Should You Attend A Different School For Each Of Your Degrees?

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We’re young and educated, and some of us are still in school, but we always keep our eyes on the prize: a future job.

So, naturally, when some of us decide to pursue a master’s or PhD, we face the inevitable question: Do employers look for candidates who have attended a different post-secondary institute for their post-grad?

For some, the answer is easy: “My school is the best when it comes to science, so I will stay here” or “That school offers a fantastic program in psychology, so I will apply there.”

“Pursuing degrees at different universities shows that you are well-rounded and can thrive in different environments. I would recommend that students go to at least two different schools.” –Samantha Feder, women’s studies PhD candidate, University of Ottawa

For others, the decision is more difficult. There are rumours that attending different schools looks better on your resumé and improves your chances of getting hired later on.

So do you need to apply elsewhere?

Academics’ verdict: TRUE

Dr. Alexandre Sévigny, associate professor of communications at McMaster University, sheds light on the situation: the so-called rumour is actually a well-defined concept in academics known as “academic in-breeding,” which is something to be avoided.

Dr. Christopher Hassall, postdoctoral research fellow at Carleton University, agrees. “It is not a rumour. It is established practice in academia.” He refers to the NERC Fellowships Handbook 2010 from the Natural Environments Research Council, which states that fellows should complete their undergraduate and postgraduate degrees at different schools, as “fellows should be able to show independence and have the personality and skills to be able to exploit this freedom to establish links and collaborations.”

“It is a good idea to diversify where you study,” Sévigny says. Acquiring your undergrad, master’s, PhD and postdoctoral from four different schools, for example, shows that you have successfully worked with four different teams and have gained a variety of diverse experiences.

In addition, some may regard you with suspicion for having studied at the same institution where professors were already familiar with you work and level of skill. Someone who changes schools proves they have forged new relationships and experienced different theoretical perspectives while consistently achieving productivity in their work.

“Some people may not see moving institutions as vital, but I think many would consider it to be helpful. This helps in terms of (i) experiencing different research environments and styles, (ii) being exposed to new ideas and (iii) developing networks of contacts and collaborators. Certainly (ii) and (iii) are vital for an academic career,” Hassall says.

He adds, however, that outside the world of academia, he doubts employers value the location or variety of their candidates’ schooling very highly when considering them for a job.

Human resources’ verdict: FALSE

Human resources consultant Sari Friedman says that, outside of science, it doesn’t matter much to employers whether you’ve changed schools or completed your degrees with the same institution. “I don’t know of any employer or HR person who looks at that as a key factor for employability.”

“I definitely think that assumption (switching schools is better for your resumé) is not a good basis for making a choice for what school to go to,” Friedman says.  “One could say that it’s better because it may appear that you have a better breadth of learning, but that isn’t necessarily a certainty.”

Students’ verdict: ON THE FENCE

Daniela DiStefano, a freelance writer, completed her honours Bachelor of Arts and her Master of Arts in Journalism at the University of Western Ontario. DiStefano hadn’t heard about academic in-breeding before, but doubts it would have affected her decision to complete both her degrees at Western, as she knew her school had a good reputation for post-secondary education and that her graduate program was highly regarded by major media outlets in Canada.

In addition, DiStefano says taking classes with professors she already knew, being familiar with London and not having to adjust to a new campus as other positive attributes of her choice to remain at Western.

“I don’t think having more than one school on your resumé makes it look better. I think the school’s reputation and the relevance of the program to what you want to do is what really counts,” she says.

Samantha Feder, a women’s studies PhD candidate at the University of Ottawa, says she feels differently. “Pursuing degrees at different universities shows that you are well-rounded and can thrive in different environments. I would recommend that students go to at least two different schools.”

Strong arguments lie on both sides of the issue, but eventually, the decision lies in the hands of the student who chooses to continue his or her education beyond undergrad—what’s the right school for you?

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About the author

Marisa Baratta loves writing, especially about topics pertaining to environmental change, animal issues, human rights and health. She loves helping others and wants to make a positive difference in the world. She is always working on publishing her books, which seek to inspire and incite laughter. She has been published in the National Post, t.o. night newspaper and on several online magazines. She completed a BA with a specialization in English and a bilingual certificate before studying Book and Magazine Publishing at Centennial College. She lives with her family and two cats (can you spot one of them in the picture?).