Advice on colleges

I am a senior in highschool who (surprise) loves physics, and plans on majoring and eventually getting a PhD in it (hopefully). I am currently looking at my college prospects and have a couple of questions.

My situation comes down to this- I'm pretty sure I can get into numerous fairly good schools like UW Madison etc. The problem is, I live in Kansas so I will be paying out of state tuition for any of those schools, and my family's financial situation is such that I may not be able to afford to go to them without going into major debt.

So, here are my questions-
1. Would it be worth it to go to a good school like Wisconsin even if it leaves me with a big debt?
2. If it is financially difficult/impossible/unadvisable to go to those schools, would going to an in state school like Kansas State or the University of Kansas for my undergrad be bad? (Would it prevent me from getting into a good graduate school?)
3. I tend to feel that if I cannot afford the best colleges I can get into (like Wisconsin), that I would rather stay close to home and go to K-State or KU rather than travel far and spend more (as it seems I am likely to get most of KU/KState payed for if I go there) for an only slightly better college (aka middle of the road schools)- is this a foolish mentality?

Now normally, I would think it would be worth it to go to a good school like Wisconsin, assuming I get in, even if I end up with a large debt. However, one of my cousins did so (He went to Oregon) and ended up with ridiculus debt, and he advises that staying in state is best. But you see, he is a lawyer, not a scientist. I'm not sure it's the same.

I suppose that my questions can loosely be summed up as this- How important (when pursuing physics) is going to a top notch school for your undergraduate degree?

Sorry for the length of the post, and any replies are very much appreciated.
 

0rthodontist

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I would say, go to a good school. I have been at two different schools, one of them inferior and my current one a major research institution in my subject, and there is a great difference in the quality and difficulty of the coursework.
 
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I chose to go to a state school over a 40k per year private school. I'm much happier knowing that I will have 30k in debt with students loans rather than 160k+ debt in loans from paying for private school.
 

jtbell

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For most students, I don't think the choice of undergraduate school makes much difference as far as future prospects in physics are concerned, so long as the faculty is competent and you get a decent level of instruction. The curriculum for a physics major is pretty much the same everywhere. The prestige and reputation of the school you go to has less influence on getting into grad school, than it does when you're a Ph.D. looking for an academic job. It's not worth racking up huge amounts of debt for.

If you were going into medicine, or law, or engineering, then it might make sense to put yourself further in debt for a "prestige" school, because people make more money in those fields. Few physicists starve, but they don't exactly roll in the dough, and debts are more of a burden to them.
 
Thank you for the replies. Of course, I'm still hoping that the finances will work out and I will be able to go out of state with minimal debt, but it's good to hear staying in state is an acceptable option.
 
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dontbesilly:

staying in state is usually fine. Especially if you have a good state school. But if you are worried about out of state tuition, after you have lived in Wisconsin for 12 consequetive months you will be considered a resident and your tuition will reflect that. Unless they have changed things in the last 3 years for the UW system. You should look into it.

Cheers,
Norman
 

chroot

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Norman said:
dontbesilly:

staying in state is usually fine. Especially if you have a good state school. But if you are worried about out of state tuition, after you have lived in Wisconsin for 12 consequetive months you will be considered a resident and your tuition will reflect that. Unless they have changed things in the last 3 years for the UW system. You should look into it.

Cheers,
Norman
Are you sure? This is a very common myth that many people tell each other, but is rarely true. Generally, you cannot obtain residency in a new state while attending school there, no matter how long you stay. If you're under 25, you're considered a dependent as long as you're in school, and your residency is thus defined by where your parents pay taxes.

- Warren
 
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chroot said:
Are you sure? This is a very common myth that many people tell each other, but is rarely true. Generally, you cannot obtain residency in a new state while attending school there, no matter how long you stay. If you're under 25, you're considered a dependent as long as you're in school, and your residency is thus defined by where your parents pay taxes.

- Warren
You might be right. It is kinda hard to figure out the legality of it. But http://www.collegeboard.com/about/association/international/pdf/sr_WI01.pdf" tries to paraphrase the Wisconsin Statute (WIS. STAT. 36.27(2)).

It states that 12 months residency prior to enrollment is enough. I think the sticky point is the dependent issue. Basically you have to be self supporting and meet the evidence criteria. If you do that- you get resident tuition.
 
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chroot

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Norman said:
You might be right. It is kinda hard to figure out the legality of it. But http://www.collegeboard.com/about/association/international/pdf/sr_WI01.pdf" tries to paraphrase the Wisconsin Statute (WIS. STAT. 36.27(2)).

It states that 12 months residency prior to enrollment is enough. I think the sticky point is the dependent issue. Basically you have to be self supporting and meet the evidence criteria. If you do that- you get resident tuition.
It states that 12 months residency prior to enrollment is enough. Prior to enrollment. You (and your family) have to have lived in the state for 12 months before you begin going to school there. If you go to school in Wisconsin, but your parents continue to live elsewhere, then you are an out-of-state student, and will remain an out-of-state student unless your parents also move to Wisconsin and live there for a year.

Trust me, students everywhere would greatly appreciate it if they were all considered in-state students after their freshman year, but, well, it ain't that way at all.

- Warren
 
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I do stand corrected. Thanks for setting me straight chroot.

But, on a good note, there is something called the Midwest Student Exchange Program, which gives you a reduced out of state tuition (Kansas is eligible). Check it out here http://www.mhec.org/index.asp?pageID=1"
 
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0rthodontist

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I wouldn't be so sure that curriculums are the same. At my old school everything was taught at a slower pace, several one-semester courses were stretched to 2 semesters (and actually managed to cover less), the problems on assignments were mostly routine, and several upper-level courses were offered as electives instead of requirements, partly because they had to be because of the slower pace of earlier courses.

UW-Madison: http://www.physics.wisc.edu/undergrads/general/physmaj.html#301_note
Kansas State: http://www.phys.ksu.edu/students/major/curric2.html [Broken]
KU: http://www.physics.ku.edu/images/ughandbook/phsx_major_05.pdf [Broken]

It's hard for me to quickly tell the difference between those without doing more work, but wherever you go you should compare the schedule of courses and the material covered in course descriptions. It can make a difference.
 
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Also consider the intangible benefit of being far away from your parents.

I went to a nearby school thinking it would save money, but all my friends were from out of state and generally seemed more independent than I was. I thought I could be as independent, but parents have a tendency to meddle, especially the baby boomer generation. Looking back, I'd have given good money to put at least a thousand miles or so between us, just for the freedom.
 
Thank you all once again for the information.

Norman, thanks for the link. Although it appears UW Madison does not participate (darn), many other schools do.
 
And orthodontist, thank you aswell for the links. I looked them over (as I have before), but it's hard for me to analyze beyond the basic stuff like who requires more math or more physics hours (which is probably not very indicative of how good the program is)
 
I'd suggest going to the department at the instate schools and, if they're as friendly as they are here, ask what schools their graduates have gotten into. This should give you some idea. Sometimes the secretary can tell you the most. If your concerned about quality education, it depends on your learning style and your priorities. I love going to a small school because I feel comfortable asking what might seem like stupid questions from professors I've had lunch with, and it's easy to get research credit in. I hate going to a small school because half the time the classes don't make and there's no culture or non fast food. The school's you're considering sound big either way, I'm just saying look at the details. Good luck!
 

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