SDN Bronze Donor
Bronze Donor
2+ Year Member
Feb 4, 2015
Hi everyone,

Please forgive me if this has been asked before (and kindly direct me to the link) I tried advanced searching and was unable to find an answer. Do graduate schools (particularly funded clinical psychology PhD programs) care about where you received your undergraduate education? I am a community college transfer student, transferring next semester, and trying to decide which school to go to (if I can get in, UC Berkeley/UCLA/Irvine) vs a CSU. I'd personally prefer the CSU for the cheaper tuition, less competitive environment, and typically smaller class size, but I am aware that there are more research opportunities, etc. at a UC.

I dropped out of college after failing my first semester right out of high school, and took a 5 year break from school to work full time. I have completed 3 semesters so far, 12-16 credits each semester, and working ~24 hours each semester with a 4.0 GPA. Currently on my 4th semester, on track to get a 4.0, work min 30 hours/wk, and volunteer once a week as well.

While I am not 100% certain I want to go into a PhD program (I need more experience to decide, currently jumping back and forth between wanting to go into a health field (was pre-vet, then pre-med, currently interested in physical therapy) or go into mental health/psychology), I do want to make wise choices that will benefit me if I choose to go that route. I like to keep as many doors open as possible.

Each school has its own set of classes required for transferring (for major classes, and just G.E. classes), so I am trying to make a decision so I can plan my classes accordingly

Thank you for any feedback!
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2+ Year Member
Oct 5, 2015
As long as it's fully accredited, it really doesn't matter all that much what undergrad you attend. The difference is going to be what opportunities will be available to you. Smaller liberal arts schools don't generally have the research programs where you can get the requisite research experience you'd need for grad school. If you attend an R1 or R2 university, there will not only be more opportunities available in general, but there will also be more options to potentially fit your interests and future career goals..


Bronze Donor
2+ Year Member
Oct 30, 2016
Just wanted to say congratulations for killing it during your second "go of it" as a college student! I'm sure you will get offers at many competitive schools. Having research experience is very important for admission to a fully-funded PhD program (i.e. participating in a lab, poster presentations, publications etc.). No need to break the bank in terms of undergrad, but you also want to make sure you can gain the research experience you need to be competitive. That may mean working fewer hours at your job, although I suppose that depends on several different factors. That being said, there are only a certain number of hours in a day!
Jun 20, 2018
Hi princesspeach2! As the others have said, what’s most important is the quality of research experience you have. I enjoy smaller schools for the closer mentorship but I knew I would also need extensive research experience. So I chose a small local commuter college, and I emailed every single psychology professor at the nearby R01 university until someone took pity on me. I was able to parlay my volunteer work at that lab into a part-time paid position and ultimately a full time position when I graduated. Despite having gone to a college nobody has ever heard of, I was still able to get into a very competitive graduate program. With that said, I do think I had to work a bit harder than everybody else to prove myself. So, I would suggest going to CSU to help save, especially since you aren’t completely convinced you want to pursue a PhD, and get involved in research ASAP, whether at CSU or another local university. Good luck!


10+ Year Member
Feb 5, 2008
Psychology Student
They do care. UC Berkeley or UCLA in particular will be better options in most cases, if you want to go to a funded clinical psychology PhD program. This is a small field, and many professors there will be more well connected to the places you want to go. They will also on average be more productive in research, providing you more opportunities to develop a publication record.

There are exceptions to this rule - if you study X and there is person Y at CSU who publishes a ton, that would be the main exception that comes to mind for me. But in most cases, this rule will hold. There will also be fewer people at CSU who will be able to provide the opportunities you need to reach your goal. What if the one person you planned to work with at CSU turns out to have a difficult personality, decides to take a few years where he/she isn't as productive, etc.? What if you start to get into one topic and decide another one is better (there will be fewer mentors to switch to at CSU who can really help you)? Also, there will be people from Harvard, Yale, etc. in the applicant pool - with a UC Berkeley diploma you are still in the general discussion, whereas a CSU degree will be a stronger knock on your record relative to Harvard, before you even start making your case in your application.

To add to others, I also congratulate you for getting back on track. You are wise to consider a number of factors (e.g., cost, campus climate). It sounds like you are asking: is the additional benefit worth the cost? In general, I would say the answer is likely "yes" at UC Berkeley or UCLA, probably not UC Irvine (not as strong overall a department or national name recognition, though there will be the aforementioned exceptions to these rules). Of course this depends on the final cost that they assess you, I am only considering overall averages of what people pay at these places. Additionally, getting strong grades from the higher level places will show that you have 100% gotten back on track from your first college experience. A final consideration - given that you are considering other fields, other fields can be even more sensitive to degree status, and the higher status place gives you more flexibility to switch careers altogether.


2+ Year Member
May 27, 2015
Congratulations on your accomplishments thus far! I attended a California State University. While there are many opportunities at a CSU, attending a University of California campus would most likely afford you more chances to be engaged in research simply because research is a major mission of the UCs. However, if you aren't sure yet that you want to go down this route, then a CSU would let you explore without breaking the bank.

An option is to attend a CSU but join a research lab at a UC. This isn't strictly necessary, especially if you can find a lab at a CSU that matches your interest and would give you opportunities to enhance your application (e.g., first-authored poster presentations and publications), but being in that environment can give you more exposure to what attending an R1 for your PhD would be like and might give you access to more networking.

Best of luck!