How Much Does the Prestige of Your Grad School Matter?

We make a living helping applicants get into the world’s most competitive business schools, law schools, and medical schools. As a result, it is fair to say that applicants’ desire to get into the world’s top graduate schools is what puts food on our plates at night. (And those plates carry all sorts of food; the Veritas Prep team includes devout vegans, die-hard carnivores, and everyone in between.) But today, we’re going to offer what at first glance may appear to be a stance that goes against our students’ ambitions, but it is definitely one that some applicants need to hear this week after getting getting rejected or waitlisted by the grad school of their dreams: the path your entire career and life will take is NOT determined by what grad school you attend!

Read it again, and make sure you take it to heart: the path your entire career and life will take are NOT determined by what grad school you attend!

Whoa, did I actually just write that? As I continue typing this, I can see the traffic to dropping as I finish this very sentence. Previously-loyal fans are deserting our Facebook page by the dozens, furious applicants are leaving one-star reviews on various review pages, and our Twitter feed is turning into a veritable social media ghost town. I think I just saw an ASCII-rendered tumbleweed roll by, and I’m pretty sure the ghost of an old-timey prospector is giving me the evil eye. Regardless of the hit the Veritas Prep reputation just took, it is absolutely something that needs to be said: while a top-tier MBA, JD, or MD from the program you have your heart set on can significantly improve your career prospects, it is not the only path to accomplishing your goals in life. How successful you will be in life still depends on you, the decisions you make, and the effort you put in, more than anything else that plays a role.

Where’s all this coming from? It was prompted by an excellent pair of questions from a very thoughtful applicant. He went into the test prep and application process with a very specific, realistic goal in mind for what he wants to do after business school, and he’s currently making plans to help achieve that goal (including applying to business school this coming year). He wants to go into investment banking and is carefully considering which schools will give him the most realistic shot at landing at a blue-chip firm such as Goldman Sachs or Morgan Stanley. He basically had two questions for me: “How hard will it be to get a blue-chip banking job at a ‘top-twenty-ish’ MBA program?” and “will a not-so-prestigious MBA hurt me my career prospects after my first post-MBA job?” While those were his specific questions, many grad school applicants find themselves thinking about very similar quandaries: “does the prestige of my grad school matter?”; “will the grad school I choose hurt my career down the road?”; and “does it really matter where I go to grad school?”

The first question is actually one that some applicants don’t ask as often as they should. Sadly, every year some students enter business school or law school under the assumption that there will always be plenty of job opportunities with a certain firm or within a specific industry, only to find out that recruiters from that company/industry don’t actually recruit much (or at all) from their school. So, the fact that he asked this question before he committed to a graduate school certainly shows an impressive level of forethought. In this applicant’s specific case, he’s considering a very good but lower-ranked school. The key factor for him is that this school is one that actually does send some grads to Wall Street every year. Despite slightly lower graduate school prestige, this business school is more likely to help him attain his goals.

The difference between the lower-ranked school he’s considering and a top-ten school is usually more in the number of jobs that those firms hand out on campus. For instance, Goldman Sachs may make dozens of offers at HBS, but that figure will be more like half a dozen at this particular school (which happens to be a much smaller program with many fewer enrolled students, too, so the ratio of jobs-per-student is better than it might appear at first glance). In his situation, he may have to hustle to get one of those few available jobs, but he seems so strong a candidate that we bet he will be able to pull it off if he opts to enroll there.

Now, for the second part of his question: assuming you go to a less prestigious graduate school and get your foot in the door at a high-caliber firm, then the rest is really up to you. That’s what many grad school applicants fail to consider: how you’ll do in your career over the long-term depends far more on how you perform and who you make connections with, rather than on what school name is on your resume. Of course, a “better” school gives you access to a “better” alumni network, which may always help in the future, but even that matters less than what experiences you gain and what accomplishments you can start to rack up in the first several years out of business school. The prestige of your graduate school may help open a door after graduation, but from there it’s up to you to choose the path your career will take – regardless of graduate school prestige.

In this way, the working world and the admissions world are not radically different: What undergraduate school you went to and what company you work for now certainly matter, but what’s even more important is what impact you’ve had on the company and the community around you. That’s a far better predictor of success in your career (and in life, for that matter!).
Before making your grad school enrollment decision based solely on how prestigious the schools to which you were admitted are, you may want to spend some time considering the answers to other questions that will affect your career after your degree:

Where do I want to this degree to take me?
Instead of focusing on the prestige of the school as a whole, consider what you’re hoping to do with your shiny new graduate degree. If you’re using grad school as a way to boost your career prospects at your current company, then the prestige of the school you attend matters less than if you wish to switch industries entirely.

Does my desired program have more prestige than the entire school?
Depending on what concentration you’re hoping to study in grad school, the prestige of the individual program may outrank the prestige of the school as a whole (for proof, compare MBA program overall rankings with specialty rankings; it’s certainly not a perfect correlation). If you have your heart set on studying and working in marketing, for instance, then targeting Northwestern may make more sense than targeting Harvard, even if the entirety of HBS is widely considered more prestigious than the entirety of Kellogg is.

How much does prestige matter in my chosen field, anyway?
If you’re applying to business, law, or medical school, then prestige is certainly a factor (though not the only one, as I hope I’ve made clear!). On the other hand, if you’re looking to attend grad school in a more academically-oriented field, such as many of the social and physical sciences, then prestige may be much less of an issue. For instance, if you’re really interested in cephalopods (and let’s be fair, octopuses are definitely cool), then targeting a school with a marine biology program that does research in that area makes more sense, even if the school as a whole is not your most prestigious option.

Does the program in question have ties to the company/industry I’d like to work for/in?
Going back to the previous applicant’s example, he found a less-prestigious program that still gave him inroads into his desired field. Do some research into career placement at the schools you’re considering; you may be surprised which ones have connections you didn’t expect.

Can I thrive at this graduate school, or am I just hoping to keep up?
Another important consideration is that just “getting in” to the prestigious school doesn’t mean that you’ll thrive there. While GPA in business or other graduate programs is much less important than it was in undergrad, you do need to keep up with the courseload, find opportunities to be a leader in organizations and on projects, stand out among applicants for jobs recruited on campus, etc. If you’re just scraping by at a truly elite school, that may not be as powerful for your job opportunities as having been a campus leader at a slightly less prestigious school might have been. Does grad school prestige matter? Yes, but your own “prestige” – level of involvement and leadership – often matters just as much or more, and sometimes that personal prestige can be harder to accomplish if you’re the smallest fish in the big pond of a prestigious school.

As you can see, there are many factors in considering which graduate schools to apply to and which one to attend. While prestige is certainly a factor for most applicants, it is not and should not be the factor. You have many important elements to consider, and you should take plenty of time to do so during the application and admissions process. If you do, you will be much more likely to make the smartest choice for your needs and goals, and in the long run, that will give you the greatest chance of achieving success during and long after grad school.

For more MBA admissions tips and resources, give us a call at (800) 925-7737 and speak with one of our admissions experts today. And, be sure to subscribe to this blog and follow us on Twitter!

Law School Grads in the Year 2012

People are buzzing about 2012 these days, given the Mayan prediction that the world would end at that time. There’s no doubt that “world ending” qualifies as something to keep an eye on, but one has to doubt the accuracy of Mayan predictions, given how things went with the conquistadors.

Either way, of greater concern here at Veritas Prep is what is going to happen to law school graduates in 2012. Last year’s clients (as well as thousands of other students) are in their first terms right now, soaking up Civil Procedure and walking across the hot coals that are the Socratic Method. They are also watching in terror as their 3L and 2L colleagues struggle to find jobs.

We all know that the job market is bleak for recent grads and students about to graduate … but what about the students just starting out? Will things rebound by 2012? What is the landscape going to look like?

For the most part, people seem to be fairly optimistic about job prospects further down the road. The general belief that the economy will recover has a positive impact on the legal industry, as the services that bolster financial instruments stand to benefit as those markets bounce back. Furthermore, there have been new areas of the law to emerge (such as energy and financial regulation) that will give rise to more available career paths.

Additionally, job prospects in “alternative” areas, such as public interest, government, and academia, seem to be holding pretty steady. For students who plan accordingly and take advantage of loan forgiveness programs, a career in public interest is a way to take advantage of a law degree without running into the risks of a down financial market.

That said, beyond the projections of offers and available positions, one also has to wonder about the culture of the future legal environment. We’ve previously opined on this blog that law firms would take full advantage of the downturn to stamp out a lot of the niceties that had emerged in the last decade via retention efforts. Some are more optimistic, but the frozen salaries, vanishing bonuses, and minimal mentorship programs might be here to stay. The balance of power has shifted from recent graduates back to firms and their partners, as even elite grads are just hoping to land a job. Three years ago, cream-of-the-crop prospects were able to shop around and put pressure on firms to create a more welcoming, forward-thinking environment.

2012 may well signal the end of the current panic-stricken job climate, but it will also likely give rise to a whole new reality. Even as firms build back out hiring and recruiting efforts, we may not see the same with programs aimed at retention. This is likely to mean even tougher conditions in an industry already known for long hours, high stress, and lack of work-life balance.

Focusing on Law School Job Prospects

Over the past nine months, there have been numerous indications that a job crisis was looming for law students. Firms were deferring start dates for new associates, cutting summer programs, and even introducing new apprenticeship models of initial employment. Veritas Prep has been actively following each development to the hiring landscape and has covered a variety of angles in great detail. For more information, please visit past entries regarding:

However, until the fall hiring season actually rolled around, there was no way to know for sure how all of these developments would impact current law students.

Well, now the fall season is here and, according to, it’s not looking good.

According to the Bloomberg article, the sting is being felt across the board, including at Harvard, which carries unique signifigance. HLS can be thought of as the castle on the hill when it comes to law school career prospects, so when the wolf is at the door of Harvard, you know the rest of the country has been overrun. According to Mark Weber, Harvard’s assistant dean for career services, second and third year students have experienced a decrease of up to 20% for initial interviews, and there seems to be a legitimate fear that “callbacks” are going to be even worse. That certainly seems to be the case at another elite program (especially with regard to career placement), as NYU is already calling the reduction of callbacks “significant.”

Again, if the truly elite programs are starting to panic, it does not bode well for every other law school beneath them in the pecking order. You can expect career service offices and students alike to start getting creative about the job search and you can absolutely expect admissions offices to start to think more about career prospects and plans than they ever have before. In fact, one of the things that has always made applying to law school so different from applying to business school is that JD programs have long been relatively unconcerned with career plans or prospects. However, it seems likely that we are entering a bold new world with regard to law schools admissions; one where career goals are of paramount importance. Plan accordingly.

For more information on law school admissions or for help incorporating career goals into the application, visit our website or call our offices at 1.800.925.7737. If you are interested in receiving an in-person consultation, contact us at law at to find out more about these seasonal events in your area.

Law School Admissions – News You Can Use

We’re trying a new format today, which is to include a series of noteworthy links from the world of law school admissions and the legal market. There have been a lot of interesting takes on two topics in particular: deferred law firm jobs and the new U.S. News & World Report rankings. We’ll offer up a few links in those areas, as well as a couple of this blog’s favorite law school topics, including faculty hiring.

Here are some of the hot topics in the law school community:

  • In the wake of the new law school rankings, U.S. News & World comes right out and addresses concerns and feedback, via Bob Morse’ “Morse Code” blog. The publication’s recent movement toward transparency and dialogue about the all-important rankings has given the list even more credibility.

  • Perhaps not surprisingly, one of the more extensive responses to the rankings came from The GW Hatchet, where the George Washington student paper tries to work through law school’s drop from 20 to 28 in the latest rankings. In particular, the article focuses on the disagreement between the school and the aforementioned Morse – the former claiming that the addition of part-time programs in the rankings is what dropped GW down the list, while the latter insists that “weak placement” data is responsible. Worth a read, if only to understand how seriously everyone takes this ranking business.
  • Third-tier program New York Law School rates well behind fellow Manhattan schools such as NYU, Columbia, and Fordham, but its new building appears to be second to none. (Note also the swanky location. You could do worse.)
  • The Wall Street Journal is the latest entity to run a story on the increase in job deferments for new law firm associates. You can follow our analysis of this trend here and here.
  • The Kansas City Star also focused on the difficult legal job market, and extended the analysis to include a reduction in federal clerkship positions.
  • The Chicago Tribune ran a story speculating that President Obama’s pick to replace Justice Souter on the Supreme Court is likely to have significant ties to the University of Chicago Law School.
  • Legal writer and attorney Ursula Furi-Perry has published Law School Revealed and this article provides a solid checklist for analyzing which schools might be a good fit.
  • Stanford shook off a discouraging drop to #3 in the rankings and the loss of constitutional law scholar Lawrence Lessig to Harvard by hiring 10th Circuit Judge Michael McConnell to direct the Stanford Constitutional Law Center.
  • Stanford can also take solace in the fact that its Law School is at the top of the heap in the TaxProf Blog’s ranking of employment success. The ABA’s blog reports that Stanford rates first (followed by Duke, NYC, UCLA, and Penn) in a study based on U.S. News & World employment statistics and conducted by respected law professor Paul Caron, of the University of Cincinnati.

For more on the law school admissions process, be sure to follow us on Twitter.

A New Trend to Watch for Law School Grads

Everything seems to be changing these days at America’s top law schools, but one trend I never thought we’d see would be a sudden influx of practicing attorneys applying for federal clerkships. According to an article in the Philadelphia Business Journal, the percentage of alumni applicants is climbing rapidly from past years.

Temple has seen alumni make up 28 percent of its clerkship applications (up from 13 percent last year) and Penn claims that “35 to 40 percent” of its clerkship applicants are alumni.

Granted, the article focuses on Philadelphia area law schools, but the trend seems to expand beyond the region.

So what are the takeaways?

For starters, it confirms what I’ve been hearing from peers, which is that clerkships can be a grueling job. Once seen as both a more prestigious and less taxing entry into the legal world, it seems safe to say that only the “prestigious” part remains in play. The level of difficulty embedded in a clerkship is, of course, determined by the judge in question, but there certainly seems to be a pattern forming that includes difficult work and insane hours. A friend of mine clerked with the Ninth Circuit last year and his workload put my “big firm” hours to shame (and make no mistake, I worked a lot). The fact that judges are looking for more experienced attorneys to act as clerks seems to indicate that the workload is getting more difficult and more intense.

The other key takeaway here is that it will impact the career paths of today’s law school applicants. Many elite candidates select programs based on the chances of landing prestigious federal clerkships. Some will settle for nothing short of a prominent Appellate Circuit clerkship with the hopes that it will launch them to a gig with the Supreme Court.

But if more and more of those spots are going to more experienced alums, it puts greater pressure on all parties. Applicants – particularly those with no intentions of practicing, but rather riding a clerkship into academia – will have to chose their law schools very carefully and monitor this trend to see which programs are protecting current students by suppressing the influx of alums.

Yet another factor to consider in the very difficult decision of where to study law.