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-   -   Undergraduate physics programs (http://www.physicsforums.com/showthread.php?t=180468)

strings235 Aug14-07 09:06 PM

undergraduate physics programs
 
hey everyone,

I'm currently applying for college right now and I need some guidance as to which schools are stronger than others in terms of education, research opportunities, etc.

Can someone give me some kinda ranking for college physics programs?
thanks

proton Aug14-07 09:32 PM

I believe most schools get their reputation for their graduate programs in physics, not undergraduate.

I believe that big state universities have better research opportunities than small liberal art schools. But, in smaller schools like liberal arts schools, there is a greater student-to-professor interaction.

strings235 Aug14-07 09:34 PM

ok well here's the deal. I'm stuck between cal tech, mit, or harvey mudd. Forgetting graduate ranks and prestige cause it's nearly irrelevent at the college level, which would be a better choice?

Thanks

tiyusufaly Aug14-07 10:00 PM

They are all very good for undergraduate education. Depending on whom you talk to, people will say any of the three is the best choice.

Me, personally, I think the best choice depends more on you as a person and how well you fit in with each of the schools. On another forum, www.collegeconfidential.com, a poster named Mudder's_Mudder gave an eloquent response to this very question. Her son is a recent HMC graduate (class of '07). I am going to post her response in its entirety:

"Qwertz82, the answer to that will depend entirely on the individual student. The question is a little like asking why someone chose a kumquat instead of an apple or an orange. The nature and structure of the institutions are not the same, nor are the missions. Caltech and MIT are research unis. HMC is a LAC. Therein lies the essential difference.

My S is a rising senior at HMC. He knows a number of Mudders who faced the choices you outlined in your question. The three schools have surface differences that matter to some people: climate, social scene, geographic location (East vs. West, urban vs. suburban), gender balance, ECs like performing arts or music or sports. He knows kids who made the choice based on one or more of all those factors. Some kids got exceptional merit aid. I can think of one young man, accepted at all three, who picked Mudd because he thought it would be the easiest (to the everlasting detriment of his GPA, alas). Some chose HMC for the LAC environment, knowing they would apply to Caltech and/or MIT again for grad school. I can think of a couple who just didn't like something about the feel of the other two schools.

Some people know, the minute they step on a campus the first time, they've found a good fit; it's a feeling that's difficult to quantify. Kind of like Justice Stewart's famous dictum about pornography: you know it when you see it.

Now these superficial and sometimes indefinable qualities are all fine and good and worthy of consideration, but we are talking about education here, aren't we? Your post begs the question: Is there a discernible difference in the quality of education at the three institutions? My informed answer is... that depends. For certain programs and certain majors, I could build a case that any one of the three is the best (e.g., all else being equal, econ/management majors and future linguists should go to MIT) or, conversely, all three are comparatively equal. My S is a science major, and I can state without hesitation that he has received at HMC as fine an undergraduate education in his discipline as he would have gotten anywhere, in line with his goals. (He is planning to apply to one of the other two for grad school.)

If you're a prospective college student trying to figure out where to apply, try to start by doing an honest self-assessment. Are you the big-city type who wants to get lost in a crowd? If so, then Caltech and HMC are probably not for you. Is widespread name recognition of utmost importance to you? If so, then HMC is probably not for you. Are you intimidated at the prospect of long, gray winters in the Northeast? Then MIT is probably not for you. Recognize also that every school has its pros and cons, its own quirks and personality that will never be posted in public on these boards (although you will undoubtedly find plenty of shills who will praise their own institutions to the high heavens for their own reasons). Check out lots of places. Visit as many as you can, and try falling in love with at least a few. Then you can start sweating the big stuff, like whether or not your parents can afford to pay for the courtship."


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