How important is university prestige? Watch

Poll: How Important is University Prestige?
It decides your future (13)
11.3%
It strongly influences your future (42)
36.52%
It weakly influences your future (48)
41.74%
It does not mean a thing (12)
10.43%
username1862217
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#1
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For the sake of this argument, I'm going to say that Oxbridge and the other Russell group universities have the highest prestige in the UK. This is of course a generalisation, but stick with me.

A few years ago when I was selecting which university to attend, I was in a very strong academic position. Amongst the top in my A-Levels, pretty much the best in my school, and I did loads of extra curriculum activities. It goes without saying that I had the potential to get into Oxbridge (although whether or not I would have actually got in is another question).

Now I feel this next part is going to make many here cringe...
I didn't even consider Oxbridge as a potential university.

Why?
Because their courses didn't look as interesting as some from other universities.

In fact, out of my five UCAS choices, only one was a Russell group university, but I did not pick it for that reason). I got offers from all five. I turned down the Russell group uni in favour of a university that was actually quite far down in the league tables at the time.

By this stage I bet many of you are thinking this is another one of those troll posts. But I assure you it's not.

Why did I do this?
Simply because I just wanted a course that developed me as a person, gave me all the skills I wanted, secured me a job, and was in a great location. I don't give a damn about prestige.

I am utterly insane. Sure. Whatever.

Story time!
******************************** **************************
I'm in my final year now. Earlier this year I was applying for doctorate positions (PhD, EngD). I'm studying physics with a side of engineering and want to move into the space industry eventually. I saw the Open Uni was offering a PhD on their Rosetta mission, which is like a huge thing to me. I dream of being part of that team.

I applied for the position. Went there for my interviews - there were several throughout the day - and somehow was offered the place. I find it hard to estimate the competition for this place as the OU had a weird way of dividing up their scholarships, but I believe it was somewhere in the region of 5-15 people per place. One of the girls I met while on this day trip at the OU was a Cambridge graduate with some sparkling grades and she was really confident in talking to the professors and making herself stand out.

Somehow I was picked over her. Someone from a non-Russell group uni, with pretty average grades for a genius, being picked ahead of a Cambridge graduate with a perfect academic profile. Huh.

Anyway, I had applied for another position while this one was ongoing. Another doctorate in another location that looked interesting. This one had what I would call an open application system - they interviewed candidates as they applied. The OU position waited for all applications to be in before they interviewed everyone. For the sake of preventing personal identification, this second position will be kept a secret.

I was told when I went for this second position's interview that no candidate had so far made it past the first interview stage. They said they were looking for a high-calibre applicant to maintain the strong reputation of the university. Well. That's me counted out I thought.

Now, this position had been up for about 4 months, and I questioned them around the topic of applicants a bit to see what I could learn. From what I could gather they were averaging about one applicant per week for this position. So that means there could have been about 15 applicants before me who were all turned down.

Long story short, I didn't think I would get this place knowing those statistics. But after a grueling hour-long interview they told me the next day that I had passed. I was called back for a second interview, passed it, and then a third interview, with different people each time, and passed that one to finally be offered the position.

I saw a lot of potential in this new position, and selected it over the Rosetta mission for the sake of skill development. Both looked to be enjoyable projects.
******************************** **************************

Now I put this forward to you: if university prestige matters then why was I offered these positions - one of which being my dream job? Why did so many, including a Cambridge graduate, fail against someone from a mediocre uni?
I am honestly nothing special. Even after a lot of thought I don't know what these professors saw in me to make them want to take me on.

Other people at my uni have had similar experiences. All getting either their top choice or one of their higher choices. Some of them have had similar experiences to me with being selected over Cambridge or Yale graduates.

Why are people so hyped about getting into Oxbridge or a Russell group university?

Why do people not see that these universities don't guarantee you a good career? From my point of view they don't even give a noticeable advantage over most other unis. This isn't the 1970s anymore.

University prestige apparently means to employers examining your skills. I don't think they really give a **** about which institute you developed those skills in, so long as you have them developed to a higher degree than other applicants.
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Okorange
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#2
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#2
No matter what though, the girl who came from Cambridge certainly was not hurt by attending Cambridge. I say it weakly influences your future though.
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James E Walker
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#3
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#3
Good luck getting into Investment Banking from Nottingham trent
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gulbenkian02
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#4
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#4
It depends what you want to do, for things like Law it will have a bigger impact on your future with regards to getting vac schemes, training contracts etc (unless you have contacts, in that case, uni doesn't matter). But other than that I don't think it really makes much difference.

There are certain Russell Group unis that aren't even particularly great and people just think they're good because they're RG unis. There are plenty of non RG unis that are better than some RG ones, so it really doesn't matter.

I personally would rather be at a uni I'm happy at, doing a course I enjoy instead of at a Uni I hate just because it's got a good reputation and is classed as prestigious.
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Kash24411
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#5
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#5
For certain careers it matters.

For most, it does not.
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username1331498
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#6
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#6
Certain employers are heavily in favour of employing graduates from Russell Group universities, Law is a good example of this.

Of course attending a Russell Group University does not guarantee a successful life, but I would much rather go to a university where I am more likely to obtain a great job at graduation, than a mediocre university that has 'developed me as a person'.
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r-t
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#7
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#7
Well obviously the course is more important than the prestige of the uni but some people (including me) see it as well you have to pay 9k regardless of what uni you go to and spend 3/4 years of your life dedicated to it so it may aswell be a good uni. Graduate jobs are hard enough to obtain so you'll be doing a favour for yourself if you went to a better uni.


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Octohedral
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#8
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#8
Having not yet gone through the graduate process, (and having mediocre university grades anyway), I can't say whether you are right or wrong.

I read your entire analysis with interest. However, I would strongly caution against drawing any conclusion from personal experience. Anyone can pull out 10 anecdotes supporting any argument. That doesn't mean it's not true, but it doesn't mean it is, either.

It also depends on the area. Engineering is very well known for favouring skill over academics, and the Oxbridge engineering departments are notoriously theoretical. However, Law is famous for being strongly biased towards Oxbridge graduates, and my friends' experiences back that up.

Congratulations (genuinely) on getting your dream job. I think the most important thing for anyone to remember is that their life is their own, and after the age of 16 they and they alone are responsible for the direction it takes (we can't eliminate bad luck, but we can maximise our chances of getting the opportunities when the do come along). Your university is only a background for this.

"Most people never use their initiative, because nobody ever told them to" - Banksy
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RuneScaper
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#9
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#9
I agree. I have never felt my degree in media studies has never held me back. Especially since I went to Bolton. It has one of the best media studies departments in the UK.
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Crystalclearmagic
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#10
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#10
(Original post by Keyhofi)

Simply because I just wanted a course that developed me as a person, gave me all the skills I wanted, secured me a job, and was in a great location. I don't give a damn about prestige.

......


Why do people not see that these universities don't guarantee you a good career? From my point of view they don't even give a noticeable advantage over most other unis. This isn't the 1970s anymore.

University prestige apparently means to employers examining your skills. I don't think they really give a **** about which institute you developed those skills in, so long as you have them developed to a higher degree than other applicants.
Firstly, no university degree automatically "secures you a job" so I want to disagree on your point there. It might enhance your prospects of getting the job especially if the requirements say they want you to have an undergraduate degree of some sort but I can't see how any university "secures" the job for you? Though I have to agree that going to a RG uni or Oxbridge does not necessarily mean a good career - as I have underlined above. But no university means an automatic career, let alone a "good career". University isn't everything, yes some employers only look at those from RG / Oxbridge but this is for things like graduate jobs where most people come out and have no experience so this 'piece of paper' from 'some institution' is all they can go by. Later in life, other things begin to matter more. It's just like those people who didn't do well in their GCSEs, in comparison, but still get into what many consider as 'top universities' because their AS levels etc is good.

Secondly, I'm really happy for you that you went to a university where you knew you'd enjoy yourself and you would love the course. It's 3 or 4 or more years of your life. So well done for not picking institutions for their league table number. They don't mean everything at the end of the day - which you rightly point out.

Now as to why you got chosen over other candidates from 'more prestigious' universities? As I said, this 'piece of paper' isn't everything. There's also experience, how you write and how you present yourself. Moreover, you want to employ someone who you see potential in and someone who you know you'll get on with. Sometimes over-confidence comes across as being too proud and incompatible - if you know what I mean. Therefore, Cambridge in this case isn't everything for them.

And no, there is no massive advantage as to which uni you went (or go) to. However, in a competitive environment, it doesn't hurt to have better qualifications on your CV. Those 'rejects' from Oxbridge are equally as capable as those that get offers and go there but there's nothing to say that those who went to Oxbridge get the job over those who didn't go. Furthermore, as the RG expands the prestige is becoming more questionable. Like universities like Durham were never questioned before they entered the RG; Leicester still isn't a RG! League tables, prestige... it's all the hype really. It's similar to going to 'prestigious' secondary schools or sixth forms or colleges to enhance your prospects of going to 'better universities'. Likewise, there are those from places you've never even heard of that get into the top institutions.
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Chief Wiggum
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#11
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#11
It matters in certain careers for competitive jobs. I voted for it having a weak influence.
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Broscientist
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#12
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I voted weak influence. I think it matters in some jobs, but overall, people tend to put way too much emphasis on university prestige.
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poohat
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#13
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Not reading your post, but it can matter for the most prestigious jobs and PhD positions. For PhDs and postgrad, if you go to a less prestigious university then you basically have to do at least one grade better, e.g. a first from Manchester/etc is roughly comparable to a 2:1 at Oxford, 80% from Manchester is comparable to a first from Cambridge, etc. That is a very, very crude conversion and obviously it doesn't work out exactly like that in practice, but I would say its broadly true. Also this doesn't mean that not going to Oxbridge is necessarily a disadvantage, since (in theory) if you go somewhere easier then you should get a better degree mark, holding ability constant.

For non-academic jobs the conversion is more nebulous - some fields aren't hugely elitist (e.g. engineering) but there are some jobs that won't even look at if you aren't from a top 2 or top 5 (e.g. banking). One important thing to consider is that being from Oxbridge specifically (rather than other top places like LSE/Imperial/UCL) gives you a stronger alumni network which is really important if you want to go into an area that is mainly about networking, e.g. media. Also you have access to additional jobs through your college (e.g. private equity and MBB are basically impossible for non-Oxbridge, at least straight out of undergrad. These places sometimes target specific Oxbridge colleges and recruit from those alone ). But if you aren't interested in those sort of jobs and just want a generic grad scheme position, then it matters less.

Finally if you want to work abroad than very few people know any UK universities except Oxbridge. People may have heard of LSE and you will get the (very) rare person that knows Imperial/UCL/Kings/Edinburgh/St Andrews, but you can basically forget about the rest. Oxbridge are the only two where you can go to pretty much any country in the world and be guaranteed that anyone you talk to knows what they are
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The_Lonely_Goatherd
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#14
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#14
(Original post by Kash24411)
For certain careers it matters.

For most, it does not.
This.

(Original post by Octohedral)
Having not yet gone through the graduate process, (and having mediocre university grades anyway), I can't say whether you are right or wrong.

I read your entire analysis with interest. However, I would strongly caution against drawing any conclusion from personal experience. Anyone can pull out 10 anecdotes supporting any argument. That doesn't mean it's not true, but it doesn't mean it is, either.

It also depends on the area. Engineering is very well known for favouring skill over academics, and the Oxbridge engineering departments are notoriously theoretical. However, Law is famous for being strongly biased towards Oxbridge graduates, and my friends' experiences back that up.

Congratulations (genuinely) on getting your dream job. I think the most important thing for anyone to remember is that their life is their own, and after the age of 16 they and they alone are responsible for the direction it takes (we can't eliminate bad luck, but we can maximise our chances of getting the opportunities when the do come along). Your university is only a background for this.

"Most people never use their initiative, because nobody ever told them to" - Banksy
Repped :yep:
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vela1
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#15
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This is bol**ks. Kudos to you for making it but prestige matters more than you think. Sure, its not the be all and end all but it does matter. My point is, you'll find a higher proportion of students going into the top firms from the elite universities. Excluding law and IB where they have their target universities, something like engineering, if you're telling me that a degree from Leicester and a degree from Imperial are weighted the same, then you're just deluded.
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realcloud
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(Original post by James E Walker)
Good luck getting into Investment Banking from Nottingham trent
But you can get into investment banking from Nottingham Trent... awkward


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vela1
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(Original post by realcloud)
But you can get into investment banking from Nottingham Trent... awkward


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Its possible, but rather difficult.
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1drowssap
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#18
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(Original post by vela1)
This is bol**ks. Kudos to you for making it but prestige matters more than you think. Sure, its not the be all and end all but it does matter. My point is, you'll find a higher proportion of students going into the top firms from the elite universities. Excluding law and IB where they have their target universities, something like engineering, if you're telling me that a degree from Leicester and a degree from Imperial are weighted the same, then you're just deluded.
I think as long as you go to a decent uni, it doesn't really matter for most cases. It also dependent on the type of job. If it was an ultra competitive, then unis matter a lot more. That is why IB needs to have a target list. The competition(from what I've heard) is ridiculous. The target list is used to save time and money, so that they do not need to look through thousands of applications.

But for normal jobs, uni prestige isn't really a determining factor(although it plays a minute role).
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Sanctimonious
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#19
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It doesn't matter. Two of the men from the local area went to Cambridge as they were private schooled. The one of them has no social skills whatsoever after getting a good degree from Cambridge in Maths and he lives at home and works in Burger King. He was the most arrogant person ever always telling me how his life was going to be great and now this guy flips burgers for people like me to buy in my lunch break because I'm busy. Its hilarious.

Now he is far more humble and actually a decent person as he's been brought back down to earth. The other one works as a photographer and makes rubbish money. He has better social skills than the other guy but still is extremely awkward to be around. Both of these people would struggle in a seriously high pressured work place as the pressure of interacting with others would break them.

The reality is unless you know how to use your degree and make it work for you it is absolutely worthless. Same with your appearance and everything else. You come as a package and most employees want the big picture. I understand some don't but these high flying firms in the legal sector can get socially and academically gifted people who are a rarity and they can afford to be that picky. These are a small percentile of those who go to the top universities.

To be honest, I couldn't give a hoot where your degree is from or even if you've got one. I want people who are good at their job, are confident and can make me money.
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gulbenkian02
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#20
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(Original post by Sanctimonious)
It doesn't matter. Two of the men from the local area went to Cambridge as they were private schooled. The one of them has no social skills whatsoever after getting a good degree from Cambridge in Maths and he lives at home and works in Burger King. He was the most arrogant person ever always telling me how his life was going to be great and now this guy flips burgers for people like me to buy in my lunch break because I'm busy. Its hilarious.

Now he is far more humble and actually a decent person as he's been brought back down to earth. The other one works as a photographer and makes rubbish money. He has better social skills than the other guy but still is extremely awkward to be around. Both of these people would struggle in a seriously high pressured work place as the pressure of interacting with others would break them.

The reality is unless you know how to use your degree and make it work for you it is absolutely worthless. Same with your appearance and everything else. You come as a package and most employees want the big picture. I understand some don't but these high flying firms in the legal sector can get socially and academically gifted people who are a rarity and they can afford to be that picky. These are a small percentile of those who go to the top universities.

To be honest, I couldn't give a hoot where your degree is from or even if you've got one. I want people who are good at their job, are confident and can make me money.
This is so true. I repped before I even finished it after hearing the Cambridge guy works in Burger King haha.

My dad has a History degree from an Ivy League school in America, he currently is unemployed and has been leaching off all of his wives (including my mum). My mum on the other hand, a single parent, earns mega bucks working in a Law firm in Central London w/ no degree.

I've said this a countless number of times, it's not the degree you do or the university you go to, it's what you do with the skills and knowledge you've gained.
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