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

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  • #26
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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
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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
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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
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
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... 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
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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
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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