Going to the same university for undergrad and grad-good or bad idea?
August 17, 2009 2:28 PM   Subscribe

Did you receive your graduate degree at the same university that you received your undergraduate degree from? If so, do you regret not branching out and going to a new university for graduate school or are you happy with your decision?

Graduate school is coming up. Yikes!

Option 1-Stay in the city that I am currently in and pursue an MS at the school I am currently attending.

Option 2-Move 3 hours away and pursue the same degree at a different institution.

I guess I am worried that I will burn out after going to the same school for so long. I would love to hear from people who went to the same university for undergrad and grad. What was your experience like? Do you wish you had gone to a new institution for graduate school? I'd even like to hear from people who went to different institutions for undergrad and grad. Thanks!
posted by pdx87 to Education (30 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
In my field, going to the same grad school as undergrad is referred to as "inbreeding" and is majorly frowned upon. Going to a different grad school will allow you to experience your field from a different perspective, so you don't just have a unilateral view of how things work. You will be more able to interact with different kinds of people in your field. Plus, your potential professional connections will be doubled. I am starting grad school in a week at a different institution, so no personal experience yet.
posted by emilyd22222 at 2:31 PM on August 17, 2009 [4 favorites]

In my industry (engineering) it's pretty common for people to go to the same institution -- of course, I work in Cambridge, MA, which is full of MIT "lifers" -- but I've never heard it looked down upon. That said, the increase in professional connections mentioned by emilyd22222 above can't be overlooked.

What are the reputations of the schools you're looking at? If one program is better known/respected, I'd say that's a bigger deal than whether or not it's the same institution.
posted by olinerd at 2:34 PM on August 17, 2009

I don't think it's a huge problem unless you plan to teach. In that case, it'll look better for you to be in difference environments with different perspectives.
posted by canadia at 2:40 PM on August 17, 2009

I should add that my field is community psych. It is just my experience that it is frowned upon (and this is just my limited perspective from what people told me at my undergrad institution), but that's not at all to say it isn't done. In fact, I considered going back to my undergrad for grad school, but the inbreeding aspect was the #1 reason why I chose against it.
posted by emilyd22222 at 2:55 PM on August 17, 2009

As a general rule, I usually counsel bright undergrads to switch schools for the PhD even if they think we're the perfect place to continue pursuing their interests. Of course they think that. This is where they began to form as intellectuals (speaking here of a humanistic social science field). It's also seen as inbreeding abroad in the profession in my field, but this is not why I counsel it.

I think to deepen as an intellectual and a person you need to be challenged by new environments -- hell, just to grow up as a global citizen, it makes a big difference.

I've seen people defy the conventional wisdom and stay on for the PhD successfully, but rarely. It's tough from our end as faculty too to watch a really talented student you've mentored head off to the competition (and especially when you know you are one of the top programs and this student, coming from anywhere else, would be a great fit and thrive in your program).

It may be entirely different in a highly specialized natural science field. But not from the point of view of personal growth. Don't get me wrong -- I think you can be a happy and fulfilled person living your entire life in one small town. But the reasons one needs an advanced degree generally entail thinking beyond your own community to leverage the value of the social investment in your education.
posted by fourcheesemac at 3:01 PM on August 17, 2009

I'm doing my MA where I did my BA. I'm really happy with it, there are only a very small number of universities dealing with my interests from the perspective I want to examine things and only one or two of those come close in quality. I'm even considering doing a PhD at the same institution, though I haven't decided on that fully.
posted by knapah at 3:01 PM on August 17, 2009

I should say that in my field, staying on for an MA after the BA, but in preparation for moving on to a top PhD program, is not uncommon and can make sense where the MA work either grows out of the BA work or entails tooling up in another field entirely in order to prepare for PhD work (also often necessary in my interdisciplinary field). There are quite a few combined BA/MA 5 year programs out there now too.
posted by fourcheesemac at 3:04 PM on August 17, 2009

I stayed at the university where I did my BA to do my MA (history). I intended to go on for a PhD, somewhere else, and never did, again for personal reasons. I'm not sorry I'm out of academia, but I do regret staying on at the same school for the MA, and part of the regret is that I didn't get the PhD and probably would have if I'd moved on for my MA.
posted by immlass at 3:10 PM on August 17, 2009

Not only did I attend the same school (University of Washington) for both but I also had the exact same major. I don't regret it all...it's a good school, it's near family, it's affordable. These were important to me, much more so than how "others" might perceive my choice to stay at the same school.
posted by vito90 at 3:15 PM on August 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

I got an MA at the school I got my BA, but the two degrees are in completely different fields (there really aren't BA's in my chosen field) It was fine, but realistically if I hadn't been tied to the area for work, I would have left...and often I still think I should have.
posted by mjcon at 3:16 PM on August 17, 2009

I went to a different school in a different state for grad school because I lived there. If I had attended grad school immediately after undergrad and my undergrad alma mater had offered the graduate studies I was pursuing, I would've much rather have preferred obtaining both degrees from one school.

I'm hearing lots of advice here that it looks bad to get them from one school though, so I would keep that in mind.
posted by VC Drake at 3:18 PM on August 17, 2009

I got my JD and BAs at the same university and it was absolutely the right decision for me. I didn't have to deal with the headaches of moving, or of learning the quirks of an entirely new university system. The transition was pretty seamless, which I greatly appreciated. (But I am a very risk- and change-averse person.)

Of course, a JD is a different animal than an MS, so I was not really worried about the sort of "in-breeding" referred to by emilyd22222 above. I don't know whether that is an issue in your field, but it is not something I considered.
posted by the littlest brussels sprout at 3:18 PM on August 17, 2009

Like olinerd, I'm an engineer. I stayed at my undergrad institution, and it hasn't been a problem. It's never even come up once, and I graduated a decade ago. Actually, a sizeable portion of the people in the Master's program with me were my undergrad classmates.

Of course, adding another alumni network might be a good idea, like others have mentioned. I went to an Ivy, and the Ivies seem to hold alumni events together. My sister went to a Big 10, and she's noticed the same thing with Big 10 schools. If both of the universities you're considering hold alumni events together, this point may be less of an issue.
posted by larkin123 at 3:32 PM on August 17, 2009

I got my BA and MA the same place. I don't regret it because there was a strong financial incentive for me to stay and because the department was a good one. From what I've seen the whole "inbreeding" problem matters in the humanities where one department might have a very different theoretical orientation than another. In the sciences, it's less important and I know a lot of med and law students who have done this and didn't see any stigma to it at all.
posted by entropyiswinning at 3:41 PM on August 17, 2009

My college just plain doesn't LET anyone become a grad student here as well unless they are in a rare program that is offered here and not in too many other places. Or so I have been told.
posted by jenfullmoon at 3:43 PM on August 17, 2009

I went to UC Berkeley (38,000) for undergrad, and Claremont (6,000) for grad. Both experiences were valuable for different reasons. If I had it to do over, though, I think attending a smaller U as a babe they the larger U would have been a little easier on my nerves.
posted by effluvia at 4:31 PM on August 17, 2009

I decided to get my MS at a different school than where I got my BA. Probably the greatest factor in this decision was that I had an absolute blast at my undergraduate school, and that if I stayed, things would change. Probably not for the worse, but with most of my undergraduate friends moving away for other things, as well as "ageing out" of some student groups I was involved in, I decided it was time to move on. I certainly miss my undergraduate school, and, as irrational as this is, I even resent my graduate school sometimes for not being my undergraduate school. Such is life; but I have to say that I'm really glad to have branched out and gotten to know a new city and a new faculty.

I have another friend who, in applying for his PhD, specifically chose to not apply at his undergraduate school, for the "inbreeding" problem others have mentioned. That wasn't so much of a factor for me; it would have been fine to stay at my undergraduate college. I sort of looked at this as a way to change things up and start fresh in a new, much bigger city while letting my memories of undergraduate life stay that way: as undergraduate life.
posted by andeles at 4:33 PM on August 17, 2009

From reading the previous comments, it's evident that there are a lot of knowledgeable people to draw on here. Perhaps if we had a better idea about OP's field, it would be easier to tailor our advice and comments to suit the specific situation (s)he is in.
posted by DrGail at 4:43 PM on August 17, 2009

My MS would be in Criminology and Criminal Justice. While I want to get this for career advancement, I also simply want to learn more and enhance my research skills (and to possibly teach a class or 2 at the CC level eventually). I know that Criminal Justice may not seem like a rigorous academic discipline, but research is expanding in the field, especially in restorative justice and feminist criminology.

I'm wondering if people who got their undergrad and grad degrees at the same school felt like the missed out on a variety of experiences. It's not my intention to get a PhD or be a full time researcher.

Thank you for all of the advice! It's very helpful.
posted by pdx87 at 4:54 PM on August 17, 2009

What kind of experiences are you referring to, OP? Do you think actively involving yourself in industry conferences, which is a good idea beyond grad school, would provide those experiences?
posted by larkin123 at 5:22 PM on August 17, 2009

I think there are career considerations at play here that far exceed any person issues of expanding one's experiences.

Since you mentioned that Criminal Justice is expanding rapidly, different schools undoubtedly excel in different aspects of the field. Given that, you would be expanding your knowledge and research skills/experiences by exposing yourself to two different schools.

Unless you have some compelling reason for remaining at the same school for your master's degree -- a working spouse, for instance, who doesn't want to relocate -- I think your career would benefit greatly by going to the other school for your master's degree.

I'm sure others will disagree with me. Here's my take on it: The purpose of graduate school is to advance one's career, so whatever would best advance one's career should be the primary criterion in choosing a graduate school.
posted by DrGail at 5:53 PM on August 17, 2009 [2 favorites]

Yes, definitely larkin123. I suppose I am thinking about the variety of experiences with different students, professors, ideology and simply just moving to something new and unfamiliar. Perhaps that is a better learning process than staying put at the same school.

I would be coming from a large public university to a small private university if I decide to move.
posted by pdx87 at 6:17 PM on August 17, 2009

I am at the same university (large public) for my PhD as my undergrad, but I left to get an MA somewhere else before I came back. In my field, I'm pretty sure nobody even cares about your undergrad institution; its only the terminal degree that matters. It was more or less coincidence that the university I attended as an undergrad houses a top 20 program in the field I ended up being interested in (my BA/MA and PhD are in related but non-identical fields, so I had no faculty overlap between undergrad and grad). If it were me, I would forget about the whole "inbreeding" thing and think of it like this:

Which one is funding you? Go to that one. If neither (or both) are offering funding and both are of roughly similar quality, go to the program where you will amass the least debt. If one is vastly superior, go to it regardless of cost differentials. Hope this helps.
posted by jtfowl0 at 7:01 PM on August 17, 2009

I really appreciated getting my BS at a very small private school, and getting my MS at a large state school. I got a well-rounded perspective from my professors and the different worlds of the two schools, I think--and I researched the MS program's faculty a lot before I committed, because I realized that the info I was going to get would be very dependent upon their backgrounds. I found that there were a lot of professors with great multicultural and feminist psychology backgrounds, and knew it would be right for me. I think that was the part that let me know I was on the right track to switch schools. So my advice is to look at the program faculty closely, see what research interests and what publishing work they have done, and maybe that will sway you in one direction a lot more.
posted by so_gracefully at 8:31 PM on August 17, 2009

I don't know if inbreeding applies to your field. If it doesn't, I think you should go for the stronger program or the program that most closely fits your interests. If you manage your career right (and many people don't), then you should constantly come in contact with different ways of thinking through the people you meet at conferences, in continuing education classes, and through professional associations. You could even teach a class or give a seminar as a working professional. A different university isn't the only place you can find new experiences. Good luck with whatever you choose! Your field sounds pretty interesting.
posted by larkin123 at 12:01 AM on August 18, 2009

My BS and PhD are from the same institution (the one my parents met at, actually, so I'm technically a second generation product of that Big 10 university).

All I did to expand my horizons was work for two years at a different Big 10 university prior to attending grad school. It seems to have been enough, as I'm now working at a third Big 10 university as a postdoc.

I understand the concerns with inbreeding though; I know a person who completed undergrad, Masters, and PhD at the same institution and is now doing a postdoc working with the same group. At some point it just gets ridiculous - if you never leave, it makes granting agencies think you CAN'T leave and they won't fund you. If that isn't an issue, then go with the school that has the better program.
posted by caution live frogs at 5:21 AM on August 18, 2009

Same school, but two different fields, so two different faculties. Also, I took a little time off in between, so I didn't completely burnout. I don't regret my decision to stay, because it's a well-respected institution in both fields, but I do wonder if a little more variety in geography, connections, etc. might have been a good thing.
posted by somanyamys at 5:51 AM on August 18, 2009

My answer above doesn't apply to the OP very well. I was thinking specifically of PhD track students in the humanities and social sciences, bound in most cases for academic teaching careers. There, the default is to move to a new school after the BA (or MA) for all kinds of good reasons, although there are cases of successful students who stay on at one institution (I can think of one person who has been at the same school from undergrad to current *tenured* teaching position).

In a field where the MA/MS is a terminal credential for applied work in industry or the public sector outside of academia, none of my reasons outweighs the practical question of "is this the best program for my career plans?" I think criminal justice programs tend to have tight connections to local law enforcement agencies, as well, which makes the key question perhaps, where would you like to wind up working once you have the MS degree? You'll want to think about how you network while in school in relation to that goal -- which is true in other fields too, but in the academic world this is mitigated by the truly translocal characteristics of any given field or discipline.
posted by fourcheesemac at 6:15 AM on August 18, 2009

I did my MSc in a different school (in a different country) from my BA, which were both in politics/social sciences. As you may surmise from the 'A' and the 'Sc', the approaches of the two schools were very different, and I think that difference really forced me to grow my understanding and appreciation of the subject. I'm in the work force (realized that academia was not going to be my thing) and I'd say that the foreign experience is a mild plus. From my experience as student, however, I consider it to be a major plus.
posted by Kurichina at 7:42 AM on August 18, 2009

My degrees are in communications. I finished my BA and had a year to kill while waiting for my then-fiancee to finish hers. So I re-upped at the same place and got my MS. Those who are impressed by master's degrees won't care where you got it and those who aren't impressed ... same thing. Others here have given good food for thought about branching out, but so long as you like where you are and are challenged, I don't see any reason not to remain at the same school.
posted by bryon at 9:20 PM on August 18, 2009

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