a real "chew'em up and spit'em out" reputation.
That's expected with any top tier school.
 
  • #7
twofish-quant
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It's a top notch school, but it has a real "chew'em up and spit'em out" reputation. People who have actually been there can tell you if this is an accurate view or not.

It's a real "chew'em up" but it's not spit you out. One way of thinking about MIT is the "physics marines." Tough, hard, elitist, but most people that enter basic training in the Marines make it through. It's a very caring place in a masochistic way.
 
  • #8
twofish-quant
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That's expected with any top tier school.

It's really not. One thing about top tier schools is that the grades tend to be inflated so it's really hard to fail out. Part of the reason that MIT has a good undergraduate physics program is that at the end of the day, the faculty wants you to learn the material, then they aren't trying to weed you out.

Harvard does everything it can to inflate your ego, whereas MIT does everything it can to deflate it.
 
  • #9
twofish-quant
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From what I've heard and researched, that's because the label "Ivy League" suggests several things:

One reason that I dislike the use of the term Ivy League, is that the Ivy League is specifically defined. The eight Ivy League universities are Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, UPenn, Princeton, and Yale.

Stanford, UChicago, Berkeley, Caltech are not Ivy League, and MIT sure as hell isn't Ivy League. There are MIT grads (like me) that are slightly offended if you call MIT, Ivy League. Personally, I like to think of MIT as a technical community college that happen to have the right political connections.

I thought MIT was one of the nicer selective schools since they have so many free lecture videos online.

It's nice in odd way. One thing that I did like about MIT is that the professors and upper classmen are a lot more helpful than in other schools I've seen.
 
  • #10
TMFKAN64
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Harvard does everything it can to inflate your ego, whereas MIT does everything it can to deflate it.

I'm sure that all top notch schools serve as a reality check on your ability... but this was more what I meant by being a "chew'em up" place.

It's an interesting point that MIT doesn't really spit'em out though... although maybe you are just suffering from Stockholm Syndrome? :-)
 
  • #11
qspeechc
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15
Harvard does everything it can to inflate your ego, whereas MIT does everything it can to deflate it.

Interesting. What do you mean by this? Harvard is more of a "spit-em-out" type of place?
 
  • #12
twofish-quant
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It's an interesting point that MIT doesn't really spit'em out though...

Part of it involves funding. The prestige schools do everything they can to get you to learn the material so that you graduate, end up with nice well-paying jobs in various parts of the political and economic power structure, which you then direct back at the university.

One thing that is true about MIT is that you have enough teachers to teach everyone that wants to learn physics. This isn't true with other places, and some places have weed out courses to disguise that.

Although maybe you are just suffering from Stockholm Syndrome? :-)

Some people like life in the marines.

This gets to the point about undergraduate physics. The most important criterion for a school is to go somewhere that you won't end up hating physics at the end of it.
 
  • #13
sydneyfranke
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So I just got back from class and decided to check out the forum to see if I had any responses to my questions. I was elated to find 11 reply's on this topic as I have not really received any reply's to my other questions. To my dismay, I have to admit that I was pretty disappointed to find that only 2 people really took a shot at answering my question while the rest just ended up being a "talk amongst yourselves". So, I guess hopefully to further this discussion and maybe get back to the question at hand, I will clarify some things that maybe didn't come out quite how I meant them in my post:

1) My apologies for categorizing MIT as an Ivy League school. I guess with the location, acceptance percentage, and tuition costs, I placed it on the "only certain people get into this school" kind of category, or "pedestal" if you will.

2) I do think that prestige should be important. I think one should try to get into the best school one can get and strive to achieve that goal. I understand that sometimes you have to find the school that works "best" for you but at the same time I feel as if that's sort of a cop-out. Like getting a 7th place trophy or something. The college that I think would be the "best" for me would be the one that is going to push me to my educational limit and has the funding, resources, and the brightest faculty to do so. I would hate not to care about prestige now and later find out that my employer kind of does, and would rather hire that guy (or girl) that went to MIT over say, a lower tier university. There is a reason these schools raise eyebrows.

3) I am not currently going to MIT. I am attending a public college in my state. The PRIMARY reason for asking this question is because though I feel like I am getting an excellent education, I DON'T know if I am learning what these top grad schools are expecting me to know. I have never taken the GRE nor do I know what is on it so I DON'T know if upon graduating, if I will be prepared to compete with the other applicants. I just want to make sure that if I can control my own destiny and make the grades and do the things expected of me like research and stuff, that I can have an equal chance in getting into a top tier program.

I was under the impression that this forum was created not only for current physicists and engineers to congregate, but for upcoming students to be able to ask questions and gain insight from people who have been in the exact situation as myself. I hope that I am not coming off as rude as I respect all of your opinions, I just hope that maybe someone can take this situation as serious as I do and possibly pass on some useful insight. Thanks.
 
  • #14
davesface
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2
2) I do think that prestige should be important. I think one should try to get into the best school one can get and strive to achieve that goal. I understand that sometimes you have to find the school that works "best" for you but at the same time I feel as if that's sort of a cop-out. Like getting a 7th place trophy or something. The college that I think would be the "best" for me would be the one that is going to push me to my educational limit and has the funding, resources, and the brightest faculty to do so. I would hate not to care about prestige now and later find out that my employer kind of does, and would rather hire that guy (or girl) that went to MIT over say, a lower tier university. There is a reason these schools raise eyebrows.

That is a terrible attitude. It's not at all a "cop-out" to choose to go to a school which is perhaps less prestigious than an Ivy League school but more suited to your interests and needs (and not to mention your budget, if applicable). You are setting yourself up for disappointment if you fail to take advantage of the individual qualities that are great at your institution. For instance, some less prestigious places may make it a priority to get lots of undergraduates involved in research.

I can't speak about employers from experience, but I would have to imagine that all but the most pig-headed of employers would hire a candidate with useful skills over a candidate with a shiny degree (and really, do you want to spend a large part of your life working for people who put more importance on your school than on your useful skills?) .

3) I am not currently going to MIT. I am attending a public college in my state. The PRIMARY reason for asking this question is because though I feel like I am getting an excellent education, I DON'T know if I am learning what these top grad schools are expecting me to know. I have never taken the GRE nor do I know what is on it so I DON'T know if upon graduating, if I will be prepared to compete with the other applicants. I just want to make sure that if I can control my own destiny and make the grades and do the things expected of me like research and stuff, that I can have an equal chance in getting into a top tier program.

That's easy enough to find out with some internet searching and possibly some e-mails/phone calls. There are tons of books available concerning what material is on the various GREs and grad school websites generally outline what tests incoming students need to pass within their first few semesters. Also try sharing these concerns with your advisor and see what s/he has to say.

TL;DR: owlpride's post. Good recommendations, good grades, good GRE scores, and research participation can all only help you when it comes time to apply to grad schools.
 
  • #15
twofish-quant
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I do think that prestige should be important. I think one should try to get into the best school one can get and strive to achieve that goal.

The trouble is that prestige has very little to do with good schools. One thing that you will learn very quickly at MIT is that the classroom instruction there is not particularly good, and the professors in general are that not great at classroom teaching. If you learn well in classroom settings, then MIT is not a very good school for you.

Like any school, there are good things about MIT. There are bad things about MIT. MIT can be a very, very hellish place if you aren't prepared for it.

Like getting a 7th place trophy or something.

One of the great things about MIT is that it teaches you to deal with the fact that you are not at the top. You take someone that has been getting 95% and 1st place all of their lives, and then you suddenly put them in a situation were they are getting 35% on a test, and is near the bottom of the class. It is an extremely traumatic experience when that happens, which is why the grading is relaxed freshmen year.

If you want to be first place, then MIT is a bad school for you. If you want to be anywhere near first place, the MIT is a very bad school for you. Personally, if you take a test at MIT, and you get 7th place, that's cause for jumping for joy.

The college that I think would be the "best" for me would be the one that is going to push me to my educational limit and has the funding, resources, and the brightest faculty to do so.

MIT will push you to your limit, but so will dozens of other schools. Also MIT faculty tend to be great researchers, but MIT professors are *NOT* hired based on their teaching ability and some of them are hideously bad at it.

I would hate not to care about prestige now and later find out that my employer kind of does, and would rather hire that guy (or girl) that went to MIT over say, a lower tier university.

Why do you want to work for a boss that is a jerk and a bad judge of character?

I should point out that this is one big advantage of going to Harvard, in that you become a little arrogant, and a little arrogance isn't a bad thing. When someone from Harvard gets turned down for a job, there's a little voice that says "How DARE they turn me down, I went to Harvard!!!!" And that little voice causes them to go to the next interview instead of giving up.

If you go to MIT, what that voice tends to say is "Those guys are *idiots* for turning me down for that Harvard know-nothing. I'm going to take my marbles and start my own company and show them."

There is a reason these schools raise eyebrows.

Good sales and marketing. People thing Harvard is cool for the same reason that people think that Coca-Cola tastes great. It's all social brainwashing. Not necessarily a bad thing, but you just have to realize that it's going on. People think MIT and Harvard are cool, because MIT and Harvard have vast amounts of money which they put into social brainwashing.

The PRIMARY reason for asking this question is because though I feel like I am getting an excellent education, I DON'T know if I am learning what these top grad schools are expecting me to know.

The undergraduate physics curriculum tends to be pretty standard. What does change from place to place is that social attitudes and culture that you pick up. It's not what you know, it's how fast you can learn.

It's also important to have a healthy disrespect for authority. At some point, you'll have to start learning things not because someone else thinks it's important, but because you think it is important.

For upcoming students to be able to ask questions and gain insight from people who have been in the exact situation as myself. I hope that I am not coming off as rude as I respect all of your opinions, I just hope that maybe someone can take this situation as serious as I do and possibly pass on some useful insight. Thanks.

The one piece of insight that I have is that chasing after prestige is a bad idea. At some point you will realize that it's all a silly game that you really can't win at.
 
  • #16
story645
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You take someone that has been getting 95% and 1st place all of their lives, and then you suddenly put them in a situation were they are getting 35% on a test, and is near the bottom of the class. It is an extremely traumatic experience when that happens, which is why the grading is relaxed freshmen year.
I'm pretty sure that's all hard majors. I go to public college in a big ole city and the same thing happens (we've got lots of weeding, so first year there's a ton of honor's kids dropping engineering 'cause they can't keep their scholarships and stay in the major). You also quickly learn that a 35 is average for some engineering courses and move on with your life (or cheat, which unfortunately is endemic.)

As for the op? A friend of mine graduated my school last year, she's at MIT this year. Another friend won the Rhodes, is at Oxford. Guy in my psych class was off to Harvard? for law. Most of the people I know don't particularly want to leave our school system for shiny schools for a variety of reasons, but the ones who try do go on to some great places/win some awesome fellowships. It's all about having excellent grades, and solid research (which in turn leads to good recs).

I understand that sometimes you have to find the school that works "best" for you but at the same time I feel as if that's sort of a cop-out.
*shrugs* I turned down the best schools in the country for my major/program for my two bit school 'cause I didn't want the loans, and ended up with some awesome opportunities 'cause of it. We don't have enough grad students to go around, so I get to do all sorts of cool research in a million fields, with a ton of flexibility. And public schools have some of the coolest people 'cause you get 2nd degree students and guys who work and all sorts of really cool stories.

I would like to get into the most prestigious grad school that I can (particularly MIT)
Besides the whole undergrad prestige debate, you have to remember that (especially at the grad level) it's the program that matters. Most everyone in the field knows who has really good programs and who has not so good ones. You're much better off going to a no-name school with an excellent program in your field of interest ('cause they will probably have funding for your interest 'cause they do enough work in it), than a really prestigious school that does almost no work in it (and a professor's pet unfunded project rarely counts as work unless he publishes a lot in it and has a strong reputation in the field.) You don't want to be in the position of going to a school where there's only one guy doing anything even vaguely similar to your field, 'cause then you're in heaps of trouble if he doesn't take on students, you don't get along, or he loses his funding (and you don't have a fellowship).
 
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  • #17
twofish-quant
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I'm pretty sure that's all hard majors. I go to public college in a big ole city and the same thing happens (we've got lots of weeding, so first year there's a ton of honor's kids dropping engineering 'cause they can't keep their scholarships and stay in the major). You also quickly learn that a 35 is average for some engineering courses and move on with your life (or cheat, which unfortunately is endemic.)

One interesting thing is that this is *NOT* the way that MIT works. There are no weed out classes at MIT. The really nasty classes are back loaded.

You go to MIT, you find that you are no longer in the top 10% of the class, but you find that life is not so bad in the bottom of the class, and unless something seriously goes wrong, people make it through the course. The other thing is that MIT financial aid is all need-based. What this means is that the calculate the amount that you are supposed to pay based on financial aid available, and if you have any scholarships those are subtracted from your financial aid.

What this means is that you aren't going going to run into financial difficulties if your grades go too low, unless they are so seriously low that you are in danger of getting kicked out.

Besides the whole undergrad prestige debate, you have to remember that (especially at the grad level) it's the program that matters. Most everyone in the field knows who has really good programs and who has not so good ones.

The other thing is that you should go into grad school with the expectation that you will *NOT* get a faculty position in a research university.
 
  • #18
Sankaku
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People think MIT and Harvard are cool, because MIT and Harvard have vast amounts of money which they put into social brainwashing.

And for universities like Oxford and Cambridge, the brainwashing has had an 800 year head-start...
 
  • #19
Vanadium 50
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To my dismay, I have to admit that I was pretty disappointed to find that only 2 people really took a shot at answering my question while the rest just ended up being a "talk amongst yourselves".

It's called a "community". It's what people do. You have no right to demand that people cease discussing amongst themselves and snap to it and answer your questions.

It's a pity you are so dismissive of those messages, because there is a ton of good advice in them.

I understand that sometimes you have to find the school that works "best" for you but at the same time I feel as if that's sort of a cop-out. Like getting a 7th place trophy or something.

Going to the place where you will learn the most is not a cop-out. It's a sign of maturity and wisdom: having your priorities in the right place. Just a few short years after you graduate, nobody will care where you got your PhD. They will care what you did with it.

I don't think you're ready go to MIT. You may have learned enough physics, but you haven't yet learned enough about life.
 
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  • #20
davesface
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I'm not sure I've ever disliked something posted by you or twofish.
 
  • #21
twofish-quant
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Going to the place where you learn the most is not a cop-out. It's a sign of maturity and wisdom: having your priorities in the right place.

It's also something called making do with the cards that you are dealt. Suppose you apply to your dream schools, and they all slam the door in your face and tell you to go away. What do you do then? If you really care about physics and the only place that will take you is Frank's Physics and Truckdriving School, then well then sign up there, and make the most of it.

Part of what the OP needs to figure out is "why does it matter?" Suppose you find out that there is no way in hell that you are going to end up in a top-10 physics school, and they only place that will take you is some no name college in North Podunk. Why does it matter?

One thing that you have understand is that if you go to grad school for the prestige, then it is highly, highly likely that you will not finish your Ph.D. Let's face one important fact. The United States is a highly anti-intellectual society in which scientists and intellectuals are not held in very high regard. The job market for professors is basically non-existent, so if you get your Ph.D. and you want to teach, you are likely looking at community college or high school teaching. Most employers do not think very highly of physics graduates, and will consider you overqualified for the positions that you apply for.

You really have to ask yourself why you want to go to grad school, why you want to study physics, and what will you do if it turns out things don't go according to plan (since they won't.)

I don't think you're ready go to MIT. You may have learned enough physics, but you haven't learned enough about life.

One thing about MIT, is that I try my best to *discourage* people from going there. There are lots of people for which MIT is just the wrong school, and for people for which this is true, MIT can be *TOTAL HELL*. For undergraduates, there is a residency system where the RA's keep very close watch on the students, because when things go bad, they go *REALLY* bad (i.e. people end up dying).

The old expression is drinking from a firehose, and you have to imagine yourself in an environment where you are constantly being reminded about how much of an idiot you are. I do well in this sort of environment, but I've seen people that psychologically implode when they get hit by this. It's really important to be able to deal with this, because any sort of graduate program is going to put you under this sort of stress.

One other thing that you have to realize is that it's the students that give the school prestige, not the other way around, and this becomes more and more important at the graduate level. One of my fun MIT stories involves a professor that was *TOTALLY* incompetent at teaching a major required class. So what happened was that the students and the other faculty managed to work around this professor, and people ended up learning the material anyway. If you had a lazy professor that told everyone in class that they would be getting A's and just left the room, you'd have the students going after that professor and screaming at and about him.
 
  • #22
qspeechc
840
15
Ok, fine. But here's what I don't get. Most of the professors, at least in physics and mathematics, received their PhD from a big-name school (Harvard, MIT, Princeton, UCLA etc.). I heard Princeton produces the most mathematics professors of any university in the world. Most nobel prize winners, and fields medalists, also come from these big-name universities. So it can't all be prestige and marketing, they must really be superior in some way. It's probably money.
 
  • #23
JDStupi
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If you want some prime-cut advice from "experience", I'm not the one to ask, considering I am still at a community college also, but I do think it worth commenting that what I think everybody is trying to say is that you are an individual, and that is all that matters. Well, you say, what kind of platitude BS is that? Essentially, the reason why these MIT, Princeton, etc are probably good is because they probably stress independance and self-discipline and the ability to teach yourself something in its entirety, not rely on "authorities" to teach you something. You take Psyche 1? "Correlation without Causation" gets thrown around alot in that class, well just because alot of stron individuals get to high places after graduating from such institutions, that doesn't mean if YOU go there YOU will have the same fate. The "Prestigous" schools do not CAUSE success, though it does appear there is a CORRELATION
 
  • #24
TMFKAN64
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Once a school has the reputation, it can pick and choose among the best students. Most of these students would be a success if they went to Frank's Physics and Truckdriving School... but the system being what it is, they go to Harvard, Princeton, Stanford, and MIT instead.

And as twofish-quant very accurately said, these students give the school prestige, not the other way around.
 
  • #25
TMFKAN64
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But to go back to the OP's question about admission to high-end grad schools, students from a large assortment of undergraduate universities are admitted. I think it's more important to excel where ever you go that to go to an undergrad school with a big name.

I could be wrong, but I think that a State U student with a "best student of my career" recommendation has a much better chance of admission anywhere than a Harvard student with an "above average" recommendation.
 
  • #26
twofish-quant
6,817
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Most of the professors, at least in physics and mathematics, received their PhD from a big-name school (Harvard, MIT, Princeton, UCLA etc.).

Yes. A lot of this happened because of educational history. The US had no good research universities until World War II. Before the 1940's, Germany was the world's science powerhouse, until some idiot decided it would be a good idea to kill all of their most brilliant researchers, and they ran over to the US. When they got to the US, they ended up in a small number of schools, which got massive amounts of defense money. This created an overproduction of Ph.D.'s, and in the 1970's, you have young Ph.D.'s leaving Harvard, Princeton and starting departments in the Midwest.

Looking at a physics department is like looking through a telescope, you are looking back in time. One thing that is the case is that in 1965, physics was *very* concentrated in the big name universities, but then all these Harvard, Princeton, and MIT professors ended up in no-name universities, and then turned them into competitive departments. Personally, I think the future of education is going to be in the major Chinese universities and in online institutions like the University of Phoenix.

I heard Princeton produces the most mathematics professors of any university in the world. Most nobel prize winners, and fields medalists, also come from these big-name universities.

Some of it is history. A *lot* of it involves the "old-boy/girl network." Academic hiring tends to be really informal, and so a lot of it involves friends telling friends that a position is open. There is something of a "Harvard mafia" in astrophysics, but the good news is that you don't have to go to Harvard to get connected to it. At Ph.D. graduation ceremony last year, the UT president was talking about how he got his job at UT, and it was through his Harvard connections. But his point was that, we UT grads need to be active and creating *our* networks.

So it can't all be prestige and marketing, they must really be superior in some way. It's probably money.

If you got money, you can buy prestige. My Ph.D. alma mater, the University of Texas at Austin, is a pretty good example of that. If you have money and prestige, then you can brainwash people into thinking that you are better.

Also *having* prestige creates it's own problems. The trouble with having prestige is you get fat, lazy, and inflexible, which is why it's essential for MIT to teach people to *hate* prestige, because if you learn to love prestige, then get trapped by it. Even with this hatred, MIT is getting seriously left behind in some areas. Most community colleges are doing cool educational things that MIT just can't.
 
  • #27
twofish-quant
6,817
18
Essentially, the reason why these MIT, Princeton, etc are probably good is because they probably stress independance and self-discipline and the ability to teach yourself something in its entirety, not rely on "authorities" to teach you something.

A lot of it involves culture. The important things that you learn at MIT isn't the coursework, but the culture of MIT, which is weird. It's important to understand what the culture is like, because for some people MIT can be *total hell on earth*, and I've seen people psychological collapse because of it, and it can get *really, really, bad* (i.e. people have ended up dead). MIT is a giant pressure cooker which is totally high stress. Some people *love* stress. Some people *hate* stress. If you hate stress, then MIT will be total hell for you.

I think one of the more important things that you learn at MIT is to hate MIT. If you don't hate MIT, then you end up hating yourself, which leads to big problems. Also, it's really cool to see Nobel prize winners up close, because you find out they are human with human faults, and some of them are total jerks. There are some famous Nobel prize winners who everyone hates, and looking at them up close means that I don't have as much desire to get a Nobel prize as I once did.

All of this is part of your education, and it's more important than the stuff you learn in the classroom which is all on the web now anyway.

You take Psyche 1? "Correlation without Causation" gets thrown around alot in that class, well just because alot of stron individuals get to high places after graduating from such institutions, that doesn't mean if YOU go there YOU will have the same fate. The "Prestigous" schools do not CAUSE success, though it does appear there is a CORRELATION

If you look at the selection process, MIT tends to choose students that are going to be a success where ever they end up, and it's part of the process of getting people that could challenge the power elite, within the power elite. Also, it's part of setting up the culture. MIT can have totally incompetent professors as lecturers, because the students will learn the material even if the professor can't teach.
 
  • #28
twofish-quant
6,817
18
Going to the place where you will learn the most is not a cop-out. It's a sign of maturity and wisdom: having your priorities in the right place. Just a few short years after you graduate, nobody will care where you got your PhD.

There's also the matter of making do with what you have. Suppose, I tell you that you have absolutely zero chance of getting into a big name physics graduate school, what do you do? Sometimes, you pull cards from the deck and they happen to be bad. If you have a good education, you'll be able to figure out what to do when you draw bad cards.

If your main goal is to get prestige, then you are not going to survive graduate school where ever you go. One thing that you have to understand is that physicists and academics don't have particularly high levels of prestige in the US. People in the US distrust and dislike smart people (and I think it's a good thing that smart people are distrusted). Even within academia, your chances of getting a professorship at a big name university (or even a no-name university) are nil.

So given all this, why go to graduate school? I don't know. You tell me. Why *do* you want to go graduate school?

I don't think you're ready go to MIT. You may have learned enough physics, but you haven't yet learned enough about life.

This is a big problem with colleges. Undergraduate education is in bad shape, because college is the time when you have a chance to think about the really important questions, but colleges are generally horrible at given students the mental tools they need to live life.

The basic problem is that you have professors themselves who are locked in a certain view of the world, and students learn that world view, without thinking about it. If you are with a group of professors whose dream it is to get a tenured position at Harvard, then you are going to absorb those dreams. This isn't a bad thing, but I think it is a bad thing when it happens and people don't *think* about it. What's so important about Harvard anyway? (That's not a rhetorical question.)

Most of what you learn in colleges (and in life) involves a "hidden curriculum". For example, even *having* a lecture style class, sends certain messages about the way the world is supposed to work.
 
  • #29
sydneyfranke
73
0
Okay okay okay . . . I understand all of your points. I apologize for seeming pretty distraught in my last post. Pretty much I was. I thought my original question was pretty straight forward so I guess in a way I was expecting some form of a straight forward answer. I guess in mathematical terms I felt like I was asking "Why does a + b = x" and felt like the responses I was receiving were along the lines of "Why the hell do you want to know what 'x' is you pompous arse?" Does this point make any sort of sense? I didn't really expect to open up this whole philosophical realm and I guess I was taken back by it.

My intentions for wanting to go to MIT is not for the shiny sticker that was associated with it but maybe rather that this school would have better resources to prepare me for whatever work environment I chose. Not to be hired because "Oh my God, he went to MIT" but rather "Hey, if he could make it through that school, he must be pretty damn prepared and determined enough for this job." I guess it just didn't occur to me, from my understanding of your answers, that Frank's Truck Driving school is somehow going to have the resources to prepare me just as well as a school that is worldly renown for its educational value. I dare not say prestige.

All I really want is just to be prepared for anything that comes my way. Yeah, if I get dealt a crappy hand, I'm sure I can handle it. I have lived in poverty my whole life due to my parent's lack of education so I'm kind of used to the crappy hands. I just want to make sure that if the stars align correctly and I happen to get an opportunity to "change my family tree" that I will be properly prepared.

All my eggs are not in the basket for MIT. It's just a goal. I hope that you can at least agree that people should have goals, regardless of if and why you agree with those goals.

I think I've pretty much found my answer. And it's that I have a lot of research to do for myself. In just a few days time I've found how silly it was for me to think that I could find the answer to my questions by hoping someone could show me the way. I guess I'm already getting more prepared for those incompetent professors at MIT, don't you think?

Anyways, I am done with trying to find the answer to this post. I have far too much studying and homework to be concerned with why you people think I want to go to grad school. To the people that offered some genuine advice, thank you so much.
 
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  • #30
Dembadon
Gold Member
633
89
... Anyways, I am done with trying to find the answer to this post. I have far too much studying and homework to be concerned with why you people think I want to go to grad school. To the people that offered some genuine advice, thank you so much.

I love listening to intelligent people converse.

Also, try not to take criticism personally; use it to learn more about yourself. It is an extremely helpful tool when used in this way. :wink:
 
  • #31
twofish-quant
6,817
18
My intentions for wanting to go to MIT is not for the shiny sticker that was associated with it but maybe rather that this school would have better resources to prepare me for whatever work environment I chose.

MIT is a resource. It has it's good and bad parts. It's part of your education, but not the whole thing. There are things that MIT doesn't teach well, and there are things that I learned at MIT that I found that I had to unlearn, because they weren't helping me.

But that's the same with anywhere you go.

Not to be hired because "Oh my God, he went to MIT" but rather "Hey, if he could make it through that school, he must be pretty damn prepared and determined enough for this job."

You'll find that it doesn't work that way. Some people will react with "Oh he went to MIT, he must be some socially maladjusted geek that can't work with people." or "Oh he went to MIT, it must be some stuck up jerk" or "Oh he went to MIT, he is obviously smarter than me, so I'll make sure that he gets fired so he doesn't take my job." (yes this happens)

And then there's, is "it's great you went to MIT, we'd love to hire you, but there really aren't any jobs available." People have been getting a lot of that recently.

You can get around this with the right branding and marketing, but it's something that you actively have to work at. Frankly, I don't care. I went into physics because I thought it was cool, and the fact that it can hurt me sometimes in looking for work, doesn't matter.

As far as work goes. I think it's a bad idea to center your life around your career. What your employer is looking for is cheap labor to exploit so that they can make money off you. This works well for me, because someone has figured that they can make absurd amounts of money crunching equations, and they just have to pay someone like me table scraps to crunch numbers.

I guess it just didn't occur to me, from my understanding of your answers, that Frank's Truck Driving school is somehow going to have the resources to prepare me just as well as a school that is worldly renown for its educational value.

I think you are missing the point. MIT doesn't teach you. Frank's Truck Driving School doesn't teach you. You teach yourself, and you do it with whatever you can get. Also MIT's reputation is just sales and marketing. MIT gets you to fork over money the same way that Coca-Cola gets your money and politicians get your vote. There's nothing particularly wrong with social brainwashing, but I've seen *bad* things happen when someone that doesn't fit in the Institute gets in.

All my eggs are not in the basket for MIT. It's just a goal. I hope that you can at least agree that people should have goals, regardless of if and why you agree with those goals.

No problem with goals, but I'm trying to give you some information about what MIT and graduate physics is really like so that you can make some informed choices. If you go to the MIT admission site or the site of any other university, you see people smiling.

http://www.mitadmissions.org/

You don't see people crying, angry, sad, depressed, or in pain, but that's part of your education. I left MIT so angry at the Institute that I couldn't set foot on campus for almost a decade. But that's a great thing, because if I left MIT satisfied and happy, then my education would have failed. The reason I hated (and hate MIT) so much is that the place reinforced some ideals I have about how things should work, and in many ways the Institute fails to live up to those ideals.

The reason that I'm focused on this is that there is one message that MIT does try to give which is that an MIT degree is a ticket to success and a lack of one is a ticket to failure. That's a big lie, and MIT and the major universities have a financial interest in having you believe it. Personally I think it's a horrible message.

Part of the problem is that we are moving to a society of educational have's and educational have not's, and rather than trying to get in to MIT, people really should be asking why can't everyone that wants to get in.

In just a few days time I've found how silly it was for me to think that I could find the answer to my questions by hoping someone could show me the way.

This is preparation for grad school. In grad school, no one can show you the way, you have to figure it out for yourself.

Anyways, I am done with trying to find the answer to this post. I have far too much studying and homework to be concerned with why you people think I want to go to grad school.

We are trying to be helpful. Physics graduate school can be a lonely, gut-wrenching, painful experience. MIT can be a lonely, gut-wrenching, painful experience.

Even in the best of situations, you will have bad days when you just feel totally miserable and just want to quit. You need to know what you are getting in to, and that means knowing *why* you want to go to grad school or to MIT. If you are doing it mainly for prestige or to get a job, then you are going to be extremely disappointed when you find out the truth.
 
  • #32
feathermoon
8
0
Short answer:

Your grades, GRE, and summer research/volunteering get you into graduate school, not the name of your undergraduate school.

Don't let not getting into your dream school ruin your chances at getting into grad school; get good grades anywhere you end up [enjoy and care about what you're doing regardless]!
 

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