Is a High-ranked School Always the Best Choice?

By Kareem Carr

For those who are not quite in graduate school yet or for those who are thinking about a switch, there is an interesting question being discussed on the mathematics stack exchange:

I’m a senior undergrad at a top-ish(say, top 15) math school. I’m a solid, not stellar, student. This year I’m taking the qualifying exam grad courses in algebra and analysis and have been taken aback by the “pressure cooker” atmosphere among grad students here. That is, even moreso than in the undergraduate program.

If I’m self driven, could going to a “less prestigious” school afford me more space(I mean in a psychological sense) to produce a more solid contribution to math? By “less prestigious”, I mean a school “ranked” significantly lower than the range of schools that I could comfortably get into. For me, “less prestigious” would be ranked around 40-60 on, say, USNews or NRC.

My reasoning is that at such a school, I would be more able to learn the fundamentals at my own pace, as opposed to a pace dictated to me by the program. I know I want to do math, and I think my learning style may be better suited to going at my own pace. Thoughts?

The mathematics stack exchange is an interesting variant which is similar to but certainly not equivalent to the math overflow site. (I think this question would quickly get closed on the math overflow site.)

There is lively commentary going on there; or please feel free to discuss the question here.

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