What do grad schools think about where you received your undergrad degree?

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Updated: November 10, 2023, Reading time: 4 minutes

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How your previous college is perceived when you apply for graduate study largely depends on the grad school you choose. The key is in articulating to the grad school admissions committee that you are a fit for the graduate program, as shown in the field of discipline you chose as an undergraduate.

Remember that a prestigious college is an advantage, but it is not the sole driver of being admitted to grad school. The point is that grad schools don't rely on this single factor when evaluating applicants. If all applicants are equally qualified, they may or may not consider the reputation of the college you attended or the program you completed. However, it's unlikely for your undergraduate institution to be one of the reasons to kiss your hopes of attending grad school goodbye. 

It's all about how you present yourself and how you articulate your story and relevant experience to the admissions committee. Grad school applicants are challenged to show how the degree they earned is a match to the graduate program being applied for. Importantly, where you received your undergraduate degree does not matter as much as your work ethic, character, and aptitude. Focus on preparing for your grad school application and getting admissions counseling.

Is there an advantage when an applicant comes from a highly-ranked college?

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While admissions vary in each grad school, some of them need to emphasize a highly-ranked college as a big advantage. If an applicant comes from a competitive college, the impression they would give to grad school admissions is that they can thrive in the chosen program since they have been exposed to rigorous undergraduate research.

If you graduated from a top-flight undergraduate business school, then the great, powerful networks you have made will surely help you with your future success. You may gain more financial and professional success with your undergraduate degree from a prestigious school. Also, these schools attract top-rated faculty because of financial gains. It would also make a difference if your research advisors came from prestigious institutions.

But then again, grad school admissions would rather focus on an applicant's successes in work experience and career goals that would match their graduate program. Easily, they would rather reconsider a motivated student from a modest college than a low-GPA, less driven student from a prestigious undergraduate institution. Just because a student earned a degree from an elite college does not always translate to better education or training in the field. 

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What about applicants from Less-Ranked undergraduate institutions?

Are you a graduate study hopeful who's anxious about how grad schools would look at your non-prestigious undergraduate institution? Keep in mind the stronger factors to successful grad school admission other than the prestige of your college. Don't simply aim for a high GPA; strive for high test scores. Work closely with your professors and faculty for an impressive letter of recommendation from them. Get involved in extracurricular activities.

Most top-ranked grad schools would love to get applications that exhibit both your academic capabilities and leadership qualities! These demonstrate that you can flourish academically in grad school and contribute to the graduate program—regardless of where you earned your college degree.

The Bottom Line

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Different grad schools vary in the way their application processes are structured. Collectively, what matters to a grad school admissions committee is your academic and other relevant experience matching their graduate program.

Because great candidates come from different undergraduate institutions, all grad schools are bound to get a diverse student population. So, instead of overthinking your college's prestige, think about how you can put together the most effective grad school application to increase your chances of getting accepted. Where you received your undergraduate degree is only one piece of the puzzle!

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