I stumbled across an interesting article from the Globe and Mail the other day: Do employers care about a university’s reputation? It reminded me of an article I read quite a while ago over on mygraduateschool.com called Do graduate schools care where you earned your bachelors degree?
And I think both are applicable here because it’s likely you’ll hear profs (and other students) talking about reputations of various undergrad institutions. And there’s a lot of bias to be heard.
I have attended two universities in Canada – the first for my undergraduate and the second, where I still am, for my Master’s and PhD. I have had profoundly different experiences at both schools and there are lots of differences between them. However, I would say I received an equally good undergrad experience at the university I went to compared to if I had done my undergrad at the university I’m at now. And, for the most part, across Canada the universities are generally good if you stick to one that’s fairly well known, like UVic, McMasters, McGill, and UofC, and away from the private ones, like DeVry. I know it is not quite the same when you go to the USA, as there are just so many more universities down there and the specific category of Ivy League.
The second article claims that graduate schools don’t care about your undergraduate school and I strongly disagree. In my experience, they do care. A student who gets a 3.8 GPA from a well known and highly-regarded university is going to be thought of differently than one who gets a 3.8 from an unknown or less-regarded university. In my experience it’s just a fact.
Then, you can add on the experience that Professors gain over the years. Professors supervise lots of students coming from lots of undergrad universities. They talk with other professors who do the same. They are smart people. They will make connections and notice patterns if students coming out of University X struggle a lot more than those from University Y or vice versa. This will bias their opinions when evaluating students to admit to the program.
That’s not to say going to a lesser known/regarded university means you’ll never get into grad school. There are other factors at play, but it does mean that the rest of your application is going to need to be stronger to help you climb up in the rankings. And everyone, whether your school is stronger or weaker, will benefit from strong reference letters and having work/research experience in your field.
The first article I linked to has nothing to do with graduate school, instead it has to do with how employers judge the name of your undergrad institution on your resume. I still found it very interesting, because the possible conclusions from the data suggest that depending on the ethnicity of your name, the name of the university is going to matter more. Those with very common Jane Doe type names don’t need to worry as much as those with more foreign sounding names. It’s an unfortunate conclusion, and I really hope that this continues to change as our world becomes more and more diverse.
However, my graduate school experience has involved a much more diverse population in terms of names and backgrounds than my undergrad. This leads me to believe that these conclusions would not be similar for graduate students as the pool is much more diverse, and also a lot smaller.