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Is a Prestigious Undergrad really worth it?

  1. Nov 30, 2008 #1
    I can just go to UT here in Austin, Texas and graduate in 3 years (2 if I really work hard) and pay a very very very low tuition fee. Is it worth it to choose one of those big name schools like Harvard or Stanford over UT for me?

    I am looking towards doing biotech, neuroscience, engineering, or business (MIS, financial analysis).
    Would it be a better choice for me to just go to UT and get the undergrad years over with at a significantly lower price than Stanford/Harvard? Which one do you think has more benefits in the long run?

  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 30, 2008 #2
    Well it depends, Harvard/Yale are actually VERY affordable if your family does not make that much money as their endowment allows them to fund most of their students. The name matters, although if you plan on going to graduate schools then the university where you do your graduate study matters much more (not to mention the research you do there). I would just apply to both?

    If you are truly worried about how much it costs however, it wouldnt be far fetched to go to a community college for two years and then transfer. The lower division courses lack very much substance and the only real downgrade would be you have less time to foster relationships with profs/do research at a 4 year university.
  4. Nov 30, 2008 #3


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    I don't believe that a "big name" counts for as much as some people would have you believe - although I was educated in Canada. I think names count insofar as networking, but in the end a name is not going to be a substitute for hard work.

    In my opinion, for undergrad it's more important to look at the specific programs you're interested in, the quality of the instructors, emphasis a department places on teaching, awards the professors have won, research they are doing, opportunities for undergraduate projects, social clubs and volunteer opportunities.
  5. Nov 30, 2008 #4
    In general, I'd say that it depends. For your situation, I'd say that you'd do well for yourself going to UT-Austin. They may not have the "brand name" of an MIT or a Harvard, but their engineering departments have a solid reputation. Plus, if you do well there, then you should have no trouble getting in to one of the "brand name" grad schools.
  6. Nov 30, 2008 #5
    I guess it really just depends on what you want to do.

    For engineering, you should probably look up the pros and cons of the specific engineering departments, their faculty, and what kind of recruiting they usually get.

    If you're looking more on the business side of things, I would think name matters a bit more in that field than engineering.

    Also, location matters. If you wanted to work on the Orion project in Houston, UT Austin would probably be a much better pick versus Stanford/Harvard, whereas if you wanted to say, work in Cali/Caltech area or up in the North East, Harvard might be of consideration.
  7. Dec 1, 2008 #6
    Many of the programs at UT-Austin are very good (I've known individuals who chose UT Austin OVER Harvard/MIT for graduate school in Physics). My comment is, however, that wherever you go, you should NOT plan on graduating in 2-3 years. Take a solid time to graduate, take upper-level and entry grad classes in your major and related fields, and do research with a research group and/or get some additional experience in a coop/intern position.
  8. Dec 1, 2008 #7


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    I second what physics girl phd said.

    You should take the full four years and spend the extra time working on research or interning. Internships and research experience are almost essential these days and I think they will look better on an application than graduating early.

    Think about it:

    Graduating early says you can handle a lot of work at once and are good at classes.

    On the other hand having an internship or research experience will say the same things (assuming a good GPA as well) and also show that you have some "real world" experience.
  9. Dec 1, 2008 #8
    If you are planning on going on to grad school, I'd say UT Austin is a very solid choice, especially if going to a more prestigious alternative would mean putting yourself deep into debt.

    UT is good enough to get you into a top program for grad school (assuming you do well, of course), which is what really matters in the long run. Since it's a big school, you also have a lot of variety to choose from as far as research opportunities during your undergrad years.

    Also, I agree with the others about spending four years in college. It's worth it.
  10. Dec 2, 2008 #9
    don't go to any of these colleges:

    Looking at the academic list, only 1 person in the Physics dept at UT actually did their post-grad degree there. Does that seem a little low to anyone else? No faith in their own students?

    But I'm British, so I don't know what prestige or reputation UT has, but I'm guessing it's a big state uni which means it's probably got pretty excellent teaching.

    Seriously though, you're going to be a scientist, so you're (probably) never going to be rich. If you want to get married, have kids, get a mortgage, etc. you don't want to start your career with $100,000 debt.
  11. Dec 2, 2008 #10


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    there are other benefits to going to harvard. as an undergrad there i met chesar chavez, al gore and his dad, ken galbraith, john tate, and william sloane coffin, took courses from very famous and gifted people, and heard malcolm x speak, and went waltzing in the home of a little old lady brahmin in louisburg square, and met some of the best mathematicians and scientists in the world.

    my social circle included children of very famous people, as well as simply brilliant kids from modest backgrounds. UT Austin is actually also a very well regarded school, but the peripherals to my mind are very few. who goes there to speak, George Bush?

    Austin has good country music, but it ain't Boston.

    come to think of it now, cambridge is not as nice a town as it was in 1960 when i went there. it is kind of commercial now and very overbuilt. so you might not enjoy it as much. but boston is still amazing. and there are like 100-200 schools or more within driving distance. it is an amazing area of concentrated learning and young people.

    and the "best" schools really are the best, if you do well there, you will do well anywhere, and you will have already seen many of the best people you will hear from later.

    financially, i don't know if its worth going far in the hole. i had a full scholarship and did not incur debt, but was always broke.
    Last edited: Dec 2, 2008
  12. Dec 2, 2008 #11


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    maybe other schools are like this and maybe harvard is no longer like this, but the mentality of the courses is different from what my students expect in a state school. at harvard e.g. there was never any review in a class. every lecture right up to the final was new material and nothing was ever repeated. review was your job.

    and there was no expectation that the prof was your personal trainer, expected to force you to learn. that was your job too. the prof was viewed as an authority who could and would present the material in the most up to the minute form, not the easiest form to absorb.

    many courses did not have textbooks, or of they did they were just for you to read on your own, as the prof would present his own more advanced version that you must know.

    tests were not repetitions of things stated before but challenging problems that could be done if you understood the work well. in non science classes tests were essays that asked you to take what you had learned and expand on some related topic you might not anticipate.

    I heard the question "what's going to be on the test?" only once in my entire career there, as a freshman, and the answer was an angry "the test will cover what was in the course!"
    as if only a complete idiot would ask that.

    i don't know what its like now or what other schools do, but this is totally unlike what we can ask of our students at a typical state school today.
    Last edited: Dec 2, 2008
  13. Dec 2, 2008 #12

    Well, I think the general idea is that most people want to do their post-graduate degrees in a different school. Otherwise you'd get too comfortable/close minded with the same, limited sort of faculty group you'd have by staying in one particular university fro what, 7+ years.
  14. Dec 4, 2008 #13
    I did math at the UT- Austin, so i'm bias. Out of the three schools listed, which one would benefit you the most is a tough question to answer. It really depends on what you value more, and what you expect. I choose UT over Princeton for two reasons: 1)I was a big fan of Austin 2)I hate winter in the northeast. Yes, I know pretty superficial reasons, but those were my reasons. Four years later, I'm at the graduate school I probably would've been at if I went to Princeton and debt free! Woohoo, so that worked out for me.
  15. Dec 5, 2008 #14
    I Lawl at this. Do you know anything about financial aid in the united states? EVERY top tier university, especially private ones, will give you a crap load of financial aid if you need it. If you're parents are low tier or have a hard time paying for college, you'll get a ton of money. High tuition costs are high partly because it makes colleges look better. I applied to Reed college, the university of chicago (on your list) and university of missouri in columbia (MU). Guess who gave the most money? Chicago and Reed. they both cost around 50 grand a year, and Both were nearly free. I had excellent grades and got all sorts of scholarships for MU but the still only gave me like 7 or 12 grand a year or something like that, out of a thirty thousand dollar tuition. Chicago gave me 45 thousand dollars my freshman year. Even after my parents starting making 250 thousand (my dad got a job after several years of being unemployed) I think we still got something like 15 or 20 thousand dollars here.

    Apply to a top tier school, and check your financial aid package. Decide from there.

    Look, there are brilliant teachers and kids at every college, but if you're going to tell me employers don't look at the prestigious of your university, you're wrong. Take two people with similiar resumes, one from a prestigious school, one from a state school, and who is the employer gonna pick? If you can get in to a top tier school in physics, and you can get the money, why wouldn't you go?

    These schools are prestigious for a reason. At times this sort of thing might be hyped up (I think Reed would have been just as challenging as UChicago), but in general You'll get a better overall education there. Think about it--your surrounded by brilliant people at all ends. The curv is gonna be higher, there will be a higher standard in EVERY class you take, including the piddly ones you thought an A would be easy in (and would be at state university).

    Plus, the research and networking is better. Heck, fermi lab is right in my backyard!
    Last edited by a moderator: Dec 5, 2008
  16. Dec 5, 2008 #15


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    That's not really how things work. Even here in the UK, people move around, and don't necessarily work at the place they studied for their PhD. Thus, I don't think this is a good gauge of the faith a department has in its students.
  17. Dec 5, 2008 #16


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    Agreed. Actually, I'd be more concerned about a school where a large percentage of their students were staying in their own program for Ph.D.s. That might indicate to me they were having trouble getting accepted anyplace else and were starting to get a bit "inbred" academically. It's strongly encouraged in the US for students to get their Ph.D. at a school different from the one where they obtained their undergraduate degree. This ensures exposure to more faculty and more points of view and areas of expertise to get a more thorough education. Some do stay, and not necessarily because they couldn't get acceptances elsewhere, but sometimes things like family obligations, a spouse already working who can't move with them and is supporting the family, etc., influence their choice to remain in one school.
  18. Dec 5, 2008 #17
    Unfortuantely, the US govt defines "need" by how much the parents make, as opposed to how much the parents give you. I got into a couple of top tier schools but couldn't attend them, as they offered no financial aid since my parents made too much money. My parents aren't giving me money, though, so if I had went there I'd graduate $200k in debt.
  19. Dec 5, 2008 #18
    I thought UT-Austin was a really good undergrad? In terms of state uni's, I think Austin is pretty damn good. Maybe not as good as Michigan or Berkeley (or the other UC's to be honest), but I know some people down there and they rave about it.
  20. Dec 5, 2008 #19

    It is pretty good...but "good" is a relative term.

    In the public university world, it would be one of the more "public ivies", I guess. But once you include private schools, in terms of prestige, it isn't way up there.

    The idea is that UT Austin can be a very excellent school IF you pick the stronger departments they have, such as the Cockrell School of Engineering or McCombs school of Business. They also have a decent (T16) law school and their pharmacy program is basically top ranked.
  21. Dec 5, 2008 #20
    Ditto. Apparently Hazard boy has never heard of FASFA and how much it can completely screw you over. I was unable to get any type of financial assistance because my parents made to much money as well and was mostly left to fend for my self except for some of my core tuition costs.

    One of my math/engineering professors used to teach at UTA and did a lot of his research there. I remember him saying that he liked but moved to here because of the industrial development.
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