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Advice on choosing my physics undergraduate institution

  1. Feb 14, 2014 #1
    Im a senior in high school who is currently going through the process of choosing a college with the intent of majoring physics, then getting a phd in Astronomy. I sincerely want to become an astronomer and have my choices down to two universities.

    One is a large state school with a well regarded physics program and solid physics research. However, their last astronomy professor retired which means they no longer have any astronomy courses and no longer have any ongoing astronomy research. Yet, there research in other fields is quite respectable and it overall is a pretty good university.

    School number 2, on the other hand, is a small, dinky state school that is not well regarded in physics-I guarantee you haven't heard of it. Yet, they have 3 astronomy faculty, offer an astronomy major- though I would also major in physics- and have ongoing astronomy research.

    Essentially, my question comes down to should I go to the school with no astronomy program but has a solid physics program, or should I choose the school that is pretty puny physics department, but actually has on going astronomy research and offers a major.

    Any advice is helpful.
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 15, 2014 #2

    Vanadium 50

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    Are these your only two choices? Neither is ideal for your goals.

    You want to go to the school with the highest quality program that you can. You have told us School 2 is small, but not that it's of poor quality. The two are not the same.
  4. Feb 15, 2014 #3


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    Are you focusing on those two schools because they're in-state and finances are a concern?

    Sticking with those two schools only, if the small school offers a physics major that covers the core topics that graduate schools expect (advanced courses in classical mechanics, electromagnetism, quantum mechanics and thermodynamics / statistical mechanics), plus a few electives, then I would go there. If you apply for an astronomy Ph.D. program, it will look a lot better if you have some astronomy courses and some experience in astronomy research, than if you have none at all. Your professors are more likely to get to know you better at a small school, so it will be easier for you to make yourself visible to them, and for them to write good personalized letters of recommendation for you.

    Astronomy is a smaller field than physics, so I would expect that many graduate astronomy departments will be aware of it despite its size, if it is active in research and turns out astronomy graduates consistently.

    Don't get hung up on "prestige" issues. Lots of people graduate from small "unknown" schools, go on to graduate school, and have careers.
    Last edited: Feb 15, 2014
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