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How much does the school you graduate from matter?

  1. May 18, 2014 #1
    1) How much does it matter when getting a job?

    Would a student with a lower GPA that went to a more prestigious school be considered more than a student with a nearly perfect GPA going to a school that is not that great?

    2) How much does it matter when applying to graduate school?

    For example, if you go to an average college, does it affect your chances of getting into a prestigious masters/PhD Program?
  2. jcsd
  3. May 18, 2014 #2
    1. Usually doesn't matter although I am reminded of that Office episode where Andy Bernard gets hired mainly because he went to Cornell.
    2. I don't think it matters that much
  4. May 19, 2014 #3

    Simon Bridge

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    Short answer: depends.
    There can be an "old school tie effect", some companies will only hire ivy-leagers and Brits will be aware of the relative advantage of your finishing school and the oxford/cambridge axis.

    If you went to a school whose qualifications are not internationally recognized, then your opportunities will be limited to where the school is. That sort of thing.

    This works for both questions - usually it won't matter much and the answer depends on where you are.
    It can be much easier to get into postgrad in the college that you did your undergrad work in for eg... since the profs may know you. This can be especially a factor where you have borderline gpa but are very strong in a particular area where the supervisor of the specific research program wants strength. Given several such applicants, and one slot, the supervisor is likely to pick the applicant who they get on with best.
  5. May 19, 2014 #4
    1) A lot, especially for entry career jobs. If you don't have any prior relevant work experience, brand name matters. A brand name school is also likely to have a more developed career services department/be more likely to shoe you in to a first real job.

    2) In physics, if your grades, courses and standardized test scores are up to par and indicate you are not underprepared, not a whole lot really.
    Last edited: May 19, 2014
  6. May 19, 2014 #5
    Generally speaking, what you do is much more important than where you did it.

    That said, school reputation is definitely a factor. All else being equal, the more prestigious school is going to win. Things are rarely that equal though.

    But I will also pass on that I had a physics professor who got his Ph.D. at Stanford. He once mentioned that he was the only state university graduate in his cohort.
  7. May 19, 2014 #6
    This is what matters, but the reason why top-tier brand name schools have such a reputation is due to the amount and quality of work you can perform and achieve at those schools. A lower ranked school is less likely to have the resources and support to perform at the same level of a "better" school, so it makes sense that a lot of the time the education received at a top institution is superior to, say, a community college (going to the extremes at both ends). It's difficult to get as much research and work done at a cheaper school than it is at a more prestigious school because of lack of support and finance, which the better schools have. So there is probably a strong correlation between better schools and intelligence/work ethic, which is why most employers would prefer those people. So graduate schools, with the same logic, will prefer students who have done "more," regardless of where the students come from, but there is a high probability that the student who came from a wealthier school will have completed a lot more advanced coursework offered at their school, as well as boundless research opportunities that other schools don't have.
  8. May 20, 2014 #7


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    For physics grad school GPA doesn't matter nearly as much as recs (which contains research implicitly). A good GPA won't really help you but a bad GPA will hurt you. Recs are the true weight of the application and where you go for undergrad will definitely affect your recs. Obviously a student who gets a good rec from a famous professor will be better off than someone who gets a good rec from an unknown professor. Now this also obviously doesn't mean all the famous profs are at prestigious universities (e.g. Abhay Ashtekar is at Penn state) but the point is recs matter more than GPA: a nearly perfect GPA won't help you it will barely get your foot in the door and the rest is up to the recs/research. Make of that what you will. This is at least true for theory apps. I don't know what the nature is of experimental apps.
  9. May 20, 2014 #8
    Another thing to add is that a flawless GPA will not help you if you're from an unknown school and your standardized test scores are not up to par, which in the mind of many would suggest that your undergrad was too easy.
  10. May 20, 2014 #9


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    Does getting a rec from a professor that got his doctorate from the same school you are applying matter in any way? For example, if I apply for Theoretical Physics at MIT, will getting a rec from a Professor who got his own PhD. in (Theoretical) Physics from MIT do me any good?
  11. May 20, 2014 #10

    Vanadium 50

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    WannabeNewton is an undergrad, so is simply repeating secondhand information. Understand that's the perspective that he is coming from.

    There are three things that make up the majority of a grad committee's decision: grades, GRE and letters. Which one matters the most? The worst one of the three, especially at competitive schools. The question the committee will struggle with is whether the weakest part of the application is representative, or an outlier.

    "Fame" is a concept that makes no sense. I believe I have met 100% of the tenured faculty in my subfield, and >90% of the tenure-track. Either everybody is famous or nobody is. Letters from "big names" do not hold more weight than others. What does hold weight is whether the professor has a reputation for overpromoting people in his letters: these letters are taken much less seriously.

    There also this persistent idea that faculty at the big names are uniformly better than at other places. This is not true - it varies a lot by individual, and it varies a lot by subfield. A letter from University X holds more weight than one from University Y only among people who don't know better. Grad school admissions committees know better.
  12. May 20, 2014 #11
    Thanks for all the helpful information here. I am starting early with research, I am going to be working with the graduate director of my school my Sophomore year at the observatory and I'm really looking forward to that. I don't know how famous he is, I'm a little skeptical about revealing his name. I have a fair GPA, 3.44. But I am going to be working hard to bring that up. I am trying to keep it at about 3.6 or more. I am thinking of transferring to GATech, since they have a better reputation in the sciences than my current school.
  13. May 20, 2014 #12


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    1. My experience in the working world is that it doesn't matter all that much. What matters first is that you're qualified for the position and this is a threshold kind of thing. You're either qualified or you're not. Beyond that, the process is competative and all sorts of factors come into play depending on the specific position. GPA and school name tend to be low on the list compared to relevant experience and how you would fit in socially with the current group.

    2. There are advantages and disadvantages. I think generally people put a whole lot of weight on reputation when they don't have anything else to talk about. I remember in high school the reputation of the university that you planned to go to was a big thing, but that was because no one in high school had done anything at university yet.

    In going to a smaller school, you may have more opportunities for interactions with your instructors. You may also have a less competative environment. You may be able to save some money. And for some people that may help them to perform better.

    In going to a larger school, you may have more research opportunities or be able to take a more diverse set of classes to explore potential sub-fields for graduate work. Others might do better when competing against a pool of highly motivated students.

    A reference letter from Stephen Hawking won't count for much if it says: "this student kind of sucks."

    So really rather than asking whether a school's reputation matters, better questions are where you believe you will perform best and which schools' opportunities best align with your own goals.
  14. May 20, 2014 #13

    Vanadium 50

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    Why stop at 3.6? Why not set as a goal straight A's from here on out?
  15. May 20, 2014 #14

    You are right. I need to train my mind to excel and not settle.
  16. May 21, 2014 #15


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    On a side note, I've heard of a few students from my country who got into PhD programs at reputable international universities. They had excellent standardized test scores, nice recs and had published some research papers. But their GPA s were comparatively not that great. They were nice but not exactly dean's list material.

    Of course my info is second hand but out of the three factors you mentioned earlier i.e gre scores, recs and gpa, are grad schools sometimes more lenient if the applicant's worst factor is his / her gpa as compared to the other two factors?

    Also, your posts are always helpful. Thanks.
  17. May 21, 2014 #16
    What if you go to a lesser known grad school, but you do excellent research?
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