Comparing Physics Programs at UofM and UMD

UMD has a good physics program, but I don't think it would be worth it to pay the additional $10K or $15K per year.f
  • #1
My student needs to select either University of Michigan or UMD for his BS degree in Physics. His goal is to go to graduate school after that. His interests are in Nuclear Physics, in particular Fusion energy. He has a full ride to UMD which is also instate. If he were to go to UMI, he will only get ~ 23K ( I think out of state tuition at UMI is ~ 55K). The student is an exceptional student with overflowing motivation and self direction. I am not familiar with the physics programs at either of these universities. Can you guide us please?

I did some google search. According to, the physics graduate programs at UMI is rated at #15 and UMD at #18! Does this also translate to good physics undergraduate program?


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  • #2
First of all congratulations to your student. It's a wonderful problem to have. My personal view is that they are both highly regarded schools for the major and it doesn't make sense to pay more for Michigan especially if loans will be needed to pay for it.

If loans are not required and you are comfortable potentially paying the cost, then the next step in my opinion is to quantify whether or not that additional cost provides a strong enough return on investment to warrant it.

The student should look at the program details as outlined in the Academic Calendar and plot out exactly what courses they would be required to take, both for the major and the degree, including gen ed requirements. He should also investigate what offerings each school has for electives (both for the major and in general), what additional opportunities exist for experiential learning (e.g. being able to gain research experience, internship opportunities both academic and in industry, study abroad opportunities etc.), and what the academic regulations are at both schools. Since grad school is on his radar, beyond attaining a strong GPA, the two most important things for him will be to be able to acquire research experience and form good relationships with individuals who will be able to provide him with strong letters of recommendation. Being able to complete a senior year thesis course would be highly beneficial.

Then unless one program stands out substantially more clearly as hand and foot above the other, go with the cheaper option. While top Physics PhD programs will provide full funding, it will not be substantial and any funds that can be saved to be applied to the 6-8 years it could potentially take to complete the degree would be beneficial.

Good luck
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  • #3
There is really no difference between 15 and 18. Follow the money.
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Likes gleem and jtbell
  • #4
A few years back, Gourman Reports put out both undergraduate and graduate rankings. For the most part, they agreed with each other. Now I looked at the rankings between 15 and 18 and saw that they were only one - tenth apart, 4.2 vs 4.3. Likewise, Stanford was 5.0 and Cal tech, Harvard, MIT, Berkeley, and Princeton were al 1/10 lower at 4.9. Can anyone really trust the rankings alone that Stanford should be preferred to the others. Surely other criteria should play a part. The same goes for the schools in the 10 - 20 range.

Also, the rankings fluctuate. For example, in 2020 or so Boulder and Maryland and Penn were tied and Michigan was above them. Now Penn is above Boulder and both are above Michigan. It is fun to look iat the rankings (I do), but they should not be taken too seriously. Clearly Michigan, and Maryland are both great schools for physics, and it is unlikely that graduate committees would draw any distinction in one applicant in one over the other, (unless the member on the committee graduated from one of the institutions).
  • #5
Go to the school that is free. To be able to graduate and have no debt is "living life in another world" so to speak. I've seen people "snowball" debt, and it's a horrible way to start your life as a young person paying off college debt. Once your already in a lot of debt, I've seen people pull the whole "well I'm going to paying off college debt for the rest of forever so might as well as enjoy life" and turn around buy a brand new 20k-30k car right out of college and the snowball just gets bigger and bigger. Then in 4-5 years the car is now worth 10k-15k.

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