The College Search

Cal Berkeley vs. USC Undergrad for Econ Grad School Aspirant?

Question: How much consideration do graduate schools give to the prestige of the undergraduate institution that an applicant attended? I am currently a high school senior deciding to attend either UC Berkeley or USC. I am aware that although UC Berkeley is ranked slightly higher and has a "better" name value, it is MUCH more prestigious and competitive than USC. Hence, I am wondering if it is worth the trouble to go through this academic challenge at UC Berkeley. I'm not saying that I won't be challenged at USC. I'm just saying that UC Berkeley academics are known to be more difficult. I want to major in economics, and I ultimately want to attend graduate school in four years, so is Berkeley the better choice for me?

For starters, you are making too much of the differences between Cal Berkeley and USC. Unless you're talking about the University of South Carolina (and I suspect that you're not) then the admission standards at the two colleges you cite are strikingly similar. I urge you to make your choice based on the campus that you feel is the best one for you now, and not that will serve as the most likely springboard to affirmative grad school verdicts down the road.

But let's pretend for a minute that these standards really are far apart, as you seem to believe. Even so, graduate schools like to admit a diverse swath of applicants, just as undergraduate colleges do. "The Dean" is often asked if private high schools are "better" than public ones, when it comes to Ivy and "elite" admission, and that always spurs a long diatribe that ends up sounding a lot like "it depends." Both paths will certainly get you where you want to go, so the "it depends" part pertains to what you're looking for along the way.

Similarly, graduate admission officials endeavor to select a variety of applicants and, in doing so, they draw from a range of undergraduate institutions. They are far more interested in the individual student's achievement and potential than they are in the name on his or her college sweatshirt. However, they do take into account the rigor and competition of the undergrad school, and they understand that B's at one college may be closer to A's at another.

In your case, however, I suggest that you try to decide where you can best see yourself for the next four years rather than attempting to view each option through the lenses of the grad-school admission committees. You have two excellent choices, and I wish you well as you make your final decision.