I’m applying for undergrad programs and am planning on going to graduate school. I really want to go to an Ivy League school for my graduate work, which will be pricey. I feel like it makes sense to go to a cheaper, less prestigious school for my Bachelor’s and save my money for grad school. But will it actually hurt my chances of getting into a respectable graduate school if I attend a more “average” undergrad school?

–Future Ivy League Grad

Dear Future Ivy League Grad,

Gaining admission to any graduate school is currently very competitive, and there are a number of things you can do to strengthen your chances. Early planning and researching your options is an important component, and you should be commended for starting the process early. The factors most considered by graduate admissions committees are your score on the GRE (Graduate Record Examination), GPA, and experience in the chosen discipline of study. Therefore, the school at which one earns his or her undergraduate degree can impact admission to a graduate program, as the rigor of the university would be considered when comparing prospective students’ grade point averages from different Universities. For this reason, it is important to choose a school with a good academic reputation, especially in your discipline of interest. In this area, not all schools are equal within disciplines, as some may have a very strong business school but may be considerably weaker in the sciences, etc. One source of information as to many different types of school ranking is the Princeton Review college rankings.

Another important factor when choosing a University for an undergraduate education is how it fits your particular needs. One such need you mentioned is cost, which is certainly a factor, especially when one is planning to pursue more than a bachelor’s degree. In order to earn a competitive GPA for graduate school admission, you must consider other factors that could impact your academic success. These factors are highly individual such as whether or not a student would perform better at a University with smaller classes, or if the size of the class would not necessarily matter. There are additional issues to consider as many larger state schools with larger class sizes also have more resources for graduate programs, research programs, and equipment. As experience is an important factor in the graduate student selection process, you would want to investigate the resources available at your prospective schools, and whether the undergraduate school you choose offers advanced degrees where experience could be readily gained. A good personal fit is extremely important to one’s academic success. Other factors, such as location, housing etc., are all important for a smooth transition from high school to University life.

As to gaining admission to an Ivy League school, again there are several factors that must be considered, not the least of which is the number of applicants to these Universities and the corresponding competition. The GRE is weighted more heavily at the Ivy League schools, as it is the measure that is based on the student’s knowledge and ability, without regard to the University attended. Current trends indicate the Ivy League schools may no longer be cost effective in relation to higher earning capacity as compared to other institutions. Historically, the cost of a degree from an Ivy League school was offset by greater chances of employment and higher earning capacity, which has not been the case in recent years.

identifying at least 20 prospective Universities. After obtaining this short list of possible schools, explore their web sites extensively to identify factors such as percentage of past students who have attended graduate school, student to faculty ratio, current research programs, and opportunities for advanced study. Good luck.

–Pamela Stuntz, PhD

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