Cal Poly SLO vs a UCSB Physics Undergrad

In summary: What do you think?In summary, UCSB has a lot of great physics opportunities, but Cal Poly has a better chance of getting a letter of rec from a professor who knows you well.
  • #1
SphericalCow
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I plan on going to graduate school for experimental physics, I'll choose a field when I have more experience. Currently, I'm deciding on whether I go to UCSB or Cal Poly for my undergrad. Below is my evaluation of the two universities in terms of physics opportunities:

UCSB is one of the top physics programs in the world, with a lot of cutting edge research, and three of their physics professors have Nobel Prizes. There will be more physics majors there than at Cal Poly, and better physics opportunities in terms of clubs, guest speakers, and colloquiums. Letters from their professors likely have more pull at top graduate departments (if I'm able to connect with them), and I will have access to graduate classes.

Cal Poly, on the other hand, will allow me to work much closer with professors. Their physics program isn't as renown, but they just opened up a new science building, which a professor has told me the facilities are "comparable or even better with those of a research university". Since I won't be competing with graduate students, I'll have more research responsibilities, and likely get a letter of rec from a professor who knows me much better than one at a UC. Cal Poly has more elective physics lab classes than UCSB, and I'll also be taking smaller classes with professors whose job is teaching instead of research.

Overall, I'm not sure which school would be better. UCSB has amazing physics opportunities, but being able to work more closely with professors in a school designed for undergraduate education is really enticing.

What do you think?
Since these are both two fantastic colleges, does it really even matter? Students from both universities have gone to amazing grad schools.
 
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  • #2
There is zero correlation between winning a Nobel prize and teaching physics well. There are thousands of good physicists that haven't won that prize. Odds are you won't really interact with them as an undergraduate anyway. If you have a Nobel prize and an appointment at a prestigious university, one of the things you don't have to do if you don't want to is teach undergraduates. I wish institutions would stop using that as a selling point.

BTW, you might look up where they were when they did the work that won that prize. It probably isn't where they are working now.

Anyway, at schools of this caliber, every physics professor knows all of the physics an undergrad can handle, but they might not all be good at teaching it if they are really there to do research with their grad students.
 
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  • #3
When will you be starting? By now acceptance deadlines for 2023 have passed and admissions for 2024 haven't started yet.
 
  • #4
Vanadium 50 said:
When will you be starting? By now acceptance deadlines for 2023 have passed and admissions for 2024 haven't started yet.
2024
 
  • #5
So why do you need to know now? If you are only accepted to one, isn't your decision made for you?
 
  • #6
Vanadium 50 said:
When will you be starting? By now acceptance deadlines for 2023 have passed and admissions for 2024 haven't started yet.

SphericalCow said:
2024
So you have neither been accepted nor even applied yet at this point?
 
  • #7
gwnorth said:
So you have neither been accepted nor even applied yet at this point?
Correct.

I'm guaranteed admission into UCSB as a transfer.
For CP, I'm transferring from a feeder CC with a 50% acceptance rate, all of their requirements done, extra units, and a 3.9 GPA. But sure, I guess I can wait to see if they reject me before asking my questions.
 
  • #8
Definitely look into housing and living costs. Santa Barbara might be the most beautiful place on the planet... if you have money. You didn't say which Cal Poly, but I assume SLO. Housing is much easier to deal with there, and it's still a great location IMO.
 
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  • #9
DaveE said:
Definitely look into housing and living costs. Santa Barbara might be the most beautiful place on the planet... if you have money. You didn't say which Cal Poly, but I assume SLO. Housing is much easier to deal with there, and it's still a great place.
Do you mean to imply that my educational/grad school opportunities don’t differ too much between CP SLO or UCSB, such that I can make my decision based on other factors like cost and housing?
 
  • #10
SphericalCow said:
Do you mean to imply that my educational/grad school opportunities don’t differ too much between CP SLO or UCSB
No, IDK. The biggest factor for grad schools is what YOU did at either of these high quality schools, not the school.

SphericalCow said:
such that I can make my decision based on other factors like cost and housing
Yes, absolutely. High school students tend to focus too much on academics and not give enough weight to quality of life issues; things like student debt, activities when you aren't studying, other student demographics, etc.
 
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  • #11
You should also investigate whether either department does anything special to integrate transfers.
 
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  • #12
SphericalCow said:
I'm guaranteed admission
Are you?

As far as I can tell from the requirements, at best you are guaranteed admission provided you take and do well in various courses. Further, the internet is full of sad stories about people who thought they had met all the requirements, but missed one by just a little, and didn't get in. Many of them seem to have counted on AP tests to satisfy requirements, and then found out that this is not the case.

Rather than worrying about which path will do a slightly better job lead you to graduate school four or more years from now, you need to ensure that you can get in somewhere at all.
 
  • #13
I've double checked my admission for UCSB, I've satisfied their transfer admission guarantee.
I'm not worried about quality of life stuff, I've already addressed it except for the cost, so I'll wait to see if I get financial aid from schools that accept me.

I'd be happy going to CP, but I wasn't sure if I was shooting myself in the foot in terms of education / grad school by not going to a UC for physics, hence this post. It seems like I don't need to worry about that.
 
  • #14
DaveE said:
You didn't say which Cal Poly, but I assume SLO. Housing is much easier to deal with there, and it's still a great location IMO.
I'd be surprised if housing costs were significantly different. They're high all over Southern California. Most likely, the OP won't live in the city of Santa Barbara but in Goleta. UCSB is technically in Santa Barbara but all of the area surrounding the campus is part of Goleta.

The fees, however, are probably quite a bit lower at SLO than UCSB.

SphericalCow said:
I've double checked my admission for UCSB, I've satisfied their transfer admission guarantee.
I hope you did that yourself rather than relying on what a counselor told you. I've heard too many stories recently of counselors telling students the wrong thing.
 
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  • #15
So I would check the Academic Calendars of both programs and compare them side by side, but supposing they are both solid programs they should both cover all the core program requirements. They may differ however with regards to what they offer in terms of electives and if they do, that might make one a more attractive option for you.

Beyond that admission to graduate programs is going to depend on your research experience and your letters of recommendation. Publications and conference presentations if you can get them are a bonus. It may be that one school provides more opportunities to get relevant experience and forge the necessary relationships with professors but I don't know if that is actually the case. That's something you might want to look into by maybe contacting existing students in each program to ask about their experiences.

If that still doesn't tip the balance for you maybe looking up the specific research areas of the professors at each school and see if there are specific topics you find more interesting.

Finally the last criteria are financial and the very subjective consideration of campus feel.

Best of luck
 
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