Since University of Alabama offers me full-ride scholarship, I will probably go to this school rather than more competitive schools, not because I'm poor but because it seems silly to me to pay $200,000 for merely an undergrad education, even though I can buy a house by that money. I'm going to get PhD, and the name of undergrad school doesn't matter in my career. I'm worried about research opportunity in the school since I want to excel in admission of PhD program, but I think I can make up for it with my enthusiasm and knowledge. I'm going to major in Biology, and I want to study about regenerative medicine and stem cell in grad school.

Until I will graduate from my high school, I will certainly have about 12 AP scores (mostly 5's) and be able to get about 50 credits, even though the school's graduation requirement is 120. It seems easy to graduate within 3 years (or even possible to do within 2 years), but graduating early seems to put me in a disadvantageous position in grad school admission. I can probably get 70 credits in two years, and then what should I do for the next two years? Can I concentrate on research for this period, or should I take classes to get about 30 credits per year? Should I apply for grad program in the third year and try again in the next year if the admission won't be successful?

If you have some opinion not only related to the topics about college credit but also my choice of school, please tell me that, since I still can change my choice of university. Other schools of my choice are such as Reed, Carleton, U of Michigan, U of Wisconsin, and U of Manchester. I'm an international student.

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    should I take classes to get about 30 credits per year? You need to contact the school to find out the answer. Different schools/departments have different policies.
    – Nobody
    Jan 26, 2014 at 4:15
  • Yes, exactly. The website says that I have to get at least 24 credits per year. Do you think double-majoring using the available time gives me a significant advantage in my admission? Or should I just concentrate on the area which I will study in grad school? Jan 26, 2014 at 4:33
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    I'm going to get PhD, and the name of undergrad school doesn't matter in my career. — This is simply false.
    – JeffE
    Jan 26, 2014 at 20:31

4 Answers 4


For an academically talented student likely to complete a Ph.D., the most important life decision will be where you go to graduate school. An undergraduate degree from Alabama, whether in 4 years or 2, is unlikely to lead to a good graduate school for you. I don't know your field, but in mathematics (my field) Alabama is among the worst places.

You should go to Michigan, which is the best choice academically of the ones you've listed. And wherever you are, you need to:

  1. Get high grades, and take some graduate classes.
  2. Get to know several faculty in your area very well.
  3. Engage in research, and publish if possible.
  4. Find some way to distinguish yourself, such as teaching experience or academic clubs.

A second major can be an insurance policy, and can open doors to graduate programs straddling the two areas, so is a good idea.

Followup: You should go to a Tier I institution, such as what Carnegie classifies as "very high research activity" RU/VH. Alabama is not on that list.

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    So are you saying that undergraduate pedigree is important for admissions (to the tune of 6 figure equivalency)? Or are you saying that there are resources at Michigan accessible to undergraduates that other very large research universities would not have?
    – Wakem
    Jan 26, 2014 at 17:30
  • Both things are true. I'm also saying that Alabama is not a "very large research university" (at least not in math). Neither are Reed or Carleton, which are small private colleges.
    – vadim123
    Jan 26, 2014 at 17:32
  • I only meant (very large)(x)^(research university)(x), which is true of Alabama at least by official standards.
    – Wakem
    Jan 26, 2014 at 17:41
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    Alabama is large, but in terms of research is mediocre. Size is actually less important than research; for example Rice or Princeton would be a good choice for OP if they were available.
    – vadim123
    Jan 26, 2014 at 17:44
  • So are you saying that undergraduate pedigree is important for admissions... Or are you saying that there are [extra] resources at MichiganYES!
    – JeffE
    Jan 26, 2014 at 20:29

First of all, I know nothing about Biology at all. I can't comment on specifics. Instead, I rather say something about the comment:

Do you think double-majoring using the available time gives me a significant advantage in my admission? Or should I just concentrate on the area which I will study in grad school?

You are far away from grad school yet. Undergrad education is for you to build the foundation of your academic career. You need to use it to broaden your knowledge base. Many courses can be benefit for you. You should consider taking the courses about humanities, fine arts, other sciences (math, chemstry, physics, computer science, etc.) and writing, etc.etc. Just don't limit yourself to a specific field. You won't know you're interested in something until you learn it.

The above is from the bottom of my heart. I wish someone would have told me this when I was an undergrad student.

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    I like natural science and math, so I will take as many these classes as possible. From your opinion, I feel that I'm not yet in the point that I can conclude whether or not I should double-major. But I agree with you that the diversity of classes is really important. Jan 26, 2014 at 6:40

As a friend of mine once said: "Why you want to finish college early, man? The sooner you finish college, the sooner you face life!" (And he lived this philosophy, spending four years at the community college followed by two at a university.)

Don't worry about grad school just as you begin your undergraduate education. Take classes in things that interest you or that you think might interest you. If you have units from AP classes, great; treat that as opportunity to take a broader range of things that strike your fancy, instead of intro classes that you might have otherwise had to take for general ed requirements.

If by your third year you find you still want to go to grad school doing the same thing you mentioned, you can explore undergraduate research opportunities, etc.

Basically, my advice would be, if you have extra units coming in, use that flexibility to improve your undergradate education, not shorten it. If you decide you want to shorten it when the time comes, okay, but don't lock yourself into that plan now.

  • Your story sounds so interesting to me, since I've never heard about a person who stayed in a community college for 4 years! I think natural science and math are subjects which will interest me, so I'm most likely to study them emphatically as well as Biology. Jan 26, 2014 at 7:54
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    @AranKomatsuzaki: I agree with scaaahu that you should also take some totally different stuff (literature, psychology, history, languages, whatever) just to try it out.
    – BrenBarn
    Jan 26, 2014 at 7:56
  • OK. I will probably try Chinese language, economics or something like them. Jan 26, 2014 at 9:45

I think, for admissions purposes, unless you are a prodigy, staying 4 years will be beneficial. Of course, you could get in somewhere after 2 years but the competition for jobs is such that you want to be able to compete with other people in your situation (they do exist, I had a somewhat similar situation in that I came into my undergrad with almost a year of credits). You could take the opportunity to (when you are confident you are ready) take many graduate level courses in and around your field. I think a lot of people are overblown about anti-specialization. I took my upper division math and lower division math at the same time, often taking 3 math courses at the same time and I loved it, miss it now. I think you should pursue your current goal wholeheartedly but take 1, maybe 2 courses a semester outside of it (if your APs don't satisfy all your GENED or your department has weird requirements, this will happen accidentally) at least in the early going. If you decide to switch plans at some point, you will have engrossed yourself in hard material (coursework, labs), the skills of which will transfer to WHATEVER OTHER ACADEMIC PLAN. Of course, because you are in biology not math, your field is not self-contained but this can be adjusted for in course selection to that end. Also, you might consider taking only 4 classes a semester early on (or forever) but make sure they are hard-hitting, if you might have problems with time management incongruous with your intellectual aptitude (depending on financial aid requirements!).

  • As a lover of specialization, I felt your comment captured my interest the best. Now that I gave up going to Alabama and decided to stay in a competitive research university for 4 years, I'm perfectly confident about grad school admission. Jan 27, 2014 at 3:01

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