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Choosing a school for upper div. physics - difficulty?

  1. Oct 14, 2012 #1
    Hello all,

    I am preparing to transfer to a University of California campus as a junior from a community college. I am applying to several campuses next month and I'd like some guidance in choosing a school for when the time comes to select one.

    One of the major things I am thinking about is that I'd like to be in a school where I'd be able to succeed. Although I've done well in lower division courses and have a good work ethic, I'm not sure that I'll exactly be above average in classes where the others are on the same level as me. For instance, a recent Berkeley graduate was telling me how if the average on an exam was an 88, it was still curved so that an 88 is a C. It seems that doing good is not enough - one must truly be above average to succeed.

    So that has me wondering. I would like to attend Berkeley, but at the same time I would like to do well enough that schools will consider me for graduate school (For the sake of the argument, assume that I get into the schools that I apply). Are most physics programs this competitive? I really do enjoy the subject and I'm willing to put in the effort, but I'm not sure about going to a school where I'd merely be getting by.

    I understand that in order to get into graduate school, one must really be good at physics. I'm not looking for an easy way out, because I know physics should be the same regardless of what campus I go to. But is it really worth taking a beating at a prestigious school than to go to a less popular school?

    Any comments or experiences that you would like to share about upper division courses are appreciated.
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 15, 2012 #2
    Uh, I see a simple solution here: Work really, really hard at Berkeley.
  4. Oct 15, 2012 #3
    That sounds like a good plan. However, I have some time so I'd like to really like to dig deep and make sure I do the right thing. The problem is that in the back of my head I imagine those I'll be competing with as some sort of unhuman super-geniuses.
  5. Oct 15, 2012 #4
    Also, please note that I'm applying to other schools as well. In fact, I even have a transfer guarantee for UC Santa Barbara. So I'm not exactly looking for information exactly specific to Berkeley, though I'd appreciate it - I'm interested in whatever experiences about upper division physics that you all have. :)
  6. Oct 15, 2012 #5
    Most schools except the top top tier (Berkeley is one of those top top tiers along with Caltech and MIT) use the same books. It comes down to how the professor teaches and that varies. I fee; that the professors in undergrad classes are usually helpful and nice. Now when you get to grad school...

    UCSB is a really good school for physics.
  7. Oct 15, 2012 #6
    UCSB is definitely my second choice after Berkeley, at least for the time being. I figured that place balances a great physics program with a less competitive environment. But how would graduating from a top tier school compare with graduating from a not so notable with perhaps a relatively higher GPA? What about schools like UC Riverside that may not exactly be known for being prestigious nor having an exceptional physics program?

    I am getting mixed signals from professors: some tell me to go to the best schools I can (e.g. Berkeley) while others say that it is not very important where I go for undergraduate and a school like UC Riverside, which is nearby, would be fine.
  8. Oct 16, 2012 #7
    if you have a higher gpa from a not so well known school and someone from berkeley has a lower gpa, you will have the advantage hands down. Thats just gpa, if you have the same gpa as someone from a prestigious school but you have research under your belt, again advantage, you. bottom line, doesn't matter what school you choose. choose a campus you enjoy and you know you will be comfortable learning there.
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