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  1. May 7, 2008 #1
    I am going to apply to colleges next year and have been told by my counselor to find a list of 4-8 schools that are "good fits." What factors should I consider to find a good fit? I can pretty much picture myself doing well at any type of school. All I am really want is an academic challenge (I am bored silly in high school and I've exhausted math/physics courses at the local college). I hope to pursue a physics or a dual math/physics degree. My grades and ACT scores place no limits on the colleges I can choose from. How can I compare the quality of, say, physics departments? Will I get virtually the same undergrad physics education anywhere, or should I shoot for "top" schools? Does anybody know about physics at Carleton College?
    Last edited: May 7, 2008
  2. jcsd
  3. May 7, 2008 #2
    Well, you probably want a place with a large physics program then. You'll run out of classes to take at a place with a small physics program. Do you plan on going to grad school? If so, then where you go for undergrad doesn't matter a whole lot. You might get some more opportunities as an undergrad at the higher ranked schools, but you'll also probably pay through the nose for it. There are legions of people who went to Podunk U for undergrad and Prestigious U for grad school.
  4. May 7, 2008 #3
    I'm not sure yet, but I'll probably go to grad school. But will I be as prepared for grad school if I go to Podunk?
  5. May 7, 2008 #4
    Well, its not as if they teach a different kind of physics at MIT than they teach at Grand Valley State. There are probably more advantages overall to going to the better school in any case (certainly if you aren't sure about going to grad school), it is just accompanied by a higher price tag. Also, if you don't know this already (I didn't know this until I was in college), grad schools typically pay you to go there instead of you paying them, which is why money isn't a problem for grad school.
  6. May 8, 2008 #5
    There is more to consider than just academics when considering a good fit. You should aim for the best schools you think you can get into, but you should also consider various other aspects that you will have to deal with while there.

    For example, what is the political climate on the campus? Does it mesh with your views? The local city, is it a place you can honestly see yourself enjoying? The diversity on campus, do you want people mostly like you or do you want to be around different people? Greek life, do you want Greek life to be a huge part of you or not?

    AS for your question regarding the comparing physics departments. It's hard to do. I suggest you look at the course catalog provided by the campus and see which department offer more classes that interest you. You can take a tour their department.
  7. May 8, 2008 #6
    Theres more to it than just academics and price. Don't forget you will be living there for 4 years of your life. you want to be somewhere that youre comfortable living.
    Usually one can tell a lot about the university based on vibes during a visit.
    Visit some schools
  8. May 8, 2008 #7
    Oh yeah, I don't know why I didn't even think of that last night. My current school was my last choice before I visited it, and then it became my first choice. I couldn't be happier here.
  9. May 9, 2008 #8
    I can't emphasize enough how much college visits helped me. I was nearly all set to go to a university I would not have liked much but was better in terms of sci/math as i was predominantly a science and engineering school. I visited my current school numerous times and fell in love with the campus and atmosphere. Right before I sent in my housing deposit for the other school I got the fin-aid package for my current school and decided that though it was just a tad more expensive, I had to side with the atmosphere and environment I found at my current school.
  10. May 12, 2008 #9
    What's important to you in the college experience? This is the US, so practically all schools will provide you with a solid education, luckily: just make sure the physics department at your school is existent and large enough, and make sure you find out how easy it is for undergraduates to get involved in research.

    If you want a challenge, then maybe you should look into "top" universities: they tend to be tougher. Liberal arts colleges often have a reputation of rigor. Try Reed College or the University of Chicago for some challenging schools, both liberal arts and research university (Chicago's undergrad is structured like an LAC with a research university, really).

    But you're going to find academic difficulty at many, many schools (just search around, you'll find out what schools are difficult: I sure did, and those are the ones I applied to!), so you'll need a way to distinguish between those. As mentioned earlier, what other factors are important to you in college? Do you want a liberal, conservative, or moderate feel? Do you want a city or rural? Do you want large or small? Do you want a more academically well-rounded school or one with a strong STEM focus? Do you want a school with a strong core curriculum (Chicago, Columbia) or one with an open curriculum (Brown, New College in Florida)? Does AP credit acceptance matter to you? Is it important that the school have an engineering department?

    All those should help you narrow it down from there. I say apply to 3 schools you feel are reaches (some people apply to much more since chances are so slim at very top-tier schools), 3 you feel moderately confident you'll get in, and then however many safeties you feel you need. It's only a suggestion: I only applied to 4, so I'm not one to judge! I've heard of people who applied to 16, though I think you should narrow it down more than that so it's easier to choose once you get in.

    And mgiddy911 is right: visit the schools before you decide which one to go to! My top choice shifted after a visit, much to my surprise. You never know what a campus is truly like until you visit.
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