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Berkeley versus Princeton (Undergraduate)

  1. Apr 2, 2010 #1
    Hey guys, I'm currently facing a dilemma. My top choice has always been Princeton because I was always more interested in a math concentration rather than a physics concentration and Princeton has amazing opportunities. However, Princeton costs $15,000 more (Berkeley is a full-ride along with some perks as a Regents), and I can't double major (only a minor).

    However, in Berkeley, it's basically free, and I can choose to double major in Physics and Mathematics (I could even minor in Applied Math if I somehow got close to fitting the requirements near the end of my fourth year). It's also a pretty good school, but I like Princeton a little bit more in terms of learning experience, research, professors, etc. However, Berkeley provides me more freedom in choosing what I learn.

    I know that I shouldn't base my decision on what a few people say, but I'd just like to hear your opinions on this. Also, MIT accepted me, but their financial aid is even less than Princeton's, and I prefer Princeton over MIT. Oh, I also plan on going to graduate school to pursue either a Math or Physics PhD. That's why I think a double major would be best since I could qualify for both. My goal in the next eight years is to secure a PhD at a good school and have great opportunities when I pursue a career in academia for research. I'm siding over to Berkeley currently because it's cheaper, offers me more freedom, and it's not that worse than Princeton in my eyes. Berkeley's only less prestigious, but who cares about that? Yet again, going to a top school like Princeton is almost a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity...
    Last edited: Apr 2, 2010
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 2, 2010 #2


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    doesn't matter dude, they're all great schools. But you'll have a lesser chance of developing a close relationship with a faculty member in Princeton because they're too busy mentoring grad students and doing their own research. That is very important for rec letters to get into grad school.
  4. Apr 2, 2010 #3
    I mean you can't go wrong either way... but if I were in your shoes Princeton seems more appealing considering its large undergraduate focus and amazing reputation... and $15,000 in the long term is not much at all, all things considered....

    I think Berkeley will be much more independent and I don't think you will get quite so much attention from advisors and profs... but Princeton won't exactly be highly welcoming either...

    So, in conclusion, my choice would be Princeton...
  5. Apr 2, 2010 #4
    That's a tough decision. Berkeley seems to be having a lot of significant financial issues right now, and I've been told that despite its fantastic graduate departments it's not a very good place to be an undergraduate. Princeton, on the other hand, is one of the best undergraduate colleges in the world.

    I want to preface this with a huge disclaimer: I'm not a Berkeley student, so I could be misinformed! But I've been told a number of times that switching majors at Berkeley can be a massive pain (more precisely the issue seems to be with switching from one college to another). It doesn't seem like you'd want to switch colleges at Berkeley, but it's something to watch out for. Also, since Berkeley is such a massive university, I imagine undergraduate research would be easier to do at Princeton. Further, at Princeton you'd be surrounded by very brilliant students, especially if you take the advanced undergraduate-level or graduate-level mathematics courses there. Princeton, MIT, Harvard, and a few others (Stanford, etc.) are known for attracting some of the best mathematics students in the country (and the world) as undergraduates. Berkeley has a lot of brilliant graduate students in mathematics, but the undergraduate experience there is not like that of Princeton, etc.

    As far as mathematics go, though, Berkeley and Princeton pretty much have equal departments for graduate study. Here's my advice: if you go to Berkeley, make sure you take advantage of the graduate department in mathematics as soon as and as much as you possibly can.

    Ultimately, if money wasn't an issue I think Princeton would hands-down be the better choice for an undergraduate, but $15,000 is a lot, so I understand your predicament. I'm not sure what choice you should make, but I wish you luck nonetheless!

    Just to be clear: you can't go wrong with either choice. Both schools are fantastic! So you should not feel bad if you pick Berkeley over Princeton for very good financial reasons.
  6. Apr 2, 2010 #5
    Thanks for the responses guys. One thing I'll deeply regret if I go to Berkeley is the missed opportunity to meet and collaborate with some of the smartest students in the world. Princeton sounds great, but it's so costly, especially since my family income is only $90,000 and I have two brothers (one who's going to med school this year, and one going next year) and I don't want to drain my parent's pockets. Princeton is a much smaller school and seems to be more personal with its students although it doesn't offer a double major.
  7. Apr 2, 2010 #6
    Personally I'd go with Berkeley.
  8. Apr 2, 2010 #7


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    Here is my advice:

    • Visit each campus, walk around, check out the library, etc.
    • Talk to faculty in the maths department
    • Visit the surrounding neighborhood/area in which you'll be living while attending the university

    Then compare the two. :smile: The list isn't comprehensive, as others have given some useful advice/insight, but I feel it is important to consider what I've listed above.
  9. Apr 2, 2010 #8
    disclaimer: I'm a current Princeton student

    One thing I'd want to point out is that not being able to double major shouldn't be a factor in your decision. The reasoning for not allowing double majoring is that all seniors at Princeton are required to write a senior thesis - a year long independent work project that will take a lot of your time. Double majoring and fulfilling this requirement with essentially 2 theses would not be very feasible. However, even though you can't technically double major, there's nothing preventing you from learning the material. You can still take both physics and math classes, and be no less competitive than if you go to Berkeley and double major. What you know (which is easily demonstrable through coursework) is more important than what your diploma says in this case, especially since you would already have the boost of a Princeton diploma.

    You say that Princeton has always been your first choice, in which case I would say that the only factor to consider now is the issue of cost. You know best how manageable $15k is, so I won't comment on that.

    The last thing I want to comment on is thrill3rnit3's comment that at Princeton it'll be harder to develop close relationships with professors. I disagree with this. At Princeton, in your junior and senior years you will HAVE to work closely with a professor in your chosen concentration/certificate on independent work. This sort of built in opportunity (there are a lot of others that are available to underclassmen as well as upperclassmen, but you just have to have some initiative to search for them on your own by asking professors, I know several classmates currently working in the labs of various professors here) is something that I think really makes Princeton standout.
  10. Apr 2, 2010 #9
    Congrats on getting in to MIT, Princeton and Berkeley
    If I were you I would personally go to Princeton. I mean just consider how many people would die to get in (Including me! I'm a reject from both MIT and Princeton). Its a great school that many of us would like to go to. But, Berkeley is by no means bad, its amazing to. But I think you could borrow 15k and pay it back when you graduate. You shouldn't have any trouble in finding a job/ getting into grad school later on.

    Congrats again on getting accepted
  11. Apr 2, 2010 #10
    Thank you all again for the advice. As Dembadon has suggested, I plan to visit both campuses and look around. In an undergraduate university, I'm looking for a really good education (Princeton slightly beats Berkeley regarding this aspect in my opinion) as well as a solid foundation to get into graduate schools later.
    aznriceboi, do you know how competitive Princeton courses are? I've heard that the actual undergrad college and prestige doesn't make much of a difference in grad school applications; that is, it might be better to get a higher GPA at a decent school than a lower GPA at a top school, if that makes sense.
  12. Apr 2, 2010 #11
    Berkeley's graduate department in mathematics is one of the best in the world and easily on par with Princeton's. Even though Princeton's department in ranked #1 right now, there have been times in the past when that honor went to Berkeley.

    In other words, if you make use of Berkeley's graduate department in mathematics, I seriously doubt the courses will be easier.
  13. Apr 2, 2010 #12
    But that deals with Berkeley's graduate department and not its undergraduate department. I don't think I could "make use of Berkeley's graduate department of math" for a while although I don't know much about this process. I would definitely love to be able to take a few graduate-level courses at Berkeley though. Do you happen to know any more information about this?

    Berkeley is certainly a prestigious and strong graduate school in math and sciences just as how Johns Hopkins is a very prestigious and strong medical school. However, they both lack a bit more in the undergraduate level compared to other undergraduate colleges. This explains why their undergraduate acceptance rates are so high (comparatively). Although acceptance rates aren't indicators of whether a school is better than another, it does make a difference in showing a pretty significant correlation.
  14. Apr 3, 2010 #13
    Let me get this straight, you are ranting that you go into Berkeley, Princeton and MIT??

    Most people would be crying in tears (joy of course) to even get into one of these prestigious schools.
    Last edited: Apr 3, 2010
  15. Apr 3, 2010 #14
    lol, I was thinking the same thing.
  16. Apr 3, 2010 #15
    No, no, definitely not. It's an honor to even be accepted into one of them. I sincerely apologize if I come across as a jerk. However, I can only attend one of the schools and I'm just trying to obtain opinions on the matter to help my own evaluation when I ultimately decide which to choose.
  17. Apr 3, 2010 #16
    Just playing around, no easy choice and it depends 100% on your values, if you value the princeton degree highly (as in 15,000 per year more) then go for it.

    Personally I think Berkeley is the way to go but thats because 15k a year sounds pricey.

    Also I am sure if you kick *** in your undergrad at Berkeley you can get into any school in the world (and probably any major at that) so I don't see Berkeley holding you back

    People like me view a good education in undergraduate mathematics as routine typical multivariate calc/differential equation/complex analysis/linear algebra + Rudin, Herstein and since your at a top school also Royden and Munkres.

    I think only after that level schools really matter, because even at schools outside of those rankings can do an extremely good job teaching those subjects, sometimes I suspect, an even better job its all luck for who have as an instructor.

    Its after you have the foundation and know what chapters/areas you liked the best you can take advantage of people.

    In short, ofcourse it is better to go to the "best" school possible but at this stage I don't see how much more (if anything) Princeton could offer over Berkeley to justify 15k.
  18. Apr 3, 2010 #17
    I am an undergraduate double majoring at Berkeley (with one of those majors being applied math). Here is what I have to say:

    1. There is no "applied math" minor, just a minor in math. See: http://math.berkeley.edu/undergraduate_minor.html [Broken].

    2. If you want to take advanced math courses, no one is stopping you. "Prerequisites" are more of a guideline than a rule. You could sign up for graduate courses your freshman year if you think you can handle it and have enough preparation. Also, if you have not completed the core requirements (linear algebra, abstract algebra, real analysis, complex analysis) at community college, take the honors version of the courses. The honors classes are generally smaller, ~ 10 students, and are fun and challenging.

    3. Berkeley is fun in general.

    If you have more specific questions about Berkeley, I am happy to answer.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 4, 2017
  19. Apr 3, 2010 #18
    ^ Thank you very much for that information. I'll be sure to bombard you with questions later, haha.
  20. Apr 3, 2010 #19
    In the end, if you want to get into a place like Princeton for graduate school in mathematics, the assumption will be that you will have taken a very considerable number of graduate courses, at least the first year or two at an ordinary graduate school for mathematics, and the selection committee will focus on your work that is at the graduate level. While it will be important for you to do well in the introductory undergraduate courses, a place like Princeton's graduate school will care more about how you do with graduate-level material.

    And since Berkeley has one of the best mathematics departments in the world that means that doing well at Berkeley with a few years of their graduate courses should be sufficient to get into a top school for mathematics graduate school.

    In other words,

  21. Apr 3, 2010 #20
    So I'll say the things other people missed...

    Parties, and girls, will be much better at Berkeley.
    Like the beach? The sun?
    Or do you like white winters?

    Honestly, these questions may not sound important at all, but you're going to be spending 4 years at your undergrad. Long time, and the atmosphere will mold you as a person in many more ways than academic. Though I suppose you could be an anti-social bookworm equally well in both places, but outside that I think the little things will make a difference =)
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