Difference between top colleges and the average college?

In summary: I know I can do better. I have a lot of drive and determination. So I will keep trying no matter what...
  • #1
Ascendant78
328
0
I'm a physics major in my second year of undergrad. I am taking physics 1 and am also trying to study the MIT opencourseware for physics 1 in conjunction with my course. I have to say, the MIT course seems FAR more comprehensive and requires a lot more study time to get it all down. Maybe it is just the order they are teaching it in comparison to our instructor, but from what I've seen of it so far, it really is far more in-depth and challenging.

So, I am curious now. Is going to an average college at this point going to hurt my ability to keep up later on in grad school if I manage to get into somewhere like MIT or Caltech? I ask because I am doing all I can from the ground up to have the best chance, but after comparing the coursework from MIT to my current college, I have to say I am a bit discouraged. Despite being a straight 4.0 student, I feel like I might not be learning enough to be able to keep up with their expectations down the road.

Maybe it just depends on the course, but based on this one particular course, I feel MIT would be helping me to learn far more, basically because I'd be forced to based on the assignments and exams. Has anyone else been in this situation that can give me some insight?
 
Physics news on Phys.org
  • #2
My university's undergraduate physics (UG) program is sub-par compared to MIT's and Caltech's. Would I like to go to MIT or Caltech? Definitely without a doubt. Does it bother me that I'm not there and am instead in a school with an inferior UG physics program? Not really because whatever I feel is lacking from the curriculum here, relative to coursework from other schools such as MIT, I almost always just try to self-study 1. because I don't want to feel ill-prepared down the road and 2. because self-studying physics/math is really fun and that's motivation in and of itself :)

Good luck!
 
  • Like
Likes 1 person
  • #3
Ascendant78 said:
I'm a physics major in my second year of undergrad... I feel MIT would be helping me to learn far more, basically because I'd be forced to based on the assignments and exams.

You are way ahead of the game. The people who are losing are those who do not engage in introspection, who do not question what's put on their plate but rather eat whatever they are served.

I can't speak to MIT, but there are plenty of Caltech students who get little or nothing from their challenging courses. Sure their classes are harder, require more thought, more creativity. But in the end it's what you make of it. What you're doing is seeking out challenges; keep doing that and you'll be the one people want for whatever: grad school, first job, team lead, ...

So keep making your courses and your extras as difficult as you can handle. Find similarly inclined students to work with. The race always goes to those who can make more from less. The ones who really benefit most from top schools are those who push themselves at the higher level -- there are a few.
 
  • #4
WannabeNewton said:
My university's undergraduate physics (UG) program is sub-par compared to MIT's and Caltech's. Would I like to go to MIT or Caltech? Definitely without a doubt. Does it bother me that I'm not there and am instead in a school with an inferior UG physics program? Not really because whatever I feel is lacking from the curriculum here, relative to coursework from other schools such as MIT, I almost always just try to self-study 1. because I don't want to feel ill-prepared down the road and 2. because self-studying physics/math is really fun and that's motivation in and of itself :)

Good luck!

This.

College, like like, is what you make of it.
 
  • #5
Well thanks for the feedback guys. I guess on the good side, my courses aren't forcing me to have to cram so much every week that I can't retain all of it. I'm assuming that is what you were talking about IGU in regards to students that sometimes get little to nothing out of a course.

Anyway, I do plan to keep studying as much on the side as I can. It is just hard to put the time into my classes and their homework, then on top of that, find time for the opencourseware too. It's like increasing my workload by about 60-70% per course.
 
  • #6
Let me tell you something about myself. I was possibly the worst in college you can ever be in and in the worst country on Earth (Google worst country on Earth and you'll know where I'm from). The thing is I know more than all the guys who teach me. The way I did that was by watching courses online. Thanks to the internet. In fact right at this moment I am using a 128kbits connection. So what I used to do was beg people who lived elsewhere to download courses for me. Just like that I was able to self educate myself on multivariable calculus, linear algebra, signals, systems, circuits, control etc etc with also a lot and a lot of books. I tell you I do things the hard way. I used to go to college just because I'm afraid not to be kicked out for being indefinitely absent.
The good thing is I can finish a 30video lecture series in 3 days. In the 4th day I write them all down in order not to forget the important details. In the 5th day I practice a little. And believe me once you understand the subject solving problems will appear a waste of time.
However my math is a good as the lectures I can find. I'm still looking for courses in abstract algebra and differential geometry.
My top courses of all time
_____________________
1. UC Berkeley course on multivariable calculus
2. Electricity and magnetism from MIT
3. Fundamentals of physics from Yale
4. Prof Susskind lectures on special relativity
5. Computer organisation from Nptel
 
  • #7
medwatt said:
Let me tell you something about myself. I was possibly the worst in college you can ever be in and in the worst country on Earth (Google worst country on Earth and you'll know where I'm from). The thing is I know more than all the guys who teach me. The way I did that was by watching courses online. Thanks to the internet. In fact right at this moment I am using a 128kbits connection. So what I used to do was beg people who lived elsewhere to download courses for me. Just like that I was able to self educate myself on multivariable calculus, linear algebra, signals, systems, circuits, control etc etc with also a lot and a lot of books. I tell you I do things the hard way. I used to go to college just because I'm afraid not to be kicked out for being indefinitely absent.
The good thing is I can finish a 30video lecture series in 3 days. In the 4th day I write them all down in order not to forget the important details. In the 5th day I practice a little. And believe me once you understand the subject solving problems will appear a waste of time.
However my math is a good as the lectures I can find. I'm still looking for courses in abstract algebra and differential geometry.
My top courses of all time
_____________________
1. UC Berkeley course on multivariable calculus
2. Electricity and magnetism from MIT
3. Fundamentals of physics from Yale
4. Prof Susskind lectures on special relativity
5. Computer organisation from Nptel

That is awesome. There are not many people in the world with that level of self-motivation.
 
  • #8
I'll give the other perspective :) It is true, college is what you make of it. However, if you end up in grad school at MIT or Caltech, you might find yourself a bit disadvantaged. You might have to play make up that first year or two. It's doable though. If you get into a top notch program, it's because the program thinks you have what it takes, regardless of your background.

So I do think it might put you a bit behind the eight ball that first year or so, but it is something that you can overcome. It sounds like you are putting in extra time right now, which is a good thing and will help out a lot in the long run.
 
  • #9
I thought MIT physics 1 was pass fail? So they can force down quite a bit more material in the first year, make their students cry in agony, and grade somewhat softly.

My understanding is that upper division courses at top universities and lower universities vary much less. It truly depends upon the program. Where I'm going the program seems less intense and comprehensive. Another public university has an extmrely intense program, arguably as intense as anywhere in the country, even though it's a top 40 public university.
 
  • #10
1+1 is always 2, no matter if you study it at MIT or in a school in New Papa Guinea.
My professor told me that what he does only accounts to about 1% of my learning and 99% of it is due to myself and what i do.
 
  • #11
8.01 is exactly like any other freshman physics class I don't see the difference. 8.012 is the version with harder problems to solve however harder problem solving doesn't necessarily mean better understanding.

Eric Mazur's talk on this is good in regards to physics teaching
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aYiI2Hvg5LE

I think upper division courses vary more than intro classes in both what is offered and the approach to teaching it. An example would be how the ratio of thermo to stat phys in upper division courses for stat phys.
 
  • #12
WannabeNewton said:
My university's undergraduate physics (UG) program is sub-par compared to MIT's and Caltech's. Would I like to go to MIT or Caltech? Definitely without a doubt. Does it bother me that I'm not there and am instead in a school with an inferior UG physics program? Not really because whatever I feel is lacking from the curriculum here, relative to coursework from other schools such as MIT, I almost always just try to self-study 1. because I don't want to feel ill-prepared down the road and 2. because self-studying physics/math is really fun and that's motivation in and of itself :)

Good luck!

Aren't you in Hans Bethe's and Kenneth Wilson's (the greatest theorist of the second half of the twentieth century) department?
 
  • #13
atyy said:
Aren't you in Hans Bethe's and Kenneth Wilson's (the greatest theorist of the second half of the twentieth century) department?

Yes but it's still no MIT or Caltech! :tongue2:
 
  • #14
jesse73 said:
8.01 is exactly like any other freshman physics class I don't see the difference. 8.012 is the version with harder problems to solve however harder problem solving doesn't necessarily mean better understanding.

Eric Mazur's talk on this is good in regards to physics teaching
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aYiI2Hvg5LE

I think upper division courses vary more than intro classes in both what is offered and the approach to teaching it. An example would be how the ratio of thermo to stat phys in upper division courses for stat phys.

I can assure you, my physics course falls well short of what they cover in that course. Theirs is far more comprehensive than what we are learning. So, despite your personal experience, it is not "exactly like any other freshman physics class."
 
  • #15
Arsenic&Lace said:
I thought MIT physics 1 was pass fail? So they can force down quite a bit more material in the first year, make their students cry in agony, and grade somewhat softly.

My understanding is that upper division courses at top universities and lower universities vary much less. It truly depends upon the program. Where I'm going the program seems less intense and comprehensive. Another public university has an extmrely intense program, arguably as intense as anywhere in the country, even though it's a top 40 public university.

I never heard about that pass/fail deal before. Interesting. Anyway, I am certainly sure you can find amazing professors at plenty of universities that fall well short of a "top" college. Mine just isn't one of them regretfully. Well, excluding my calc instructor.
 
  • #16
I think the upper level courses might be vaguely similar, but often the cohort quality at top universities is really high which makes it harder to do well and means that the professors can set harder assignments and exams. Even if 30% of people get an A or A- due to grade inflation, the average student in the class went to IPhO/got 5s on 17APs in high school/worked at fermilab in high school or whatever (listing real examples from a handful of my friends).
 
  • #17
lasymphonie said:
I think the upper level courses might be vaguely similar, but often the cohort quality at top universities is really high which makes it harder to do well and means that the professors can set harder assignments and exams. Even if 30% of people get an A or A- due to grade inflation, the average student in the class went to IPhO/got 5s on 17APs in high school/worked at fermilab in high school or whatever (listing real examples from a handful of my friends).

8.01 is the physics 1 equivalent at MIT. The average student in any class/seminar outside of a seminar for Putnam preparationdid not go to IPhO or IMO independent of the university.
The student who has taken part in IPhO/IMO or taken 17 AP classes is not going to be in 8.01 for multiple reasons like passing/petitioning out or taking 8.012 instead.
 
  • #18
Honestly?

Unless you're at a truly shoddy college (like bordering on diploma mill) a degree is a degree. If you're planning on working in a physics related field, your graduate program will matter a lot more, and you can easily make up for the fact that you're not in an elite undergrad with plenty of research and experience and good grades. A few years down the line, your references will matter more than your degree anyway.

The practical difference is that the top tier programs will have harder but more varied classes, more decorated professors (but not necessarily better, depending on your learning style or preferences), and higher-caliber classmates. But depending on your goal, graduating with a 4.0 from Safety School University of Nowhere, USA with 1500 students with plenty of work and research experience can take you a lot farther than a 3.2 with a gold-plated diploma and not much else.

If you're really concerned, maybe you should start figuring out what your deficits in knowledge that might give you trouble in a harder program are and work to correct them. The best (but unfortunately, most expensive) route would be to order copies of the textbooks that are used there and study from them independently of your classes. Or you could find some more advanced books at your school library. Or bug one of your professors for help :P
 
  • #19
jesse73 said:
8.01 is the physics 1 equivalent at MIT. The average student in any class/seminar outside of a seminar for Putnam preparationdid not go to IPhO or IMO independent of the university.
The student who has taken part in IPhO/IMO or taken 17 AP classes is not going to be in 8.01 for multiple reasons like passing/petitioning out or taking 8.012 instead.

I was quoting my experience in upper level classes at a top Ivy - sorry for the confusion. Out of my reasonably small study group, we have an IPhO award winner (myself), about three others who came in the top 7 in their countries (including the US) in the chemistry/math olympiads, people who did really good research early on (fermilab in high school, first author math papers published as sophomores in college...) and the list goes on. I'm sure my study group isn't extraordinarily good; I just know the people really well so I know some of their accomplishments and people don't really talk about their achievements.
 
  • #20
lasymphonie said:
I was quoting my experience in upper level classes at a top Ivy - sorry for the confusion. Out of my reasonably small study group, we have an IPhO award winner (myself), about three others who came in the top 7 in their countries (including the US) in the chemistry/math olympiads, people who did really good research early on (fermilab in high school, first author math papers published as sophomores in college...) and the list goes on. I'm sure my study group isn't extraordinarily good; I just know the people really well so I know some of their accomplishments and people don't really talk about their achievements.

And this was in an intro physics 1 class ?

I somehow don't believe you because my experience with an engineering school with more math/phys majors and IPhO/IMO winners than ivies would have many of these students passing out of physics 1 or taking an honors/advanced version like 8.012. My experience with IPhO/IMO winners is that many of the very top are from eastern european countries and don't stay in physics or math but rather do finance or other high paying majors or in some cases go the other direction and do more artistic majors.

I don't quite understand why in the world an IPhO winner would enroll in the regular version of physics 1 when honors/advanced options/flavors are offered aside from looking to pump their GPA. MIT has 8.012/8.022 and Harvard has an equivalent honors flavor as well.

If what you say is true than it really just says that students at ivies (possibly your top ivy) care more about grades than pushing themselves if they arent enrolling themselves in advanced versions of courses that are clearly designed for them rather than the regular flavor. They must also be choosing not to pressure their departments to offer these challenges courses like 8.012 and 8.022 despite other institutions offering them.
 
Last edited:
  • #21
I said it was upper level in my comment. I did skip out of the intro sequence (though I was the only one in my cohort to do so), so yes, I know many IPhO people do skip as that's been my experience. I also have a networking interview at an investment bank next week, so yes, I know many winners do leave physics (at the moment there's a 50% chance that I'll go into finance and a 50% chance I'll go to grad school in physics).

Let me clarify again - I'm talking about upper level classes at a top Ivy league. These classes are small because the major is small, but my point is that the cohort quality is incredibly strong. Someone mentioned that the upper division classes are the same everywhere, and my comment was to say yes, the same textbooks might be used, but the cohort quality makes it harder to obtain good grades and the fact that it's a strong cohort means that professors can assign harder problem sets and exams.
 
  • #22
The original topic from the original post was on physics 1.

Upper level classes are different even within the same school Smaller classes to average over and more freedom in the curriculum on what topics to focus on.
 
  • #23
Ascendant78 said:
I'm a physics major in my second year of undergrad. I am taking physics 1 and am also trying to study the MIT opencourseware for physics 1 in conjunction with my course. I have to say, the MIT course seems FAR more comprehensive and requires a lot more study time to get it all down. Maybe it is just the order they are teaching it in comparison to our instructor, but from what I've seen of it so far, it really is far more in-depth and challenging.

So, I am curious now. Is going to an average college at this point going to hurt my ability to keep up later on in grad school if I manage to get into somewhere like MIT or Caltech? I ask because I am doing all I can from the ground up to have the best chance, but after comparing the coursework from MIT to my current college, I have to say I am a bit discouraged. Despite being a straight 4.0 student, I feel like I might not be learning enough to be able to keep up with their expectations down the road.

Maybe it just depends on the course, but based on this one particular course, I feel MIT would be helping me to learn far more, basically because I'd be forced to based on the assignments and exams. Has anyone else been in this situation that can give me some insight?

I found the main difference at a higher ranked university was usually

1. More research opportunities
2. Better networking opportunities
3. The average student was smarter. For me, as an engineering major, this helped when I wanted to start a project outside of class. I often learned things from other students that just weren't part of the curriculum.

What I found that WASN'T different was

1. Difficulty in course content
2. Teaching abilities of lecturer

Also, you'll find many professors from the lower ranked colleges will use the exact same textbooks as the top ranked colleges. This isn't always true, but there tends to be one or two "excepted" textbooks for a given subject that many academics agree to be the best. At least this is what I saw in physics/engineering. If you want the same homework that MIT has, then just do all of the problems in the textbook. Solving math problems was sort of therapeutic for me. Sometimes if I got bored or stressed I would just put on some good music, crack open a (quantitative) textbook, and start solving.
 
  • #24
i have noticed a tendency here that people who have not attended the top schools have difficulty believing just how far above the average they are. hence i have lost interest trying to explain it.
 
  • Like
Likes 1 person
  • #25
True that.
 
  • #26
mathwonk said:
i have noticed a tendency here that people who have not attended the top schools have difficulty believing just how far above the average they are. hence i have lost interest trying to explain it.

I went to a top 3 school and I still don't think the curriculum of courses is really any different among universities. As other have pointed out the differentiating factor is research opportunities , networking opportunities and availability of all kinds of interesting elective courses in your major and the competition within the class in some classes. The competition doesn't matter if the course is not curved or you are going to an ivy league where they don't mind handing out tons of A's and B's.

The school resources are also different like the level of funding for extracurricular activities including research and availability of financial aid in the form of grants.

The core course requirements are also different depending on the school

Your first quantum class is still going to start with working to introduce the schrodinger equation.
 
Last edited:
  • #27
mathwonk said:
i have noticed a tendency here that people who have not attended the top schools have difficulty believing just how far above the average they are. hence i have lost interest trying to explain it.

Would this be close to you explanation? If there is a difference at the top schools, it is that they do less work. The top people in the field usually have a framework which is more powerful, and can do more stuff simply.
 

What is the difference between top colleges and average colleges?

Top colleges are typically highly selective institutions with rigorous academic programs, renowned faculty, and strong reputations. They also tend to have larger endowments and resources for students, such as research opportunities, internships, and well-equipped facilities. Average colleges, on the other hand, may have less selective admissions processes, less distinguished faculty, and fewer resources for students.

How do top colleges differ from average colleges in terms of student experiences?

Generally, students at top colleges may have access to more diverse and challenging academic courses, as well as a wider variety of extracurricular activities and clubs. They may also have more opportunities for networking and career advancement, as top colleges often have strong connections to industry leaders and prestigious graduate schools. Average colleges may still offer a fulfilling college experience, but it may be more limited in terms of resources and opportunities.

Do top colleges have better job prospects than average colleges?

While attending a top college may open more doors in terms of job opportunities, it ultimately depends on the individual student's academic performance, skills, and experiences. It's important to note that attending a top college does not guarantee success, and students from average colleges can still achieve great success in their careers.

What about the cost difference between top colleges and average colleges?

Top colleges are often more expensive than average colleges, with higher tuition and fees. However, many top colleges also offer generous financial aid packages and scholarships to qualified students, making it possible for students from different socioeconomic backgrounds to attend. On the other hand, average colleges may be more affordable and accessible, making them a good option for students who may not have the means to attend a top college.

How can I determine if a top college or an average college is the right fit for me?

It's important to consider your personal academic and career goals, as well as your financial situation, when deciding between a top college and an average college. Visiting the campuses, talking to current students and alumni, and researching the programs and resources offered by each institution can also help you determine which college aligns best with your interests and needs.

Similar threads

Replies
23
Views
790
  • STEM Academic Advising
Replies
18
Views
2K
  • STEM Academic Advising
Replies
17
Views
1K
  • STEM Academic Advising
Replies
4
Views
653
Replies
4
Views
1K
  • STEM Academic Advising
Replies
3
Views
440
  • STEM Academic Advising
Replies
7
Views
998
  • STEM Academic Advising
Replies
15
Views
2K
  • STEM Academic Advising
Replies
14
Views
2K
  • STEM Academic Advising
Replies
3
Views
786
Back
Top