How important is ranking/prestige when picking a Grad school?

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Joined: Fri Apr 12, 2019 11:02 am

How important is ranking/prestige when picking a Grad school?

Post by svgwing0 » Fri Apr 12, 2019 11:15 am

Hi, I recently got offers from Penn State and Umass Amherst for a physics PhD. I am in a bit of a dilemma because I really liked the Umass campus and area and there was a professor who reached out to me and offered me a position and he seemed like a nice guy and I thought his work was interesting and his grad students said he was a good adviser. I then found out that Penn State is much higher in ranking than Umass and has a bigger and more diverse department. There were two professors that offered me positions at Penn state and they seemed like good advisers, it just seemed like they had a lot more students and responsibilities so I might be getting less guidance from them compared to the guy at Umass. I'm just wondering if you guys have any thoughts on whether I should disregard all of the other stuff and just go to the more prestigious school or consider Umass for the aforementioned reasons. I find it really hard to judge what a school or lab is going to be like after seeing it for such a short time.


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Re: How important is ranking/prestige when picking a Grad school?

Post by lob_124 » Fri Apr 12, 2019 11:38 am

Hi svgwing0,

I have two things to say here. The first is that, in general, you should always pick the school that is the best fit for you. This primarily entails the things you discussed: The number and quality of advisors doing research that interests you, overall function/culture of the department, and how the setting of the school matches your personal interests and lifestyle. However, an important part of the fit is how well the school fits your career plans; a degree from a school with a better reputation almost always will do more for your career. That, of course, shouldn't outweigh the other things I mentioned, but if all else is pretty even then reputation is a very good basis for your decision.

The second thing I have to say is that I did my undergrad at UMass Amherst (I just graudated this past Fall), so I can give you more insight into the department if you'd like!

(Incidentally, I also was accepted to Penn State Physics and did the visit there, so perhaps I can compare the two as well)

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Re: How important is ranking/prestige when picking a Grad school?

Post by scytoo » Sat Apr 13, 2019 12:55 am

Unfortunately, it's pretty important. A lot of the people who get permanent jobs in academia came from a few high-ranking universities. You have to decide what matters the most to you: your experience for the next ~4 years, or your career prospects in 10+ years. I'm not familiar with either university though, so I can't say how different they are in terms of prestige or if they make the cut in the top programs that produce most of the successful scholars.

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