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What Constitutes a Reputable Program?

  1. Jun 26, 2012 #1
    What Constitutes a "Reputable" Program?

    I went on a different forum (physics) and was looking at the applicant's who got accepted into great grad schools. It is far from any rigorous conclusions, but it seems that the ones who came from reputable programs were more likely to enter top notch programs. And actually, it was stressed by a couple of folks that being at a reputable program is very important for getting into top programs.

    So what constitutes reputable undergraduate programs? What is going on in the minds of admission faculty? Do they simple rate the reputation of a program from its college "ranking?"

    Edit: I over-generalized. I was speaking of students who applied for theoretical physics in grad school--which is already competitive enough as it is.
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  3. Jun 26, 2012 #2


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    Re: What Constitutes a "Reputable" Program?

    I have a friend who is doing quantum gravity matrix models at Santa Barbara and he came from a relatively obscure undergrad institution so I'm not exactly sure what you mean by reputable.
  4. Jun 26, 2012 #3
    Re: What Constitutes a "Reputable" Program?

    I don't think it matters as much as you think. The people who get into those "reputable programs" at the undergraduate level, often have very good college preparation. There are some of them, who in their freshman year, are doing junior/senior level physics courses because they took intro mechanics, e&m (AP) and the required math from the local community college while still in high school.

    Some guy on another forum, had actually *completed* the graduate mathematics sequence before the end of his sophomore year. (Dartmouth)

    If your college has a PhD program in math and/or physics, you should be fine. You'll have the opportunity to talk to various researchers (if at a large State U) and try participate in research. The other cool thing with US colleges is that one can test out of courses...or at least, attempt to.

    That's coming from someone who hasn't started college yet. Take that with a pinch (or loads) of salt.
  5. Jun 26, 2012 #4
    Re: What Constitutes a "Reputable" Program?

    Generally speaking, those who applied to theoretical physics were more likely to get accepted to top-notch grad schools if they came from schools that had a good physics "reputation." But this is a far cry from a study, just an inference so feel free to disagree.

    However, I would argue that given two students with the same credentials, the one in a notoriously tough program will be more likely to be accepted than one from an unknown liberal arts college.

    Well, I was talking about the graduate level. I don't know much about how things work at the undergraduate level, but it is likely less competitive than theory in grad school.

    & Yes, one important aspect is distinguishing yourself for sure.
  6. Jun 26, 2012 #5
    Re: What Constitutes a "Reputable" Program?

    And who applies for graduate study if not those who are in the process of acquiring (or already have) an undergraduate degree? ;)

    If you look at the web pages of the grad students from those "top notch programs" you speak of, you'll find people who come from a wide range of schools. Sure, perhaps lots of them are from the top 10 but there's also people from the top 100+ colleges.

    If one is at one of those top colleges right out of high school, I don't think it's too unlikely that they're going to do badly. Some of those, when entering college have already done advanced coursework, which means that they have more free time to do research, work on their applications or just space out their remaining coursework and relax. So, quite likely that these people fare well in the grad school admissions process.

    People who don't go to say, CalTech, can still get into a "reputed" graduate program. "Reputed", rather than "good" because even "less reputed" schools have good programs. On that note, I don't get how some people can call a school "bad" or "lesser" to another, if they have faculty with PhDs conducting publishable research there. Then again, what do I know...
  7. Jun 26, 2012 #6
    Re: What Constitutes a "Reputable" Program?

    Well, doesn't it sort of make sense?
    If you went to a top notch undergraduate program, that's probably a good indicator that you were a good student to start with.
    Assuming that you keep on with the hard work, it seems to me quite natural that you'll end up being a stronger candidate than most other applicants.
    Last edited: Jun 26, 2012
  8. Jun 26, 2012 #7
    Re: What Constitutes a "Reputable" Program?

    Mepris and Ans, you both make very good points. We can't really quantify how much of it is due to reputation and how much of it is just because these students were top-notch as it is, so the topic sounds pretty much done right there lol.

    Still, a 3.9 at X university seems to be more respected than a 3.9 in Y university, given that X>>Y in terms of reputation.
  9. Jun 26, 2012 #8


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    Re: What Constitutes a "Reputable" Program?

    That is indeed true. Try browsing through Physics GRE it should prove some amount of insight I guess.
  10. Jun 26, 2012 #9
    Re: What Constitutes a "Reputable" Program?

    The thing is that while the reputability of the undergrad institution isn't 100% irrelevant, there are many other more important factors to consider that reputability approaches irrelevant but never reaches it. :rolleyes:

    More important factors include...
    -Letters of Recommendation
    -Physics / Math G.R.E.
    -Research Experience

    Edit: Again this information should be taken with a grain of salt as I have yet to begin university (September hopefully), but this info was mostly gathered from reading these forums daily for the past few months.
  11. Jun 26, 2012 #10
    Re: What Constitutes a "Reputable" Program?

    Yep, that is actually what I did. ^.^

    Well of course, but for the sake of discussion--we keep these important factors constant and worry only about the reputation of the program,
  12. Jun 26, 2012 #11
    Re: What Constitutes a "Reputable" Program?

    How about you keep the reputation constant [it's not like there's anything you can do about it; if there were, then maybe you shouldn't be all that concerned!] and worry about everything else? Those are the only things within your control.

    Keep on studying well and you'll have that high GPA and if you prep, a high PGRE score. Try to get some research experience over the next 2-3 years and there's your LoRs and perhaps your SoP as well (nearly) out of the way. Doesn't look too hard, no? :-) :-)
  13. Jul 1, 2012 #12
    Re: What Constitutes a "Reputable" Program?

    Well actually, there is something I can do about it. I'm transferring pretty soon. :D

    What is loRs & SoP?
  14. Jul 1, 2012 #13
    Re: What Constitutes a "Reputable" Program?

    Letters of Recommendation & Statement of Purpose
  15. Jul 1, 2012 #14


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    Re: What Constitutes a "Reputable" Program?

    Hint to us all: try to avoid the excessive use of TLAs. :wink:

    (three-letter acronyms)
  16. Jul 2, 2012 #15
    Re: What Constitutes a "Reputable" Program?

    I think it's the reputation of your recommendation letter-writers that probably matters the most. If you have a professor who went to Harvard, the guys at Harvard ought to know him personally, so there's more credibility, etc. Not just that, but scientific communities like physics are kind of small, so people who work in similar areas will know the people who go to conferences and do significant work in their eyes. This sort of thing can help, but is probably not necessary. The rating/reputation of the school might be a factor because getting good grades at a tough school looks better. So, it just amplifies your grades. So, 3.5 gpa from a top school will be like a 4.0 from a little known school, etc. (not that gpa matters that much). If you are from a school with less of a reputation, you can get good grades, but the admissions people won't really be able to tell what it means because maybe the classes were just easy (something I heard directly from someone who is on an admissions committee in reference to where I did my undergrad).
  17. Jul 2, 2012 #16
    Re: What Constitutes a "Reputable" Program?

    The other issue here is that the "big name" programs also tend to be larger ones.

    There's a statistical technique called "factor analysis" that lets you try to find correlations. However, it's really tricky to apply, and there I suspect that you'll end up finding that there is insufficient data to make statistically valid conclusions.

    The other issue is "why does it matter?" Things only matter if you have a choice. If you have an admission to both Harvard and a small liberal arts college that you want to do to for some reason, then this matters. If you didn't get into Harvard, then it doesn't really matter how much of an advantage Harvard people have because even if they dominate the world, it doesn't change any decision that you are likely to make.
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