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Rejecting top tier to go to a less competitive place.

Posted: Tue Mar 05, 2013 2:13 pm
by Legendre
Scenario: Got admitted to a top tier school (e.g. Harvard). Reject the top tier to go to a "lower tier school" that is still very good. E.g. Northwestern or Carnegie Mellon.

Assumption: Both schools have a solid department in the applicant's research area.

Is it ever wise to do this because the top tier school might be "too competitive"? I know an applicant who did this because he doesn't want too much pressure in a competitive environment like a top 10 program.

I might end up in a similar situation too. Having to choose to go to a very good school with nice people and is a nice place to live but not so well regarded, VS going for one of my top/dream choice but not so nice place to live and is likely to be crazy competitive.

Re: Rejecting top tier to go to a less competitive place.

Posted: Tue Mar 05, 2013 2:16 pm
by dollar

Re: Rejecting top tier to go to a less competitive place.

Posted: Tue Mar 05, 2013 8:46 pm
by JonMLTR
This is a hard question to answer. From the way you wrote it I believe you don't actually mean Harvard vs CMU right ?

First of all I believe the schools are not that far away from each other. I happen to have 2 friends (one in mathematics and one in physics) who were in a similar situation.

One declined MIT and went to UBC (but this was because there was a Professor who was leading the field, so it is not because of competetion), I haven't seen him regretting this decision.
The other one got admitted from Cornell physics but decided to go to another country to pursue PhD degree. It is interesting because he also did not regret his decision and was quite happy.

Since you have not given the true names for the Universities this is all I can say.

Congrats on the great admits , hope you make the right decision for yourself.


Legendre wrote:Scenario: Got admitted to a top tier school (e.g. Harvard). Reject the top tier to go to a "lower tier school" that is still very good. E.g. Northwestern or Carnegie Mellon.

Assumption: Both schools have a solid department in the applicant's research area.

Is it ever wise to do this because the top tier school might be "too competitive"? I know an applicant who did this because he doesn't want too much pressure in a competitive environment like a top 10 program.

I might end up in a similar situation too. Having to choose to go to a very good school with nice people and is a nice place to live but not so well regarded, VS going for one of my top/dream choice but not so nice place to live and is likely to be crazy competitive.

Re: Rejecting top tier to go to a less competitive place.

Posted: Tue Mar 05, 2013 10:22 pm
by ApplMathProfile
Edited.

Re: Rejecting top tier to go to a less competitive place.

Posted: Wed Mar 06, 2013 12:59 am
by rmg512
Regarding the competitiveness climate of top tier programs: I think you can solve that problem by making friends with all your classmates early on. A Ph.D. program doesn't need to be dog-eat-dog competitive, and only the overly cocky assholes might want that. I think everyone realizes that everyone's best off if they all work together and learn from each other and create a sense of community among themselves; proactively make that happen, and your problem's gone, I think. :)

Go with the top tier program; it's a way better move for your career.

Re: Rejecting top tier to go to a less competitive place.

Posted: Wed Mar 06, 2013 2:29 pm
by Legendre
JonMLTR wrote:This is a hard question to answer. From the way you wrote it I believe you don't actually mean Harvard vs CMU right ?

Since you have not given the true names for the Universities this is all I can say.


I haven't heard from Duke yet. But I got a Dartmouth admit.

Although Duke "ranks" higher for mathematics, I like Dartmouth for non-math/ranking reasons (environment, stipend, town etc). When the time comes to make a decision, I was wondering if I should go to a place with a much better ranking (Duke #24 US News) vs a place I have a nice feeling about (Dartmouth #51 US News).

Best case scenario: reject from everything else. No need to choose! :lol:

Re: Rejecting top tier to go to a less competitive place.

Posted: Wed Mar 06, 2013 6:00 pm
by AcidThinking
Well, the issue is quite complex.

Mainly people forget about a very important fact: The advisor with whom you work matters more than the graduate program you go to.

Now of course the latter is important: going to a top place means being with outstanding graduate students which forces the level of difficulty to rise, and thus giving you a pretty tough training. That's totally true. But that doesn't mean that going to a top 40 US university in math isn't going to be challenging. Well it is going to be less challenging, but still extremely challenging. I have a peer who went to the University of Washington. She is barely having any sleep. The study load is extreme and the qualifying examinations there are very hard. Don't be very dogmatic about going to a top 10 place. Any University which is top 40 in math is going to be quite stressful.

In as much as your future research work is concerned, the interaction you're going to get with the advisor matters a lot more. Even in terms of finding a good job, who your PHD thesis advisor is will matter more.

That being said, even in not so well ranked (in the 70s or 80s) places contain good mathematicians to work with. However the difference here is that in top places almost every mathematician is a very good one which isn't the case in less well ranked places. But be aware, that doesn't mean you're safe if you go to a top place: first there may not be a person in your prefered field there, second you may not be able to work with the person of your choice if there is a lot of competition on working with that advisor. However if you are very good, then it is almost guaranteed that you will be able to work with the person of your choice in a not so well ranked place (in the 70s or 80s), that's of course if there happens to be a good mathematician there who is the field that you like. If you're better than your peers then almost surely the person will accept to be your advisor.

Also because professors in top universities are usually very busy with their research, they may not have a lot of time for you.

Now of course, don't go to a just decent place because there the students will be quite weak for you. However it is a very good choice to go to a university that is top 40.