Earning admission into graduate school: Does undergraduate “brand” matter?

June 5, 2014

In recent posts, we urged students to approach the college admission process with a “big picture” perspective and to consider long-term goals before “breaking the bank” on an expensive elite college, particularly if they had plans to pursue a profession that required graduate schooling.  We cited medicine, law, and even business, and asserted that employers in these fields focus primarily on candidates’ graduate degrees and experiences.  In response to this argument, we received dozens of inquiries requesting that we elaborate upon the relationship between undergraduate and graduate education.  “Don’t graduate schools prefer students from elite colleges?” one respondent asked.  We received several other emails—even one from a Harvard Law grad—noting the many individuals who possessed elite degrees at both the undergraduate and graduate level.

MITWhile undergraduates from Princeton, Stanford and other prestigious colleges are indeed overrepresented at the nation’s best graduate schools, their presence is not the result of the name on their diploma, but instead due to their achievement and experiences as undergraduates.  For example, a Yale undergraduate earns admission into Columbia Law, not necessarily because she went to Yale, but because of what she did at Yale.  As one med school admissions officer said to us: “We accept a lot of Ivy League students because many come with excellent grades and MCAT scores, but we don’t favor them over equally qualified candidates coming from less prestigious schools.  We understand that people choose colleges for reasons other than prestige, and we know that capable students come from a wide variety of places.”  Translation: You do NOT need a brand-name diploma to earn admission at a brand-name graduate school.  But don’t take our word for it.  In the links below, you will find the undergraduate institutions represented at some of America’s most selective and prestigious graduate schools.

Undergraduate representation at Harvard Business School

Undergraduate representation at Harvard Law School

Undergraduate representation at Yale Law School

Undergraduate representation at Washington University Medical School


Our intent here is not to argue against attending a prestigious undergraduate institution.  In fact, we encourage nearly all of our high-achieving students to at least consider elite colleges, particularly if they prove affordable and especially because they offer academically stimulating environments and excellent preparation for graduate education.  Rather, our intent is to dispel myths surrounding the link between undergraduate and graduate admission.  If you have dreams of attending an elite graduate school but are unable to attend an elite college, DON’T WORRY!  There are plenty of other less selective colleges that offer a clear pathway to graduate and professional success.  Remember, where you attend college is not nearly as important as what you do while there.