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Importance of prestigious undergraduate degree for graduate degree.

  1. May 13, 2009 #1
    Hi - I am currently a high school junior so I basically have this summer to figure out where I am going to apply. I am thinking about computer engineering as a major. How much of a factor is going to "name brand" college going to be for getting into a "good" graduate school?

    Thanks for your time.
  2. jcsd
  3. May 13, 2009 #2
    Would also be interested to hear any opinions on this? :O

    Would, for example, doing an MS at Oxford be considered better than one at Warwick or Leeds or a similar university?
  4. May 13, 2009 #3


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    Not at all. If physics is any indication, the top grad schools (well, all grad schools I suppose) accept graduates of a wide variety of colleges.

    If you're good enough (at whatever you want to do) to go to a prestigious undergraduate college and stand out there, that's great. But you're probably not (if you are, you've already racked up a long list of regional/national/international awards ;-), and in that case it might be better - purely for purposes of building up a résumé and getting the experience you'll need to get into a good graduate school - to get your undergraduate degree somewhere slightly less prestigious, where the competition is less intense and where your talents and accomplishments can be recognized. On the other hand, going to a prestigious university as an undergraduate can be a great "life experience" as they say; if you're the type who takes academics seriously, it's great to have a huge pool of other smart people to talk to. So I guess, like anything else, it's a tradeoff. Just rest assured that there are a lot more important factors involved in getting into graduate school than where you got your undergrad degree.
    Last edited: May 13, 2009
  5. May 13, 2009 #4


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    I've never been convinced there is much advantage to a "prestigious" degree - especially in programs like physics and engineering where the core cirricula are well-established across the board. Things that I would look for as an undergraduate would be:
    - quality in teaching
    - research opportunities
    - opportunities to study special topics of interest
    - extra-cirricular groups
    - up-to-date facilities
    - scholarships and financial burden
    - social environment
  6. May 13, 2009 #5
    It can help. I went to Harvey Mudd as an undergrad, which is a well-respected in math/science/engineering. I got into wayy better programs than I should have given my mediocre undergrad gpa. The admissions director at one of the programs I applied to did a phone interview, and the first thing he said was "So you're from Harvey Mudd? We _LOVE_ Harvey Mudd students." I met with a prof at another program who literally said "since you're from Harvey Mudd, the first year [graduate] courses here should be pretty easy for you". He recommended I try to test out of them. This is all without really knowing me at all.

    It doesn't seem very fair or logical to me, but thats what happened. I imagine people from places like Caltech or Reed would recieve similar treatment.

    Now that said, graduate school prospects are a terrible reason to choose one undergraduate program over another.
  7. May 13, 2009 #6


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    Yeah, you'd think so, but I had almost the opposite experience - I went to Princeton as an undergrad (which I think is also well respected in math/science) and I feel like the name on the degree hasn't done a bit of good for me. Nobody seems to love Princeton students :-( I got the impression that graduate schools (at least, the ones I applied to) were looking for a track record of accomplishments, and I had nothing to offer in that area - it's difficult to build up a reputation at a place like Princeton, unless you're the absolute best of the best (I'm not), because the proverbial bar is set so high. That's why I wrote what I did in my previous post.

    I guess it depends on which grad schools you're applying to, though.
  8. May 13, 2009 #7
    Ok - in my state the only school that offers Computer Engineering is a US News and World Report tier 4 school (Portland State). There are some big financial advantages to going there... I would probably get a deans scholarship etc and I could commute to this school. Also I can get many/all of the first year cs, physics and calculus etc courses taken care of while in high school.

    However, I am very concerned that going to a tier 4 school will have negative consequences h; I don't think I will get into Cal Tech but other top 10 US News and World Report computer engineering programs like Michigan, Purdue, Georgia Tech etc... are legit possibilities...

    Yet It would mean taking on major student loans... So the 100k question is: "is it worth going out of state?"
  9. May 13, 2009 #8


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    Wait, there are actually numbered tiers? I always thought "tier 1" was just a subjective thing...

    Anyway, on point: I would say definitely yes, at this stage of your life it is worth at least looking at out of state schools. Remember, you have almost an entire year before you actually need to decide where to go to college. And besides, the in-state/out-of-state distinction is pretty artificial; for one thing, wherever you live, there are almost certainly out-of-state schools that are closer to you than some in-state schools; for another thing, part of the "college experience" is moving away from home and learning to live (semi-)independently. Plus, it's quite possible that you can get better significantly better financial aid from an out-of-state private college (just to take the example I know, Princeton gives financial aid completely in the form of grants, so I never once had to take out a loan... I think someone told me once that Caltech does the same, but I'm not sure).

    The point is, there's no reason not to at least look into out-of-state schools; the only thing it costs you is the application fee. You can always apply to Portland State as well, to keep your options open until the last minute.
  10. May 13, 2009 #9
    Lurking Graduate of one of the Big Name "Institute of Technology"s schools and I could verify similar experiences to diazona. The name of your school does not matter anymore than perhaps some negligible amount.
  11. May 14, 2009 #10
    @diazona and john-2:
    Interesting... This is not what I would have expected given my own experiences.
  12. May 14, 2009 #11
    US News classifies universities into tiers. So I suppose you could say that it's their subjective classification.
  13. May 14, 2009 #12
    I would say that you should consider the atmosphere and the kind of people that go to universities as well. Generally, universities with better reputations have more students applying - thus more competition, and that means that such universities can afford to pick the best students. Coming to the end of my physics degree just now, I would say that it makes a big difference (to me anyway) the kind of people you're working with (that is, the other students) having lots of people with drive and a good work ethic inspires me to work, and learn the material better (the more this happens, the better you will understand physics by the end!) but this is not the case for everyone.
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