How much does degree name recognition matter?
July 24, 2008 10:26 AM   Subscribe

Is it worth it to transfer to a school with a recognizable name to finish my degree?

Prompted by this.
I'm two or three semesters away from completing biology/chemistry degrees at the local You-Never-Heard-Of-It State U. I don't want to go to grad school/medical school (but this may change if I can't earn enough money to service my loan).

Will it be easier for me to find a job if I transfer to a school with a national reputation to finish up my last 25-35 credits? If I decide to go to graduate school, will it increase my chances of being accepted to a competitive program, or my chances of getting a desirable fellowship?
My record is pretty much sterling; mainly, I worry that I'm shortchanging myself by pouring a huge amount of effort (and money) into an 'inferior' degree. Is this rank snobbery, or will the (relatively small, it seems) extra investment involved in transferring and mopping up a few lost credits make a meaningful difference in my life after I graduate?

(This is anonymous because I feel like a status-obsessed heel even for asking.)
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (25 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
2-3 semesters? Just 1 yearish? Seems like a pain-in-the-ass to transfer for just 1 year.
posted by k8t at 10:32 AM on July 24, 2008

I'd do it. In fact I regret not factoring name recognition more into my grad school choice.
posted by AwkwardPause at 10:35 AM on July 24, 2008

Do it. Name matters.

It is snobbery, but you might as well use snobbery to your advantage, if you can.

It will, at the least, increase your non-grad school job prospects. I regret not going to an East Coast Name school because I had a much harder time breaking into the job market here, despite my excellent academic record at a quality school that no one here has heard of.

While you're there, work your ass off to make personal contacts with professors, fellow students, anyone you can.
posted by sondrialiac at 10:44 AM on July 24, 2008

Do it. I have twice been told, in two different jobs, very matter-of-factly, that my "name" schooling factored heavily into the choice to hire me vs. other candidates.
posted by mds35 at 10:46 AM on July 24, 2008

Yeah, I would do it as well. I lucked out by getting into McGill when it was a bit easier and lesser known. My sis (who is 6 years my junior) didn't get in and she had MUCH MUCH better grades/qualifications than I did. And it turns out that name recognition does help a bit, so why not take every advantage you can get? And definitely work hard to expand your contacts when you get there like sondrialiac said.
posted by Grither at 10:48 AM on July 24, 2008

Be careful to look at graduation requirements before you apply to transfer. Many schools require that you complete almost half of your credits at their institution to graduate. You might have to do two years or more worth of classes in order to get a diploma with their name on it. I know at my school, which was a well respected state university, you had to complete 60 out of 120 credits to graduate while being enrolled there. I would think that this is a common policy. So plan for that. I doubt you could spend only a year anywhere and meet their requirements.
posted by greta simone at 10:48 AM on July 24, 2008

Do it.

But make it worth the effort. Make sure you go to a place that either has a very broad alumni base, a well-placed alumni base in a certain industry, or somewhere that is the best place on the block for doing what you want to do.

Then when you get there, kick ass.
posted by milqman at 10:49 AM on July 24, 2008

I'd do it. I came from a "where is that?" undergrad to a 1st-tier school for my graduate work. If you're truly interested in getting the best value for your time you will find it at the top-ranked institutions in the country.

Of course, you want to make sure you're doing this for true value in addition to the name recognition. I can't speak for your particular program but a quick check is the caliber of students in the competing programs.
posted by onalark at 10:56 AM on July 24, 2008

The definitiveness of the advice here (e.g., "do it") never fails to astound me.

It may be worth it if you are accepted at a substantially better school at which you can perform equally well (factoring in the likely higher standards, period of adjustment, etc.), if you are not losing the potential backing of champions at your present school who may think you are the best student ever (big fish in small pond has its advantages), if you will not be an alienated nonentity at the next school, if all of your credits are accepted, if you don't pay a lot more per credit hour, etc. On the upside, I have experience with a number of students who profited from transferring -- because of pedigree, alums, change, etc. -- and a lesser number who expressed regrets.

I'm more certain it warrants exploring, and maybe even applying. My guess is that the number of transfers permitted at your level of studies (2.5 to 3 years into a four year degree?)
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 11:04 AM on July 24, 2008 [2 favorites]

Now wait a minute, it is not *always* better to transfer to a "name" school from a state school, especially that late in the game. You can bust your a** at your state school, make sure you have great grades, and take courses that are obviously not easy ones. I got into both my choices of "name" grad schools for my field with a BA from a state school, and that was based on my grades, GRE results, and the fact that I had a really good undergraduate record. I had taken lots and lots of classes in my major, and not easy ones, and so had a really good background in my field, which the profs recognized (and stated) as a factor in letting me in to grad school, and they also gave me $ to boot.

That said, there are state schools and state schools, mine was kind of middle tier in name recognition, and actually has a better reputation outside the state than inside. If your state school is really really obscure, then "trading up" may give you a boost, but you will probably have to take longer to graduate (and potentially increase your school debt substantially), as greta simone points out.
posted by gudrun at 11:05 AM on July 24, 2008

. . . is relatively small, which may make this "academic."

P.S. The failure to preview before posting here never fails to astound here.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 11:06 AM on July 24, 2008

about the only thing in my degree/phd that people seem to respond to, in the long term (10, 20 years), is the name of the institution. so it does count for something.

there's a whole separate issue about whether and how you should be judged. this kind of thing makes me uncomfortable, so i try to avoid it.

maybe if you can convince yourself it would be useful for some other reason, that would make the change seem more appealing? typically places with better names have more money and that can mean better teaching (sessions where there is just you and one other student together with the professor lecturing the course, for example). and if you can keep contacts with where you were, you get to double the number of people you know, which may be useful.

on the other hand, just being in a new place has its drawbacks, and it's more comfortable being a big fish in a small pool than - well, whatever the correct metaphor is for an also-ran.
posted by not sure this is a good idea at 11:06 AM on July 24, 2008

If you're so close to completion, there's a real chance that you'll lose some credits upon transfer. Does the possibility of staying in school a while longer matter to you?

Will the brand name school have smaller classes that offer you more hands-on opportunity? Are they bigger classes that will help you slide by?

I've found that the school thing doesn't matter past the first job, except if you're leveraging an alumni connection...
posted by sadiehawkinstein at 11:13 AM on July 24, 2008

@original poster: I can't believe no one has mentioned this yet, but most top schools won't take you unless you do two years at the new school (read: 60 credits).

I did this, from a top-50 school to an Ivy.

I only did 2 years at the original school, but had about 2.5 years of credits at school 1 due to overloading and AP credit. Then I worked for a few years, and then transferred to an Ivy. I ended with far more credits (in college) than I actually needed, due to losing a bunch at the transfer and having the Ivy take fewer of my APs.

Was it worth it? For me, yes. A world of difference in resources, and the prestige and the name brand definetly helped a lot more. Not to mention the alum network that far exceeded my old school. And I stayed at the Ivy for grad school (it's always easier to get into an elite school for grad school when you do undergrad there).

I think it's worth it if you're doing it for well-planned reasons (the school has a great reputation in the department you want, you will draw upon that school's prestige where you plan to live, you want to go to grad school there as well, etc).

Finally, a lot of top schools barely take any transfers. Harvard and Columbia barely take any. Cornell and UPenn, accept 25-30% of transfers that apply.

If you are interested in talking more, write here or message me.
posted by waylaid at 11:16 AM on July 24, 2008


I strongly echo what gretasimone said and I work in the department of a university that evaluates transfer credits. The school is bound by the accrediting body, and it's very likely that the school will not accept every single class you've taken. You have a good chance of taking more than 25-35 credits. If you were transferring to my school (which is NOT a big-name school, so it's almost impossible), we would make you take at least half of your bachelor's degree NO MATTER WHAT you've done in your current degree.
posted by desjardins at 11:21 AM on July 24, 2008

it's always easier to get into an elite school for grad school when you do undergrad there

correction: It is always easier to get into one elite grad school when you do undergrad at another elite school. Few elite schools take many of their own grads into their grad programs, but they love applicants from fellow elite schools. So if you want to go to Columbia for grad school, you're not doing yourself any favors by transferring there for undergrad. You'd need to do a lot of homework about a specific department-- not the general university-- before you should invest in that kind of assumption.
posted by vincele at 11:37 AM on July 24, 2008

@vincele: i don't think that's necessary true. It's easier to get into one elite school grad school from another elite UG, but I've also found that for many graduate programs, having done a UG degree at that same university can make a big difference.

Did you not find this to be the case? I did where I went.
posted by waylaid at 11:46 AM on July 24, 2008

A "name" school for undergrad?

Not worth it.

Do you know how hard it's going to be to get really good letters from professors who you've only known for one class or so?

Undergrad research projects/work-study is a lot more important than where you graduated.

That is, if you're going to stay in the sciences (with an undergrad degree in bio/chem... there's not much [that's going to be particularly fulfilling] that you're going to be qualified for). If you're going to go work in a cubicle, then, maybe graduating from a "name" school will help.

If you stay in the sciences, unless you've worked for a Name in a "name" school, getting an undergrad from a "name" school could be a negative (schools get their "name" status from researchers - which typically translates into a less-than-stellar quality of the general undergrad education).
posted by porpoise at 11:48 AM on July 24, 2008

it's always easier to get into an elite school for grad school when you do undergrad there

correction: It is always easier to get into one elite grad school when you do undergrad at another elite school.

Second layer of correction: It is always easier to get into one elite grad school when you performed very strongly at another elite school. Scraping through and getting the gentleman's A- at the Ivy isn't nearly as impressive as excelling at Big State U.

Anyway, there are a few ways to answer this, and it really depends on what you are planning to do down the road. If you are going to grad school, then the academic reputation of your undergraduate institution can matter, and sometimes matters a lot. But even so, plenty of professors at Fancy Ivy University got their BAs at Big Second Tier State U, and you might be surprised at how little that may matter in the admissions process, relative to factors like grades, experience, test scores, letters of recommendation, etc. And remember that "academic reputation" is not the same as "ivy league" or "has lots of graduates who work for hot-shot consulting companies."

(Caveat: if you want to go to grad school within your home state, then the situation is sometimes reversed, where there is a bias towards people who come out of the home state system -- they are a known quantity, their reviewers are often personal acquaintances, and so on.)

If you are concerned about lifetime earning trajectories, then it is much less clear. Here is a pretty standard article on the subject, with the standard "it depends" sentence:

Studies comparing the lifetime earnings of Ivy Leaguers versus talented graduates of less prestigious universities say it is inconclusive whether an Ivy League degree offers a higher rate of return. ...

Yet while the value of an Ivy League degree can be debated, just about everyone will agree that given the connections students make and the number of recruiters attracted to their campuses, these schools give their students an advantage early in their careers. In the long run, however, a person's experience, performance and ability to relate to others matter far more than the seal on their diploma.

And this Google Books page cites a study that claims that the caliber of the student trumps the name-brand of the institution.

My take on your situation is that if you are making good, solid, and supportive connections with professors where you are now, and you are excelling academically, then you should stay. Transferring means starting over with those relationships, rather than being able to deepen and build on the ones you have now. If, on the other hand, there are no professors who know your name and it doesn't look like that situation is about to change, then there is no harm in leaving, and there is the possibility that you will be able to build those relationships in the new place.
posted by Forktine at 11:59 AM on July 24, 2008

I say, don't. The further you get away from your graduation, the less where you went to school or what your grades were matters.

The only place where "name recognition" means anything is at the top Ivies (Harvard and Yale), and it comes not from the university itself, but who you meet there. So, unless you are going to spend a few years schmoozing with the children of the unimaginably wealthy to the point where they'll do you favors, it's just not worth it. Going to grad school at Harvard or Yale may help you here if you ever decide to do it.

I submit that there's absolutely no functional difference between, say, Dartmouth, NYU, USC, UIUC, Tulane, Georgia Tech, or East Jabip State. The name, in and of itself, just doesn't do as much as you think it does.

It's all about the connections. You can get the same dap hanging out where the rich kids go and having some wine/cigars/whatever with them on a regular basis, and you don't need to pay tuition for that. Although, you'll probably need to buy a round on a regular basis, and that can get expensive.
posted by Citrus at 12:15 PM on July 24, 2008

@original poster: I can't believe no one has mentioned this yet, but most top schools won't take you unless you do two years at the new school (read: 60 credits).

Ditto. I transferred to an Ivy League school, and they only accept about 8 semesters worth of transfer credits towards your degree. Also, getting transfer credits to count towards your general or major requirements can be a pain (this is one of the reasons I opted to transfer to somewhere without general curriculum requirements).
posted by puffin at 12:19 PM on July 24, 2008

I think transferring for such a short amount of time would hurt your chances of getting into a great grad school. Of course going to the prestigious school for all four years is the best option, but only attending for one year? You won't be there long enough to take advantage of connections (you need recommendations for grad school, right? And unless you're taking time off you need to start applying sooner rather than later.) I think using your current "big-fish-little-pond" status to get good research experience would be more worthwhile.

Finally, a lot of top schools barely take any transfers. Harvard and Columbia barely take any. Cornell and UPenn, accept 25-30% of transfers that apply.

Harvard actually announced that they're not taking any more transfer students for this year and the next year or two at least.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 12:50 PM on July 24, 2008

I've also found that for many graduate programs, having done a UG degree at that same university can make a big difference.

Many top programs in many fields have explicit policies that they do not accept their undergraduates into their PhD programs. Sometimes they will take them as terminal MA students. So I would most definitely not rely on this. There are also, I think, a lot of good reasons for this kind of policy.

I really don't think that being an elite school matters as much as many people here seem to think for grad school, except to the extent that many elite schools also have good programs in the field. Grad school admissions are decided on a department by department basis, and the really major factor is recommendations. So if you have a strong letter from someone well-known in the field (no matter where they are), I really think this will matter a lot more than name recognition of the school. If you don't have strong letters, but have a degree from Harvard, this will not get you into the program. This is also true, incidentally, for grad schools -- having degree from a mediocre school with a top grad program will trump having a degree from an Ivy or whatever with a mediocre program, at least for the academic job market. This may all be different outside of academia, though.

So to the OP: for grad school, it isn't going to be possible to give you particular advice on the transfer issue without knowing your field, your program, and more about what you application package might look like. I do agree that it might be harder to get good letters (that show the writer really knows something about you) after only a few classes, and without some research experience with the writers.
posted by advil at 1:08 PM on July 24, 2008

Do it!!!

I have been in software for over 10 years and I have seen may top-notch state college grads rejected in favor of sub-par graduates from schools with great names (Berkeley, Stanford, Carnegie Mellon). This happens far more than it should...graduates of a great school are chosen because there are better odds that the person will turn out to be a great asset. Unfortunately, the 20% of these grads that are retards find it easy to take the jobs of top notch talent from lesser known universities.

To summarize....DO IT if you can.

posted by sirhensley at 2:44 PM on July 24, 2008

You should also recognize that there is a significant amount of "anti-Ivy" bias in the work world. I've personally seen this in action, at Fortune 100 and Fortune 500 companies, as well as in numerous other business situations.

The bias can be as subtle as senior managers demurring to attend recruiting sessions at Ivy League or prestige schools due to "schedule conflicts." Or, it can be as pointed as sorting resumes by school, and preferring to interview graduates of state institutions.

Hiring managers have personally cited to me their experience with retention problems with Ivy graduates, or difficulties in getting graduates of top schools to take risks that might negatively affect their careers. Others have said that because graduates of top schools tend to expect more and better offers, that it is too uncertain to go through those recruitment situations, and wind up without enough hires, as candidates juggle offers. If you can find a transfer slot, and expect to graduate in the top 10% of your prestige institution, so that you attract a lot of offers (assuming you want offers that weight class rank and institution reputation), then go for it. But recognize that you may have a much different career, for reasons you can't always easily put your finger on, than you would have if you'd not transferred.
posted by paulsc at 5:29 PM on July 24, 2008

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