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Aiming for top chemistry grad school- what to do about undergrad?

  1. Nov 8, 2008 #1
    Aiming for top chemistry grad school-- what to do about undergrad?

    Hello, let me fill you in on my situation: I am a senior in high school with 2 years of chemistry research experience in a university lab, the first author of a publication in a good journal, etc. and I have decided that I would like to get my PhD in chemistry of some sort, hopefully at a top-tier grad school (MIT, Caltech, etc.). So, now, my issue: I am applying to MIT, Harvard, other strong undergrad programs and a couple strong public schools (University of Minnesota, Twin Cities). If I attend the U of M, they will accept my 60-70 credits that I will have amassed, and a triple-major in math/physics/chemistry isn't very daunting. Additionally, the opportunity to research in a solid lab is at my fingertips, and it is fairly cheap. MIT would not take the credits I have, I would be starting from the bottom and be another student in the mix of brilliance, and I pay a lot of money. Wherever I do my undergrad I will make the most of it and have an excellent time. However, with the goal of getting into a number one grad school for chemistry, do you think the good public university route will hurt too much? Finances and such make it attractive. My brother, an MIT grad, put it this way: at a public university you will have to shine beyond everybody else and then some, from MIT you have to jump through the hoops more or less.

    Thoughts? I have not been able to come to many concrete conclusions. Help me out fellows! Thanks for your time.
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 9, 2008 #2
    Re: Aiming for top chemistry grad school-- what to do about undergrad?

    Your brother is mistaken. What is typical at MIT will be pretty close to outstanding at even most flagship state U's. I know plenty of people that have made the jump from a top public to #1 school by taking advantage of the resources available to them.

    If your family has no problem paying your way to a good private school, you might as well go to the best school you can. If you're middle class, I strongly suggest going to the school that will leave you with as little debt as possible. If you wish to continue your education, where you go to undergrad is fairly unimportant.

    Finally, here are some things to consider. Why are you in a rush to complete your undergrad? There are many marvelous things that are only open to undergrads (ACM competitions, Putnam, etc), so you might as well stick around at least 3 years. You may even find that your interests shift over time away from chemistry. Also, why do you feel you should triple major? Do you *really* need to take a course in a classroom setting to learn? I suggest sticking to at most two majors and a minor, if not one major and two minors.
  4. Nov 9, 2008 #3
    Re: Aiming for top chemistry grad school-- what to do about undergrad?

    The idea is not to finish quickly, the idea is to have the freedom to take lots of upper-level chemistry, math, physics etc right away and then explore. I don't see much difference in what my brother said and what you said except that he is over exaggerating? Right now, I don't have a favored place for undergrad, I have the opportunity to visit the places and see exactly what costs and such will be. My family would help me pay for whatever education, though if possible I would like to avoid amassing debt and loans during my undergrad, seeing that grad school is another 4-6 years at least. Really what I am wondering is if I go to a public school, shine, how much worse/better would my odds be of making a number one school? Admittedly, it seems narrow-minded to be so focused on grad school, but by getting into a number one grad school that implies an outstanding undergrad experience--which is also very important.
  5. Nov 9, 2008 #4


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    Re: Aiming for top chemistry grad school-- what to do about undergrad?

    Doesn't that statement make it sound like the public university is more competitive? :biggrin:

    You'll have just as many opportunities in a large public university as at a place like MIT, sometimes more because every other student around you won't be clawing and fighting, competing and backstabbing for the same research opportunities, etc. If you can get accepted into both, I'd opt not to incur a ton of debt...why saddle yourself with debt to start out life if you can avoid it, or at least avoid some of it?
  6. Jan 7, 2012 #5
    Re: Aiming for top chemistry grad school-- what to do about undergrad?

    In my opinion it isn't as simple as picking a public vs. private university. I attended Berkeley for 2 years before I transferred to UMN to complete my degree in chemistry. Currently I am in the application process for graduate school to study chemical biology.
    What you need to do is look at the curriculum for the program you are interested in. Berkeley was really nice since it has its own College of Chemistry with different emphasizes. The program however was rigorous and allowed for very little individual input. When I transferred to UMN they immediately allowed me to take graduate level courses. This allowed me to take courses not available to undergrads at Berkeley such as Interpretation of Organic Spectra. The classes at Minnesota really allow an undergraduate to tailor their course load towards their research interests. The program however is filled with many students not looking to really pursue chemistry as a career, but usually these students aren't in the graduate level courses as they are not explicitly required for the major.
    Let me know if you have any questions about either program. I highly recommend Minnesota-Twin Cities as many of my fellow classmates have been able to get into graduate school at places such as Cal, MIT, and CIT. The key is to take advantage of research opportunities and to enroll and take advanced classes applicable to your research. These small classes allow you to interact with amazing researchers as well as with competitive and knowledgable graduate students.
  7. Jan 7, 2012 #6


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    Re: Aiming for top chemistry grad school-- what to do about undergrad?

    You realize that this thread is over three years old? The OP is probably a junior in college by now.

  8. Jan 7, 2012 #7
    Re: Aiming for top chemistry grad school-- what to do about undergrad?

    You realize the forum is left up on purpose. More than one person has this question.
  9. Jan 7, 2012 #8


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    Re: Aiming for top chemistry grad school-- what to do about undergrad?

    lund1437, welcome to Physics Forums and please check the date on posts that you are tempted to respond to. :smile:

    [added] When you do respond to an old post, make it clear that you're aware that it's old so you don't come off looking a bit silly. Your post looked as if you really were addressing the original questioner, who as eumyang noted is probably in his junior year now.
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