Is it always better to go to the higher ranked school?

Forum for the GRE subject test in mathematics.
bobbydd21
Posts: 20
Joined: Wed Sep 24, 2014 11:30 pm

Is it always better to go to the higher ranked school?

Postby bobbydd21 » Sun Mar 29, 2015 5:29 pm

I'm having a hard time trying to decide which Applied Math PhD Program to attend. Is it typically just best to go to the better ranked school? In other words, if there are cons to the better ranked school, should you kind of just suck it up because you will end up with a better job (hopefully in academia) in the future?

Exact same amount of funding for both (TAship)
Choice #1: Stony Brook Rank #25 for Math
Pros: Better ranked school, faculty are top tier (many ivy-league PhDs)
Cons: Location (Long Island) - more expensive to live, building is pretty old, just didn't feel at home on the campus, intimidating (very large number of grad students)

Choice #2: UCONN Rank #87 for Math
Pros: Funding guaranteed for 5 years, Location - Cheaper to live/closer to home, smaller and more close knit-department, although professors aren't necessarily ivy league they are doing research in what I want to do, less intimidating faculty, felt more at home
Cons: Lower ranked school, might have to TA longer, not a dedicated Applied Math Department (its within the math department)

I think its important to note that I do want to get a job as a professor for my career, but I do not have my heart set on teaching at a huge research university.
Last edited by bobbydd21 on Sun Mar 29, 2015 5:53 pm, edited 3 times in total.

MathCat
Posts: 150
Joined: Thu Oct 23, 2014 12:17 am

Re: Is it always better to go to the higher ranked school?

Postby MathCat » Sun Mar 29, 2015 5:36 pm

bobbydd21 wrote:I having a hard time trying to decide which Applied Math PhD Program to attend. Is it typically just best to go to the better ranked school? In other words, if there are cons to the better ranked school, should you kind of just suck it up because you will end up with a better job (hopefully in academia) in the future?

Exact same amount of funding for both (TAship)
Choice #1: Stony Brook Rank #25 for Math
Pros: Better ranked school, faculty are top tier (many ivy-league PhDs)
Cons: Location (Long Island) - more expensive to live, building is pretty old, just didn't feel at home on the campus, intimidating (very large number of grad students)

Choice #2: UCONN Rank #87 for Math
Pros: Funding guaranteed for 5 years, Location - Cheaper to live/closer to home, smaller and more close knit-department, although professors aren't necessarily ivy league they are doing research in what I want to do, less intimidating faculty, felt more at home
Cons: Lower ranked school, might have to TA longer, not a dedicated Applied Math Department (its within the math department)



In general, the answer to the question in the title is no - if you are going to be miserable at the higher ranking school, it's not worth it. Also, for school close together in rankings, there's no clear distinction between which is better, and in that case I don't think ranking should be the deciding factor.

But, in your situation, there is a huge difference between #25 and #87. Do you know if the ranking of UConn reflects the strength of the applied math program? I know next to nothing about where is good in applied. If this reflects the strength of the applied math programs, Stony Brook looks much better for academic career prospects. I'm not actually familiar with either school though, so maybe others will be able to say more.

bobbydd21
Posts: 20
Joined: Wed Sep 24, 2014 11:30 pm

Re: Is it always better to go to the higher ranked school?

Postby bobbydd21 » Sun Mar 29, 2015 5:48 pm

That makes sense. I figured there is quite a big difference between those ranks. I am not aware if UCONNs ranking represents the applied math portion of the department, as they are not ranked in applied math since it just falls under the math department. I was using USNews rankings for both of those, and they do not rank either school in applied math. Most of Stony Brook's applied math faculty are from Ivy League schools so I am assuming they rank around the same for applied.

rsk
Posts: 28
Joined: Sun Sep 14, 2014 6:07 pm

Re: Is it always better to go to the higher ranked school?

Postby rsk » Tue Mar 31, 2015 8:30 am

If you haven't already, it might not be a bad idea to see if you can find out where UCONN math PhDs are ending up. Here's a link to their PhD alumni page: http://www.math.uconn.edu/degree-progra ... hd-alumni/. You can use the dissertation titles to figure out which of them were doing applied math research. I'd try googling their names to see if you can figure out where they ended up. Ideally the ones who graduated within the past 3-4 years are doing post-docs somewhere, and the ones who graduated longer ago than that have faculty positions at places you want to work. If you find that almost nobody is ending up in academia, that could raise a red flag that they didn't place very well (though it could mean they'd rather go into industry, but that tells you something too).

Also, from my (limited) understanding, Stony Brook's applied math has a heavy bent toward finance (hell, who wouldn't being in New York). Knowing that, I'd imagine they're placing a lot (perhaps most) of their alumni in the finance industry. Also, their applied math department is separate from the pure math department, so their rankings are separated. The ranking you have is Stony Brook's pure math department. On their website, they claim they're the 7th ranked applied math department in the country (not sure what rankings they used).

On the other hand, if you're really that comfortable with UCONN and that uncomfortable with Stony Brook, that may be what really matters. If you ignore ranking for a second and think about likelihood of doing well in the program, you'll be more inclined to excel at a place you feel comfortable at. Being miserable for 5 years can take a heavy toll on you, which will no doubt be reflected in your research, and your research is arguably the number one determinant as to whether you can land a solid post doc, and later an academic position. And worst case scenario, being miserable can lead you down the road of hating graduate school and possibly dropping out all together. Say what you will about rankings, but there's a lot to be said about fit.

hoghwou4
Posts: 1
Joined: Tue Mar 31, 2015 6:21 pm

Re: Is it always better to go to the higher ranked school?

Postby hoghwou4 » Tue Mar 31, 2015 6:31 pm

I had a similar dilemma a few years ago and here is what I have to say: once you really get into the math, you won't really care much where you end up. If worst comes to worst, it's easier to transfer to UConn than the other way round (in general, I think it's easier to transfer from a higher-ranked to a lower-ranked school, than the other way round).

I eventually picked the higher ranked place, and am happy that I did. You want to go to a place where there is activity, where lots of mathematicians visit from all over the place, etc. I think Stony Brook has a lot going for it, and just being part of this environment would be good for your development.

So I think it's not a difficult decision, but good luck with whatever you end up doing.

bobbydd21
Posts: 20
Joined: Wed Sep 24, 2014 11:30 pm

Re: Is it always better to go to the higher ranked school?

Postby bobbydd21 » Tue Mar 31, 2015 7:00 pm

rsk wrote:If you haven't already, it might not be a bad idea to see if you can find out where UCONN math PhDs are ending up. Here's a link to their PhD alumni page: http://www.math.uconn.edu/degree-progra ... hd-alumni/. You can use the dissertation titles to figure out which of them were doing applied math research. I'd try googling their names to see if you can figure out where they ended up. Ideally the ones who graduated within the past 3-4 years are doing post-docs somewhere, and the ones who graduated longer ago than that have faculty positions at places you want to work. If you find that almost nobody is ending up in academia, that could raise a red flag that they didn't place very well (though it could mean they'd rather go into industry, but that tells you something too).

Also, from my (limited) understanding, Stony Brook's applied math has a heavy bent toward finance (hell, who wouldn't being in New York). Knowing that, I'd imagine they're placing a lot (perhaps most) of their alumni in the finance industry. Also, their applied math department is separate from the pure math department, so their rankings are separated. The ranking you have is Stony Brook's pure math department. On their website, they claim they're the 7th ranked applied math department in the country (not sure what rankings they used).

On the other hand, if you're really that comfortable with UCONN and that uncomfortable with Stony Brook, that may be what really matters. If you ignore ranking for a second and think about likelihood of doing well in the program, you'll be more inclined to excel at a place you feel comfortable at. Being miserable for 5 years can take a heavy toll on you, which will no doubt be reflected in your research, and your research is arguably the number one determinant as to whether you can land a solid post doc, and later an academic position. And worst case scenario, being miserable can lead you down the road of hating graduate school and possibly dropping out all together. Say what you will about rankings, but there's a lot to be said about fit.


I did realize that the ranking I used was for pure math. They are not ranked on USNews so I assumed the two rankings were similar. It does seem they are strong in finance, and the reasoning you said behind it makes a lot of sense.

I am beginning to lean towards UCONN. For me, rank and faculty are really the only pros towards Stony Brook right now. I definitely would feel more comfortable at UCONN right now, but I am sure I would eventually get used to Stony Brook as well. I guess I have to decide if going to the better ranked school is worth it in the long run and where I will thrive more.

I also came to the important conclusion that I LOVE teaching, and therefore my future goal is to work at a university that is more teaching based anyways (probably not a R1 university). I realize that either school would allow me to pursue this aspiration, although Stony Brook's prestige might give me an edge.

p-adic
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Re: Is it always better to go to the higher ranked school?

Postby p-adic » Tue Mar 31, 2015 7:53 pm

What do you mean by comfortable? Meaning you won't be depressed, or meaning UConn is your undergrad institution? While you want to avoid the former, most people claim it's better not to go to your home school for grad school because you'll be too comfortable. If you want my opinion (which you may not), it sounds to me like you want to go to UConn despite the fact that it's a worse school and are asking people here for permission to make such a decision (why would you apply to Stony Brook if you didn't think you'd want to go there anyway?).

You can still teach at schools with less focus on research after going to Stony Brook. It's not like you'll be going to Harvard or Berkeley. You're likely to end up at lower ranked schools where teaching is more important. Keep in mind that being a TA for a few years can turn some people off of teaching, too. In that case, having a degree from UConn might limit you to jobs in the area, while Stony Brook's name might get you some interviews in a larger radius.

rsk
Posts: 28
Joined: Sun Sep 14, 2014 6:07 pm

Re: Is it always better to go to the higher ranked school?

Postby rsk » Wed Apr 01, 2015 12:35 pm

bobbydd21 wrote:I did realize that the ranking I used was for pure math. They are not ranked on USNews so I assumed the two rankings were similar. It does seem they are strong in finance, and the reasoning you said behind it makes a lot of sense.

I am beginning to lean towards UCONN. For me, rank and faculty are really the only pros towards Stony Brook right now. I definitely would feel more comfortable at UCONN right now, but I am sure I would eventually get used to Stony Brook as well. I guess I have to decide if going to the better ranked school is worth it in the long run and where I will thrive more.

I also came to the important conclusion that I LOVE teaching, and therefore my future goal is to work at a university that is more teaching based anyways (probably not a R1 university). I realize that either school would allow me to pursue this aspiration, although Stony Brook's prestige might give me an edge.


I actually spoke to one of my professors about the whole teaching college thing because I'm thinking about that as well. He said, for teaching colleges, the most important factor is to go to a university in the state/area you want to work in. Most of those small colleges look suspectly at people applying from outside the area because they assume those people won't take the job if offered, so they don't waste their time trying to hire them. Plus going to grad school in the area you want to one day work gives you connections in the area, which of course is invaluable. Obviously, this doesn't hold for big research universities, but it's pretty accurate for small liberal arts colleges and places like that.

Also, he gave me another interesting tidbit. If you're interested in applied math type things and don't want to rule out a research career, consider statistics. He showed me some data on that field. Evidently, because most people with statistics PhDs go into industry to make a lot more money, it's a lot easier to get a faculty position in either a statistics or math sciences department (even statistics PhDs from schools ranked 100+ are getting research faculty positions). Plus, salaries for statistics faculty hires are rising fast in an attempt to compete with rising industry salaries (the big data boom), so you'd likely start out a good 10k/yr higher than a regular math hire would. Just something to keep in the back of your head.




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