Is the standard for graduating lower at lower-ranked institutions? How large of a difference is this?

Computer Science, USA specifically

  • The 'standard' is dependent on your supervisor(s) and the community he/she is part of. I have a colleague who demands that his/her students achieve at least 5x the official requirement. Otherwise, he/she refuses to sign-off on a student's thesis. Oct 15, 2021 at 21:14

1 Answer 1


Can't say about CS specifically, but in my experience this isn't a meaningful way to think about things.

PhDs involve a much different kind of "workload" than an industry job or undergraduate school work. The reason is that a PhD is very self-driven. Your success, or not, is largely about whether you can commit yourself to doing the work necessary. If you can't remain motivated through struggles and setbacks, you won't get anywhere. If you overwork yourself, you may burn out and be unable to continue.

If you want a PhD just to get the degree and then get a job, then yeah, all that really matters is graduation. If this is your goal, then make sure a PhD is actually what you want to do. It probably won't be a net financial benefit, but if you want a job that needs a PhD then you need one. If, on the other hand, you want to continue in academia post-PhD, then graduation is only the bare minimum. Your success on the job market will be primarily based on your research output. If you do the bare minimum to graduate, even at a top institution, your resume won't look very good against those of other applicants you compete with.

Sure, there are external expectations, too. Principally these will be driven by your research advisor, but advisors come in different flavors at all kinds of institutions. Statistically, you'll probably find more people who are most highly driven themselves at top institutions, and they may project those expectations on their students, but statistical averages don't matter much for an individual student that has an individual advisor.

Read about the programs you may attend. They likely have public guidebooks that explain the specific expectations for graduation. Talk with prospective supervisors about their expectations. Talk with current grad students (and alumni if possible) to get their viewpoints, including those who are students not just at the same institution but who have the same advisor.

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