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I am nearing the end of my undergraduate career at a not so great school (UHCL for those who are curious). I have an excellent GPA and an internship with a stellar company. The catch is I will probably have to go to grad school in order to work at that company, and this company likes to get full time talent from "top schools." My study performance looks stellar but honestly I feel a lot of that was just because my school is so lackluster concerning challenge (that's how I feel, at least).

I'm wondering if anyone has been down a similar path, moving from a low tier college to a high tier graduate school and if so, what their experience was like and what advice they may give. Wherever I go, I would really like to thrive.

  • To be blunt, if you aren't in the Ivy's, then nobody cares. And those in the Ivy's tend to keep an eye out for each other. I've seen plenty of jobs that flat-out refuse to hire anyone not in the Ivy's. But, well, yea. Welcome to the real world. – Broklynite Mar 27 '17 at 6:20
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    @Broklynite Somehow I doubt what you say is even remotely true, at least in the precise formulation in terms of Ivy's. Plenty of the very top universities are not in the Ivy League. – Tobias Kildetoft Mar 27 '17 at 7:50
  • @TobiasKildetoft perhaps we are simply in different fields, having applied to different positions. I have seen jobs advertised with the line "Ivy League graduates only" and sometimes even more specific (e.g., Harvard and Princeton graduates only). – Broklynite Mar 27 '17 at 12:20
  • @Broklynite Could you link to such an advertisement? – Tobias Kildetoft Mar 27 '17 at 12:22
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    @Broklynite Depending on the field, "Ivy League" could be a significant disadvantage. After all, why should membership a sports league have anything to do with job preparation? – JeffE Mar 27 '17 at 13:11
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I switched gears in a radical way after several years working in my Bachelor's field, by taking the additional classes I needed, primarily at a community college. Then I started graduate studies in a strong department in my new field. The professors didn't distinguish between me and fellow students who had gone to bigger name schools for undergrad. Chances are they didn't even know. To them I was just another student, interested in learning, asking good questions, working hard.

The admissions committee members would have known, but I never knew which professors had sat on the admissions committee. But even the ones who had looked at my transcripts (whoever they were) might have forgotten by the time I took a class from them.

I only had a problem with one professor. He assumed I didn't know my stuff when he was grading a qualifying exam. I think the root problem was that he was the one professor in my sub-field that I had not taken a class from. So to him I was a nobody. I found this out when I asked to see my exam and how it was graded. I discovered that he had graded it rather subjectively.

Thus, the one thing I would do differently if I were to go through it all again would be to take a class from that one guy. He only taught one class. I sat in on a couple sessions at some point, and found his teaching deadly boring, with very little homework. So I would have had to go to his office hours and really work to find something to talk about.

But that's what I would do differently if I could. Note, that had nothing to do with the schools I had been to prior to grad school.

Note that as a former intern, you will be a known quantity to the stellar company. That can be a real foot in the door.

  • I think the root problem was that he was the one professor in my sub-field that I had not taken a class from. So to him I was a nobody. -- This is much less about your undergrad background and much more about one professor being a capricious jerk. – JeffE Mar 27 '17 at 13:19
  • @JeffE - The world is not without professors with various deficiencies. It's good to learn coping skills. – aparente001 Mar 27 '17 at 17:20
  • Sure. But that's not what OP's question is about. – JeffE Mar 27 '17 at 23:15
  • @JeffE " I'm wondering if anyone has been down a similar path, moving from a low tier college to a high tier graduate school and if so, what their experience was like and what advice they may give. Wherever I go, I would really like to thrive." I have been down a similar path. I had a good experience. I shared the thing I would have done differently if I could have done it over again. Those are the elements I have to contribute to this question. I hope they will have some measure of usefulness to the OP. – aparente001 Mar 28 '17 at 0:30
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Your ambition is going to be far more important than your transcript. UH-CL is a fine school, and the UH system is known as being good... anyway, you just have to believe in yourself. (Technically, the curiccula should be fairly similar across universities in the US that are accredited.) What is your field?

If you need to go to grad school, then apply to the best grad schools. Get your best professors to write solid letters and try to ace the standardized test(s) (i.e. GRE) since that will essentially 'level the playing field' when admissions tries to decide who to admit. If you have a 4.0 from an OK school but you have great recs and a solid GRE (not even stratospheric), you are all set. I went to CU-Boulder for undergrad then UCSF for PhD (2013), for the record.

  • I think this advice is naive, although it may be field-dependent. I think it would be very difficult for a CS major from UHCL to be admitted to my department's graduate program, even with a 4.0 GPA. In particular, recommendations are much less credible coming from faculty who don't have experience either supervising top graduate students or sending undergrads to top graduate programs. Applications from stellar students at lower-tier schools are viewed with suspicioun, because we've seen such students flounder in the past. – JeffE Mar 27 '17 at 13:42
  • @JeffE - Is there anything positive or useful the OP could take from this comment? I would encourage you to be careful how you write up your judgment of a proffered answer, and consider how the OP may take it. – aparente001 Mar 27 '17 at 17:23
  • @aparente001 What makes you think I haven't been careful, or that I haven't considered how OP may interpret my comment? It is an unfortunate fact that students from lower-ranked departments are at a significant disadvantage applying to top PhD programs, at least in computer science. Pretending otherwise is neither useful nor positive. – JeffE Mar 27 '17 at 23:14
  • @JeffE It's always good to apply to a stretch school, a safe one and a medium one. Are you suggesting OP should forget all about applying to a stretch school? The question doesn't even ask for applications advice. I don't understand what is gained by your comment. The keys to thriving in a big step up school, I think, are to work hard and believe in oneself. Your comment seems to seek to sabotage the self-belief part, and I can't figure out what your motivation might be. If you think you are doing OP a service by honestly pointing out the challenges that exist... it's not necessary, or kind. – aparente001 Mar 28 '17 at 0:39
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    @aparente001 You are offering much more reasonable advice than this answer, which suggests only applying to the best schools, and that self-belief is sufficient for success ("...you are all set"), which is dangerously wrong. – JeffE Mar 28 '17 at 3:12

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