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How important are grad school rankings?
By SwordInStone Comments: 192, member since Thu Aug 11, 2011
On Tue Dec 16, 2014 03:29 AM

Hello everyone,

I'm at the University of Tartu in Estonia right now, came here because of their top ranking programme in semiotics. Problem is, the instruction quality sucks. I think they only got the ranking because the professors do great research, but I haven't learned much so far. There's one professor who has cancelled five classes; in the classes she does teach she just divides the class into groups and lets each group summarise part of an article we had to read. And it's not even a good article, it's hopelessly obscure and the subject had already been dismissed centuries ago. We're learning some very very very outdated material, and that's if we learn at all. In another seminar the students choose articles and summarise them for the class. We don't even get to read the articles first! Evaluation consists of one or two papers at the end. We don't get many guidelines, the grading is harsh and we don't get many explanations for the grade either. I almost never attend a full week of classes because someone always has to cancel.

In addition, I don't fit the programme well. Here we have to take a general survey of every kind of semiotics, which is a very varied field, actually. I've already done a BA thesis in cultural semiotics, which means the classes here are either too easy or completely beyond my field. I try, of course, but the low quality instruction means lots of independent study which gets in the way of my research. At Tallinn the programme focuses on the same things I'm focusing on, which is a huge plus.

I had been accepted to Tallinn University, but went to Tartu because tuition was waived. Little did I know that Tallinn offers scholarships to their top applicants, and that I would have had a scholarship had I accepted. I do feel like crying tears of blood now, but hopefully it's not too late and I can transfer. After all, my thesis advisor teaches at both universities, and is actually more present in Tallinn than he is in Tartu. So I sent him an email this morning.

I do have some doubts, though. If I'm allowed to transfer, is it really a good idea to go from a more well-known university to someplace only founded in 2005? Granted, the city itself is more recognised, and at this point my research and publications are probably more important than the university's ranking (if I want to apply to phd in the future, that is). There are three famous professors here (my advisor being one of them); they are excellent teachers but one teaches something in a different field. In Tallinn I know there are two famous professors (again my advisor being one), both of whom I've spoken to and liked my research proposals.

And I've always loved Tallinn, visit often and practically already found a job in Old Town. And the water at Tartu triggered my eczema, whereas Tallinn air has always helped it. And when Tartu's offer came, I was a little bit upset too because that meant I had to give up Tallinn, though of course I was grateful to Tartu. Still am. Just don't feel like the department wants what I would like to contribute, I feel like an unwanted extra here. During the application process Tallinn definitely wanted me more.

I was wondering, if it's possible to transfer, should I do it? Any help or support would be gladly appreciate. Thanks, and thanks some more.

4 Replies to How important are grad school rankings?

re: How important are grad school rankings?
By saaammiemember has saluted, click to view salute photos Comments: 440, member since Thu Apr 01, 2010
On Tue Dec 16, 2014 05:12 AM
Rankings are important but individual professors and a good education in general are more important. It's a lot about making connections and networking, after all.

If you are miserable you're not going to do a good job. If you can transfer, by all means do!
re: How important are grad school rankings?
By majeremember has saluted, click to view salute photosPremium member Comments: 5889, member since Sat Sep 29, 2007
On Tue Dec 16, 2014 06:34 AM
If you can transfer, do. It doesn't sound like you are learning much and I don't see the point of going to school if you aren't going to learn anything.

I don't know anything about colleges in other countries, but as long as it is accredited.

My grad school ranks #24, but it the only school with the program in the state and it is accredited with my professional organization. I never considered rank when I applied, since it is the only one in the state, I didn't apply anywhere else. Almost everyone I know in my profession with a masters went there, so that helped my decision.
re: How important are grad school rankings?
By slice Comments: 1247, member since Fri Oct 15, 2004
On Tue Dec 16, 2014 06:52 AM
Edited by slice (109495) on 2014-12-16 06:54:03
Not gonna lie: it does matter.

Now some of this depends on what exactly you plan on doing with your degree. If you plan on going off into the private sector, than the prestige of the institution matters much much less. If you plan on going into academia, than yes, what other scholars think of your institution (which is not necessarily reflected by rankings, but they usually fall pretty close) is important.

At the grad school level, prestige of a program will almost solely be derived from the strength of research rather than instruction, that part is true. Not that there isn't great pedagogy to be found in high ranked programs - I can name several professors in my department for example who I would count as great teachers as well as great professors. My program is #8 in my field, #4 nationally overall.

Of course the strength of your own research and publications matters most of all, and having poor research won't make up for a great pedigree, but it's also not a coincidence that some of the strongest research tends to come out of highly ranked programs. Whether that's because of how the programs themselves participate in grooming a student, or because those programs tend to attract the brightest (therefore the raw materials are already there), or the leg up these students get w/r/t connections and resources, it's hard to say. Probably a combination of all these things. And again, this primarily applies to the academic job market post-grad.

A lot of what you're feeling sounds like typical first year grad school blues tbh and it sounds a little like you're in a "grass is greener" mode. I'm not saying don't transfer, but I do think you should do a fuller scope of the other program. Speak with students in the program, speak with older students in your current program. Look at job placement records; where are students who graduate from your current program going? What are the course requirements at the other school? Where are students who graduate from the other program going? How would transferring credits go? Would you have do an entire year of coursework over again? What does your advisor think? Etc. etc.
re: How important are grad school rankings?
By majeremember has saluted, click to view salute photosPremium member Comments: 5889, member since Sat Sep 29, 2007
On Tue Dec 16, 2014 07:51 AM
I'm going to add, for perspective, most of the required theory type classes I've had to take were insanely boring and not directly related to my main area of interest. Some had little busy work assignments getting us used to the citation style. Three of the classes had us read the same articles.

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