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spratleyj
2008-Aug-27, 03:05 AM
I'm starting to look at perspective colleges, and was wondering if you guys would have any opinions on which colleges would be good (for physics).
I'm currently looking at Stanford, Cornell, The University of Chicago, and Reed College, so I'm not really looking for the "top" undergrad physics programs, rather perhaps some "underrated" undergrad physics programs, preferably not state schools. Anyways, any suggestions would be great.

Eta C
2008-Aug-27, 04:15 AM
I wouldn't call Stanford, U Chicago, and Cornell under-rated programs either as undergrad or graduate physics programs. They are fairly consistently listed as among the top programs in the country. I don't know much about Reed, so I can't comment. Other private schools in the top department category include Cal Tech, MIT, Princeton and to a slightly lesser extent Harvard and Yale. For completeness sake, the public schools in the top include UC Berkeley, Illinois, UC Santa Cruz, and UC Santa Barbara. The latter two, especially UCSC, are not your typical large public university. Both have a much more "private" school atmosphere (whatever that is). In general you shouldn't exclude the public schools on that basis alone. You should do a bit of investigation of what student life there is like. Not all private schools have what I would consider a normal undergrad experience. For instance, there is something odd (in my opinion) about schools like Cal Tech and U Chicago where the graduate students outnumber the undergrads.

One of the things you need to think about is whether or not you intend to pursue graduate studies. If you do, some undergrad research experience is a big plus. While this is more easily achieved at departments with major research programs (Stanford, Chicago, etc) there are opportunities at smaller, liberal arts colleges as well. In my career I've seen many successful students come from schools such as Grinnell, Haverford, and other "non-research" colleges. So ultimately, while a strong undergrad program is important, it's not the be all and end all of grad school admission. The strongest students will stand out, regardless of their undergrad background.

Another thing to consider in the large school, small school argument is that physics departments, even in a large university, will tend to be small communities of their own. While the introductory classses in physcs may be huge, the upper level classes, primarily taken only by physics majors, will be much smaller.

I hope this helps a bit. I'll keep an eye on the thread and comment from time to time.



P.S for Tobin Dax, Note the absence of any blatent plug for a certain school in the central US. :)

Gillianren
2008-Aug-27, 05:16 AM
Last I knew, UC Irvine had a good physics program, or at least the friend I had who went there got to choose between there and Caltech, and he didn't mind. (UCI gave him a full ride, so it wasn't that challenging a decision, really.)

Tobin Dax
2008-Aug-27, 07:29 AM
Maybe I should know something about Reed College's program, but I don't. All I really know is that the (late) Prof. David Griffiths at Oregon State is not the author from Reed. (Everybody asked me that while I as working with Dave at OSU.)

Unlike Eta C, though, I'm going to plug my (different) alma mater. Oregon State's physics program was good while I was there, about 5-10 years ago. I'm sure it's still good, and I'm not sure that anyone else is offering their Paradigms program yet. You work hard for that physics degree, but it's completely worth it. So ends my plug. :)


P.S for Tobin Dax, Note the absence of any blatent plug for a certain school in the central US. :)
Our joke in the Astro Dept. there was that Physics was too hard to get into, so I won't plug it, either. :)

Fazor
2008-Aug-27, 01:56 PM
I'm starting to look at perspective colleges,

Well, anything with a mountain top or coastal view should offer a good perspective.


Sorry, I had to.

geonuc
2008-Aug-27, 03:40 PM
This is BAUT. Someone had to do it. :)

korjik
2008-Aug-27, 06:07 PM
I think a good indicator of a less than good program is to find out how well the math department teaches math to the physics students.

University of Houston has a good physics department, but you are going to have to teach yourself the math. That does kinda suck.

spratleyj
2008-Aug-27, 08:06 PM
I wouldn't call Stanford, U Chicago, and Cornell under-rated programs either as undergrad or graduate physics programs. They are fairly consistently listed as among the top programs in the country. I don't know much about Reed, so I can't comment. Other private schools in the top department category include Cal Tech, MIT, Princeton and to a slightly lesser extent Harvard and Yale. For completeness sake, the public schools in the top include UC Berkeley, Illinois, UC Santa Cruz, and UC Santa Barbara. The latter two, especially UCSC, are not your typical large public university. Both have a much more "private" school atmosphere (whatever that is). In general you shouldn't exclude the public schools on that basis alone. You should do a bit of investigation of what student life there is like. Not all private schools have what I would consider a normal undergrad experience. For instance, there is something odd (in my opinion) about schools like Cal Tech and U Chicago where the graduate students outnumber the undergrads.

One of the things you need to think about is whether or not you intend to pursue graduate studies. If you do, some undergrad research experience is a big plus. While this is more easily achieved at departments with major research programs (Stanford, Chicago, etc) there are opportunities at smaller, liberal arts colleges as well. In my career I've seen many successful students come from schools such as Grinnell, Haverford, and other "non-research" colleges. So ultimately, while a strong undergrad program is important, it's not the be all and end all of grad school admission. The strongest students will stand out, regardless of their undergrad background.

Another thing to consider in the large school, small school argument is that physics departments, even in a large university, will tend to be small communities of their own. While the introductory classses in physcs may be huge, the upper level classes, primarily taken only by physics majors, will be much smaller.

I hope this helps a bit. I'll keep an eye on the thread and comment from time to time.



P.S for Tobin Dax, Note the absence of any blatent plug for a certain school in the central US. :)

I wasn't saying Stanford, Cornell, or UC were "underrated" schools, I was saying they are my top choices, but I was wondering if I had missed some "underrated" schools. Anyways, (for the most part) I tend to avoid state schools, for three reasons:
1) They tend to be a lot harder for out of state students to get into
2) Most often it's very hard to get financial aide, at a state school if you aren't a state resident.
3) And this isn't true of all (maybe not even most), but private schools tend to have a better "atomphere"... at least in my opinion...

And I certainly plan to do graduate studies, as I currently would like to work somewhere in academia....

Swift
2008-Aug-27, 08:15 PM
I don't have a particular school recommendation. I will say, if you are planning to do undergraduate research, and you are looking at schools with smaller Physics Departments, you might want to make sure there is someone in that department that is doing some sort of research you might be interested in. If they are all doing Particle Physics, and you don't like that, you might be in trouble. I am a very big fan of undergraduate research in the sciences; I think the sooner you start doing the stuff you will do for the rest of your life (research), the better

cjl
2008-Aug-27, 08:27 PM
The University of Colorado isn't bad, though it does fail your no state school criteria, as well as not being quite as good as those that you had mentioned (still quite good though). Not that I'm biased or anything.

Kaptain K
2008-Aug-28, 04:40 AM
If you are (as you said) planning on going on to grad school, then the choice of undergrad school isn't that important. Get a good grounding in math and science, then worry about which grad school has the best program in your specialty.

spratleyj
2008-Aug-28, 10:28 PM
If you are (as you said) planning on going on to grad school, then the choice of undergrad school isn't that important. Get a good grounding in math and science, then worry about which grad school has the best program in your specialty.

Well, which grad school you go to is certainly more important than undergrad... but that said undergrad school is still important for a few reasons;

1) It's easier to get into a top grad program if you attended a top undergrad school.
2) You have the opportunity to do research in many undergrad programs...
3) Top schools often do a better job of teaching the basics than others... in part because of the much lower teacher/student ratio...

Jim
2008-Aug-28, 10:51 PM
Try this link:
http://graduate-school.phds.org/rankings/physics/priorities?gclid=CP3nrI7PsZUCFQ0MIgodJHujbw

It finds programs base on your requirements. It also ranks specific programs comparitively.