I have really enjoyed my undergraduate program, and my university has a very good master’s program in social sciences. When talking to professors about going to graduate school, some have discouraged me from going to the same school. If I don’t plan on going into academia, does it really matter if both of my degrees are from the same school? What if I do decide to go into academia?

--To Stay or Not To Stay

Dear To Stay or Not To Stay,

Thank you for asking this question because many students don’t understand how people feel about students’ staying at the same university for undergraduate and graduate school.

Many professors and employers disagree with each other about this topic, but you must know that it ultimately comes to your decision in the end. Professors and other school personnel might try to generalize it and say, “All students should go to a different university for their graduate degrees,” or “All students should earn their graduate degrees at the same university where they completed their undergraduate degrees.” Knowing that students are all so different will help you make this decision based on what will be best for you and your education. The following is a list of things you’ll want to think about as you decide whether or not to stay at your undergraduate institution for your graduate degree.

  • Connect with the faculty, staff, and peers who you’ll work closely with because it is an advantage in applying for grad school at the same institution you completed your undergraduate degree. As you approach senior year and take your major’s classes, you will begin to recognize, communicate with, and befriend some of the same people each semester. These relationships that you’ll begin to form will become comfortable, and it makes sense to stay in an environment where you have learned how to work with specific professors and students.
  • Visualize where you will be in the future, and your stress about it now won’t seem necessary. If you think about it, you’re going to graduate school. That (and doing well in graduate school) is all many employers and professors can ask you to do. If your ultimate goal is to earn a graduate degree and you are motivated to take on another 3–5 years of school, then that’s what matters. If you decide to stay at the same school for your undergraduate and graduate careers, do your best to learn as much as you can from as many people as you can. Meeting new people and making new connections will get you well on your way to gaining networking skills.
  • Inform the personnel in your graduate program of your reasons for applying to the same school. Depending on your involvement in your undergraduate program, the staff in graduate admissions might view your application in a negative light. They could think that you are taking the easy route through grad school, avoiding a move into another city or state, or escaping potential rejections from other grad schools. However, if you decide to go on to another program at another school where you might learn more, your intentions will be clear because both programs will understand that you want to gain a more diverse background — which brings me to my next point.
  • Understand that you might not become as diverse a student as professors and employers might prefer. If you decide to continue your graduate education at the same institution that you earned your undergraduate degree, you will only be learning from the same teachers in the same environment. In the pro section of this post, I stated that it’s a good thing to be comfortable with the people you’ll work with throughout your graduate education, but there will probably come a time when you feel that you’ve learned everything there is to learn from those people in that program. It’s a great idea to investigate similar programs at other grad schools so that you can expand your knowledge about your field rather than limit it to the people you know in your comfort zone.
  • Research other graduate programs out there, if the faculty and staff in your undergraduate program are encouraging you to find another Master’s program. Find a few programs that you could see yourself becoming a part of, and then try discussing them with your faculty and peers. If your search is unsuccessful, talk to the professors who encouraged you to look into other programs and let them know your concerns about receiving a good education in Master’s programs at other schools. Discuss with them the reasons you want to earn your graduate degree with them in their program .

Remember that no two students are alike, so what might keep students at the same schools for their graduate degrees might push you away from those schools. It all depends on your personality and learning style. If you want to know more about undergraduate school, read Tara Kuther’s article about the decision to stay for your graduate degree. Good luck!

--René Paulson, PhD

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