The value of very good schools for grad or undergrad

Discussion in 'General Distance Learning Discussions' started by Trek, Jun 18, 2022.

  1. Trek

    Trek Member

    I'm thinking about going back for an undergrad or grad degree from a better school. (Circumstances didn't allow me to attend a known good school in the past.)

    I wish I could say I graduated from a better school as I feel like it's a way to instantly build rapport with quite a lot of people. That is, when talking with a client or colleague, if I can say a better school name, I think they pay more attention. And I know that not everyone will judge, but I feel that it hurts me in the dating pool as well.

    I've heard many times over the years that it's fine to go to a state school for undergrad, then go to a great school for grad school, but I found this journal article (info below) which is discussed in

    I also have some life changes coming, so my worry is that if I start the grad degree, I won't be able to finish for quite some time. (So I'm also considering a grad certificate, but I think that won't help in the same way. People want to know where your main degree is from.)

    So I'd like some input as I decide about an undergrad degree (versus certificate or grad degree).

    The final option would be to decide that it's not worth the extra effort. I wouldn't be able to get accepted into a top school, and I've heard that school name only matters if it's a top school. What I have in mind is an R1 school that people have heard of, but not everyone knows they have excellent academics. My current degrees are from schools that are known for online degrees.

    Joni Hersch
    "Catching Up Is Hard to Do: Undergraduate Prestige, Elite Graduate Programs, and the Earnings Premium"
    Dustin likes this.
  2. SteveFoerster

    SteveFoerster Resident Gadfly Staff Member

    I can't help but be curious whom you're talking to who cares about this so much. Even when I worked at universities in the U.S. I rarely if ever got into a conversation about where I'd gone to school myself. I don't mean to be obnoxious, but you may want to be really sure that you're not considering a huge investment of time and money to make up for a deficiency that only exists in your mind.
    Dustin likes this.
  3. nyvrem

    nyvrem Active Member

    curious to know which schools are these?
  4. mintaru

    mintaru Active Member

    Last edited: Jun 20, 2022
  5. Johann

    Johann Well-Known Member

    Trek wrote: "What I have in mind is an R1 school that people have heard of, but not everyone knows they have excellent academics."

    From his words, I think Trek means selected, as yet unspecified, schools within the RI group mintaru supplied. Trek says they are schools everyone will recognize but not everyone is aware that they have excellent academics. Yes, it would be indeed interesting to know what specific schools in the R1 list Trek has in mind.

    R1 schools that are hiding their academic light under a bushel? Hmmm - sounds like a scholastic conspiracy... :) Which are these mysterious schools? What are they hiding? Why are they hiding it? Inquiring minds want to know!
    Last edited: Jun 20, 2022
  6. JoshD

    JoshD Well-Known Member

    Do not chase prestige. If the only reason you want to pursue a degree at a prestigious University is for the "cool-ness" factor, then your time would be best spent doing something else. Regardless of the University you attend for grad school, you need to have more than a prestige chase to get through the grueling academics...otherwise you'll be miserable.
    Dustin and Johann like this.
  7. AsianStew

    AsianStew Moderator Staff Member

    "The value of very good schools for grad or undergrad" Well, for me, I usually recommend a "better" known university for undergrad and get that butt-in-seat education as schools will give you a traditional background in whatever subject you're looking at taking. At the higher level for graduate school, it's usually up to you to do the research/studying vs being taught in the undergrad studies. With a better rounded yet sound undergrad, you'll be able to tackle the grad studies with lesser road blocks (mentally at least). Answers will vary wildly...

    Having said that, it all boils down to the individual student and their scenario or situation in life, there are so many variables at play. If someone who is strapped for cash, I just recommend the regular public or state university to get you the education you're looking for, start small from community college to a local university. For those who have the means and big bucks, well then, you can apply to those that are private and have a much more expensive yet enlightening experience. It also depends on the professors you get, some really are great, some not so...
  8. mintaru

    mintaru Active Member

    I'm probably not the right person to help you, but maybe my thoughts can still be of some use to you.

    I think Steve is right, it's possible it is a deficiency that only exists in your head. For example, you say, “I wish I could say I got a better degree because I feel like it's a way to relate to quite a few people right away. That is, when I'm talking to clients or colleagues, when I can say that you have a better school name, I think they pay more attention to it."
    Maybe that's true, or maybe they don't pay attention because they don't care from where the degree is. In this case, it wouldn't really make a difference which school you graduated from.

    This article says nothing about the reasons why an undergraduate degree has a greater impact on earnings than a graduate degree. Without this knowledge, you cannot be sure that a second undergraduate degree from a higher respected school would really make a difference to you.
  9. freeloader

    freeloader Member

    The article cited by OP notes that 20% of the males who graduated from elite schools in the survey period held law or medical degrees. That is going to skew the salaries upward.

    If there is value in earning a degree from an elite school, and I will assume there is, the value of that degree will partly be in 1) opening doors to employment that might not otherwise be open, and 2) helping the degree holder in accelerating their career trajectory into leadership, management, executive, and similar positions, and 3) connecting you to a network of alumni, which often goes hand-in-hand with 1 and 2.

    So, let’s consider your situation, OP. It sounds like you are working, so would this degree from a more highly-regarded institution help you change jobs/career trajectories? Would having another bachelor’s degree help you move into management or an executive position with your current organization? If you already hold such a position, would it do anything concrete for you? Would being able to connect to an alumni network substantially and tangibly help your career?

    If I were in your shoes, OP, I think I would definitely look at a grad certificate or degree. The exceptions would be if I were pursuing a bachelors degree that would lead to professional licensure (such as nursing or engineering) or where the undergraduate courses are prerequisite for graduate study in a field which you intend to pursue (such as math). Outside of these scenarios, I would feel like a graduate certificate and/or degree would make far more sense.

    Not for nothing, a lot of better schools will require you to earn 45, 60, or more credits with them to earn a bachelor’s degree. Earning a graduate degree from the same or a comparable school could end up being cheaper and faster. Unless, again, the undergraduate degree is going to open the door to a regulated profession for you, I suspect the graduate degree would likely be more valuable in the long run anyway.

    OP, would you mind sharing the schools/type of schools (peer institutions, perhaps) that interest you? Perhaps your budget for your second bachelor’s degree. $60k/yr for 2 years to get a 2nd bachelors degree from Notre Dame, for instance, looks and feels a lot different than, say, 1 year at UT-Austin for $12k. One of those could make a lot of sense. The other would lead to a degree from Notre Dame.
    Last edited: Jun 20, 2022
    Johann likes this.
  10. Johann

    Johann Well-Known Member

    And the "one-liner of the week" award goes to....freeloader. :)
    Trek likes this.
  11. Rich Douglas

    Rich Douglas Well-Known Member

    Somebody wake me when there is an actual question.
  12. Trek

    Trek Member

    It's not my only reason. For this chapter of my life, I'm trying to decide between doing a degree that's more laidback and enjoyable (from a middling school) versus working harder at the R1 (or R2) school.

    However, I am also trying to decide between the 3 things mentioned. An undergrad degree, starting a grad degree (it seems like I'll have to take a bunch of time off then go back and complete it, which makes that option seem less attractive), or a grad certificate (which I suspect won't help very much with the prestige issue).
  13. Dustin

    Dustin Well-Known Member

    Would you rather fight one horse-sized duck or 100 duck-sized horses?
  14. Trek

    Trek Member

    Well, that is a good point, but I feel that your point would apply most to anyone who is employed by a single employer. I'm self-employed and need to work with / promote to a variety of clients and colleagues. What I'm saying is that when first communicating with them, they key in on certain indicators. People are busy and they want to evaluate me quickly and decide whether to trust.

    They are simply more likely to hire someone who went to a top school. I know it varies, but I think that it's clear that nearly everyone is going to have more trust in (for example) an attorney who went to a Top 10 school versus one who went to a school you've never heard of. It's a bit less clear when it comes to a school that's not one of those Top 50 or so that everyone knows is good. I'm talking about attending one that's more a rank of 130 or 170, where not everyone knows of them, but they are still R1 (or maybe R2).
  15. Trek

    Trek Member

    Thanks, I appreciate your thoughts!

    I do agree that some of my reason is that it hurts my personal level of confidence. To speak to someone who went to a great or excellent school and be worried that the topic will come up. Plus even if the topic doesn't come up, others may be seeing the school name on my LinkedIn or resume.

    Of course, yes, my alma maters' reputations are not the be all and end all, and I can make a good impression in other ways, but I believe that it does have some effect, so I feel willing to put in the extra effort at an R1 school at this time. However, I definitely wanted to get some other perspectives.

    I feel that the "average" school name doesn't necessarily hurt, but I think a good school name gives a sort of extra immediate boost.

    I feel like it's probably worth it to me for personal reasons, even if others do not hire me more. So my first question was about whether it should be undergrad or grad. My second was about whether I should consider a grad cert.

    Yes, the article was an overview. The paper itself delves into many specifics.

    And despite the detail, no I cannot be sure about the second undergrad making up the difference because few people go back for a second undergrad. No stats on that. Just wanted some more opinions on second grad degree / second grad cert / second undergrad.
  16. Courcelles

    Courcelles Active Member

    Locality can matter a lot more than ranking at that level. According to US News, Clemson is #75, South Carolina is down around #117…. yet, here, in Columbia, SC, both would get you a lot better reception than quite a few schools ranked higher that don’t have that regional connection. (Both are R1).

    By the time you get a few hours away, they’re both down to just “large state schools I’ve heard of”. So if you’re tied to an area, and this is something you care about, consider looking at programs that have that local appeal.
    Jonathan Whatley likes this.
  17. Trek

    Trek Member

    Yes, many of the points made in the journal article (and especially the consumer article) are not highly applicable to my situation.

    I agree. I do think that I would not gain many of the benefits (from Top 100-200 school) now since I'm older, and that is why I focused on people's perception when the first read or hear the school name. However, I tend to believe that I would get better quality clients and partners. It's definitely not certain.

    Thank you for your input.

    I should preface the next section by saying: I actually am leaning toward studying a subject that personally interests me instead of a subject that's more aligned with career. (That could seem to contradict what I said before, but it's mix of both. I want the degree for myself anyway, but I figured while I'm at it, why not also go to a better rep school?)

    Also, yes! I know this sounds a little crazy. I have ADHD, and my "career" and life tend to change directions and be a mish-mash.

    The main options I have been considering are:

    Undergrad degree from an R1 school that seems like a low price considering their rep, and I would do 33 new credits in 3 semesters. I have a lot of undergrad transfer credits, and for years I have personally wanted this science degree. (Partly because of sunk cost, however, I've come to terms with it and I'm okay not getting the degree. Still a minor factor in this decision.) I don't expect the new courses to be very difficult for me given that I did a lot of the difficult ones already. Yes, it would still be quite a bit of work. Some of the coursework seems tedious and some seems quite interesting.

    Grad certificate from an R1 school. Inexpensive and I would spend 1 year on it. However, the certificate has a narrow, specific science subject which others (in my main field or fields) may think is a bit strange. I think find the subject fairly interesting and I feel like the knowledge would benefit me someday.

    Finding another grad certificate from an R1 school that still interests me but is less specific.

    Finding a grad science degree from an R1 school. I actually have not looked into a specific school for this because of how I think my life is going to be busier in a year and I will need plenty of time away from school altogether. That is, I worry about having a half-finished degree for a while and it weighing on me.

    MBA from an average school which I can complete fast. Because I figured some clients would be more likely to a hire an MBA-holder than non-holder (but personally, I think that I would still not get that immediate boost I want). This would be the easy route for me personally. I'm already familiar with much of the material, so there would be some boring parts for that reason and because I think some of the content is dry, but I would pick up some new things too.

    And lastly, I am seriously considering forgetting about the prestige part altogether (at least for now) and just doing something personally enriching for now. This does have quite an appeal. The only downside is that I don't accomplish any of the above.
    Dustin likes this.
  18. Trek

    Trek Member

    Yes. Thanks for the reminder!

    @Johann Courcelles gives a good explanation of how a school can be R1, but yet also not that known (outside the state/area).

    I have remote clients so, say I went to University of South Carolina... it's simultaneously a very good school, but not too known. So I do worry that my effort to attend one of these schools could be half-wasted.

    Perhaps I need to pick something within my state. However, I am planning to move. So perhaps I would delay enrolling until my destination is finalized. (I don't want to make this overly complicated either. Too late?)
  19. Dustin

    Dustin Well-Known Member

    There are some great programs that are online at prestigious schools and can be completed more quickly. Duke's MS in Quantitative Management takes 10 months to complete. Georgia Tech's Online MS in Analytics is 30 credits, about the same amount you'd take for your undergrad. (Though most students take 1.5-2 years to do those alongside their work.)
  20. Trek

    Trek Member

    Interesting, and I guess I should stay open to those options in the future.

    I do know that some schools dislike my alt credits and certain other negative factors in my application. So I had previously concluded that I'd not have excellent schools in my sights at all anymore (and instead go for these ranked around 100-180).

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