Choice of College, Transfer

Brown or Northwestern.In summary, a sophomore in college studying physics and computer science is considering a transfer to either Brown or Northwestern. He currently attends Vanderbilt, and he has started a bit in research. He would like to see how where he can get in physics by the time he's a senior in college. He is a "late-bloomer" in terms of academics, and feels like he has been playing catch up in college. He is currently considering a transfer because he doesn't feel that there's much interest among his fellow students in extracurricular problem solving, and in physics. He would like to be at a place where there's a lot of passion for physics/f
  • #1
I'm a sophomore in college studying physics and computer science, and I'm in the process of considering a transfer. I have offers to Brown and Northwestern, and I'd like to get some more opinions on the quality of each school for these fields. I currently attend Vanderbilt.

In physics, beyond the freshman mechanics and E/M, I also have taken a Quantum "survey" course and Advanced E/M (Griffiths). In CS I have taken an Intro to Programing and a Data Structures class. For math I have taken Multivariable Calc/ Linear Algebra/ Ordinary DiffEq, and self studied Discrete Math.

I have started a bit in research. In addition to some computational geophysics, I'm starting to prepare for a summer in Condensed Matter research, but I'm not strongly opinionated about what subfield I prefer yet. However, I think I would prefer theory or computation over experiment.

For future goals, I'd like to see how where I can get in physics by the time I'm a senior in college. I'm a "late-bloomer" in terms of academics as I did very little in high school, and feel like I have been playing catch up in college. Seems like some people got up into the stratosphere while I idled away in high school. I've enjoyed physics the most so far, and if I feel like I'm a competent problem solver by the time I'm a senior, then yeah, I think I'd like to try physics grad school. I really don't know what my capabilities are (and I'd consider myself nothing special currently), I'm just trying to do well in courses while spending extra time outside of classes improving problem solving skills through MIT OpenCourseWare or other math books.

If I don't feel like I'd make for strong potential physicist, I guess I'd go a more standard route of a programmer/ software engineer. (Part of the reason for taking on the second major is to appease my parents by having a financial security net, but I do enjoy the subject. )

I'm considering transferring from Vanderbilt because I don't feel that there's much interest among my fellow students in extracurricular problem solving, and in physics. My handful of experiences of tackling random math competition problems with friends have been some of my favorite moments of college so far, but they are limited in that I can't find a lot of people interested in that, only some friends who are in different majors. Ideally I'd be at a place where there's a lot of passion for physics/math among undergraduates and spend most of my time outside of class doing research or finding new problems to solve with friends. I think courses at Vanderbilt have been a little too easy as well. I somehow have a 4.0 gpa, which I mostly attribute to the courses feeling a little watered down.

I have visited both potential schools, talked to a few students, sat in on a few classes at Northwestern, but I don't know that any particular experience as a visitor is enough to give an indication of what I would get day-to-day at these schools. I got some indication from various students that Northwestern's physics department is nice, CS is just ok. Brown I've heard positive things about both departments. I'd like to get more opinions- anything would be welcome.
  • #2
I can relate in so many ways. I am a veteran, and had the same lackluster HS experience. Technical training brought out the physics and engineering side in me, but when I attended college there was no internet, and the remedial math for credit purposes was prohibitive time wise; I opted for Psychology as a science. You might not think so, but it is, when you consider the medical knowledge needed and statistical emphasis required along with the research involved establishing empirically what it seems we already accept tacitly. But I still keep one foot in the technical side for personal enjoyment.

As a wanderer myself, I wonder why you aren't considering state schools. You are obviously willing to relocate. I wish I had done so looking back, as often as I moved around after leaving service. Small private schools tend to be limited in focus and/or have agendas depending on where their trustees/regents want to go. Of course, a state school can have the same, I know, but IMO Brown is one of the worst, and I'm a liberal.

State schools often have some of the best science departments. With state residency, tuition can be halved, or possibly even less. In the Texas county where I live, as a resident you can attend the community college for free but take area state and even big private universities for less than 1/3 the cost of what it would be to attend in situ, and have the same professors while earning a bachelors degree from that major university.

Texas universities are some of the most wired in the country and have excellent mathematics, physics, engineering, CS, and medicine education. I can only speak from experience about TX as I worked in a major university here for a while, but this state is by no means unique. Look around, and you will get a better deal than Brown, I'm sure of it.
  • #3
The physics departments at Northwestern and Brown (it is not as strong as the other Ivys in physics) are both ranked in the top 30 in terms of research. However, I would say that Northwestern as a university is definitely more science focused, especially in terms of the student body. They have one of the top materials science programs and have a pretty good engineering school. On the other hand, from what I have heard, I get the impression that students are happier at Brown.
  • #4
This is good information, radium. If students are happier at Brown now then things have changed since I was at my particular university. Also, it is good to see both schools ranked so highly.

Anyone else have any input on Brown or Northwestern?

Suggested for: Choice of College, Transfer