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Cornell, UC Santa Barbara, UChicago or Columbia for Undergrad Physics

  1. Mar 22, 2015 #1

    LMB

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    My son was accepted at Cornell, the University of Chicago, UC Santa Barbara, and possibly Columbia for the undergraduate program in physics. He is also waiting to hear from the UC Santa Barbara College of Creative Studies program. We feel very honored to be accepted in these programs and are having a hard time deciding which would be the best. He is interested in physics and applied math and hopes to earn a Ph.D in one of these fields.

    We have visited all three campuses and feel that they would all be a great fit. We are especially interested in small class sizes, research opportunities and a vibrant academic community. Can anyone recommend which program would give him the best foundation for graduate school?

    Thanks!
     
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  3. Mar 22, 2015 #2

    radium

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    Cornell, UCSB, and Chicago would all be great. I have friends who went to all of those schools for undergrad in my physics PhD program. The things I would consider the most are size, location, and student culture. Chicago is in Hyde park which is about 15 minutes away from downtown Chicago. Cornell is very remote and hard to get to. Both have very cold winters. In regards to size, Chicago has probably 5-6,000 undergrads, Cornell 11-13,000, and UCSB 19-20,000 (but the college of creative studies is a small and very unique program which would give one more attention and provide research opportunities). Also if you are instate and are considering cost, UCSB is a very logical option.

    Chicago has a very unique student culture that is highly intellectual (although a bit less so than it used to be). However, many who are looking for a more diverse college experience really do not like it. Likewise, Cornell has more of a usual social scene with Greek life etc., but it is also a very stressful and competitive place for students. I suspect UCSB students (although the physics students are probably at the top of the student body) are a bit more laid back, which is not a bad thing, because a lot of the students at schools like UChicago and Cornell develop very unhealthy lifestyles in response to all of the pressure they feel to succeed.

    Overall, I would emphasize looking at the factors I listed since you can get a great education at any of them and many students from these schools go to top grad schools.
     
  4. Mar 23, 2015 #3
    Firstly, congratulations to your son, they are all one of the best schools in physics! If your son wishes to go to graduate school, I don't think it is necessary that he goes to a private university with $50000+ price tag each year for undergrad. UCSB not only is cheaper than the other schools listed, they also have programs in theoretical physics and materials/condensed matter physics that compete against best in the world (UChicago and Cornell also does, but UCSB's Kavli institute of Theoretical Physics, for example, is noteworthy). He should have abundant academic/research opportunities at UCSB.
     
    Last edited: Mar 23, 2015
  5. Mar 23, 2015 #4

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    Thanks for the advice. My son is looking for a collaborative environment and is not intersted in Greek life. We live on the east coast but even at out of state rates, UCSB is substantially less expensive. We are a little concerned about having him so far from home but the professors and staff at UCSB seem very caring and supportive. The campus was also beautiful.

    Do you think he would be able to attend a top grad program from any of these programs? We are also concerned that he may change his major to math or another stem field and want him to have options. Chicago has a program in Applied Math that seems very strong. Thanks again!
     
  6. Mar 23, 2015 #5
    UCSB has a great faculty and this is well known within the physics community. I don’t think going to UCSB will hinder him from getting into a top graduate physics program. I don’t know anything about the other departments there.

    While most people within the physics community know UCSB has a great physics department, I don’t think this is well known outside of physics. My impression is that most people outside of physics think of UCSB as a party school, if they think of it at all. The only downside I see to UCSB is that if your son changes his mind and decides not to get a PhD, a BS from UCSB probably won’t look as good on a resume to most people as Chicago or Cornell. This seems like a pretty small risk to me, but it’s the only one I could think of.
     
  7. Mar 23, 2015 #6
    If you look at professors at these institutions, you'll find many of them completed their undergraduate degrees at non-brand name universities. I go to a hum-drum big state university and the top 10% of my class got into fancy schools like Caltech, Cornell, UCSB, and Stanford, so they do not care about the name of your undergrad. Better still, they graduated without debt. So if cost is a concern, that is probably a good thing to consider.
     
  8. Mar 23, 2015 #7

    radium

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    Going to one of these schools won't guarantee that you will get into a top grad school but I do think it gives you a big advantage if you are a great student at one of these schools. I have to say, I went to a few open houses at top 10 physics grad programsand Cornell, Chicago, and UCSB were some of the most well represented schools. There were probably at least 4-5 Chicago and Cornell students at each of these open houses.
     
  9. Mar 24, 2015 #8
    How much of that is the special sauce Cornell/UCSB put in their physics student's breakfast cereal and how much of that is the fact that, well, most good high school students want to go to brand name universities?
     
  10. Mar 24, 2015 #9

    radium

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    Recommender influence and connections are very helpful for grad school admissions. There are also really amazing research opportunities at these schools. This gives them a sizable advantage in grad school admissions.
     
  11. Mar 24, 2015 #10
    REU's? The fact that many schools have well connected professors which aren't in the top 20? The fact I know people with limited connections who did not do amazing research who got into top schools? The fact that any large state university with a large budget probably has pretty solid research going on of some form or another (perhaps not in rubbish like string theory, but certainly in more practical matters)?

    To be clear, I don't disagree that there are advantages. But these are not worth incurring a large cost. If the kid in question is going to accumulate a large amount of debt for frankly meager bonuses, he should go elsewhere, because if he is quite motivated, it will be easy to overcome the disadvantages. The advantages in question really compare very poorly with the overall motivation of the student. If it's not much more expensive then it's probably worth it.
     
  12. Mar 24, 2015 #11

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    We would not incur a large debt at any of these schools. We have been saving for college for many years and feel we can afford Chicago, Cornell or UCSB. My son intends on going to graduate school in physics and will need to pay for this on his own. Chicago and Cornell are significantly more expensive, so we are strongly considering UCSB. My son does like Applied Physics more than Theoretical and is interested in high energy or possibly medical physics. Are any of these programs more applied?

    Thanks again!
     
  13. Mar 24, 2015 #12
    As an undergrad you really don't need to specialize. So even if Chicago were more applied than UCSB, it would not really make sense to go there. More importantly, UCSB has a very strong applied program.

    High energy is pretty much the least applied field of physics imaginable, but the related field of accelerator physics is applied. Medical physics is definitely applied. I don't know which of these schools is strongest in which but again for an undergrad this isn't really important.
     
  14. Mar 26, 2015 #13
    Congratulations to your son!

    I agree that your son does not need to worry about specializing in Undergrad. Even during grad admissions/during visits, no one expects you to do the same type of work you did as an undergraduate.

    If I were your son, I would pick a school where he can see spending 4 years of his life. UCSB, Cornell, and Chicago are excellent schools for physics. What kind of activities does he like? What are other interests in terms of studies? Does he want a city life?

    If you want some perspective: I have a lot of friends who went to small colleges and state universities not completely known for physics ( meaning they are not top 50 or w/e) and have gained admission to top5/top10/top20 programs! So it isn't about where you go, but it's about what you do when you are there.
     
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