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Does it matter where you do your undergrad studies?

  1. Jan 4, 2010 #1
    Hey all, I'm a graduating high school student looking to get into a physics program in university. I'm expecting an average of about 95% this year. Math, physics, and computer courses are not a problem for me. I have a great passion for physics especially astronomy/astrophysics. The schools I'm looking at right now that offer physics programs with astrophysics specialization are U of Toronto, McMaster, and Queen's. Besides, I heard U of Waterloo has a strong physics program, too. I wanna go on and study astronomy grad after.

    I need some advices or opinions about how tough physics undergrad programs are, meaning how hard it is to get you to grad programs in US or Canada with a high enough GPA. I heard people say it's hard to find jobs with an undergrad degree in physics nowadays.

    Also, I heard that people in physics undergrad at U of Toronto have low averages. Does it mean it's better for me to go to smaller schools like McMaster so that I can get a higher average? Do they take into account what schools you come from when you apply to grad programs because of U of Toronto definitely has more prestige?

    I haven't made up mind yet about whether I should pursue my dream in physics or just choose other programs like computers, finance, etc, just to make a living.

    Any help or comments would be appreciated. Thanks in advance!
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 4, 2010 #2
    Just to add to that, I'm also looking at Engsci physics option at U of T which is an even harder program from what I've heard. Is it a better option for me?
  4. Jan 4, 2010 #3

    no matter what anyone says go to the best school you can. for a multitude of reasons go to the best school you can. even if you have to mortgage your future do it.
  5. Jan 5, 2010 #4
    It may be helpful to list those multitude of reasons, because the advice I always hear on this board is "WHAT you do in undergrad matters more than WHERE you do it."
  6. Jan 5, 2010 #5
    If you are not sure about what to do in future, you should take engsci. This year engsci has a new option called financial management(i think what its called) that has to do with management engineering. So engsci has all the options that you might be thinking of doing in the future (as you said, computer, finanace, physics etc.) It will give you two years to go over each subject and see what you like the most.
  7. Jan 5, 2010 #6
    You might be interested in Mathematics and physics specialist at UofT. I heard Queens has one of the best Eng Physics in the world. (I "heard" its just behind mit and caltech.)
  8. Jan 5, 2010 #7
    By all means, I would encourage you to go to the "best" school you get into, however, I would be wary of "mortgaging your future" in order to attend a good school. For some it can be worth it, but one thing to consider is how being $200,000+ in debt might change your plans post graduation.
    Will attending the better school mean that you need to be earning at least $50,000 right after graduation, ruling out graduate school before you even finish your freshman year?
  9. Jan 5, 2010 #8
    The trouble is that this statement is tauntological. All other things being equal, a school that has cheaper tuition is "better."

    Also you need to be *VERY* careful about debt.
  10. Jan 5, 2010 #9
    But even that has to be qualified. If you know what you want to study really well, go for any school with a really solid program in what you want to do. Good research groups in very specific topics turn up in the oddest places. I've repeatedly heard that your schools prestige matters a lot less then the reputation of their program in whatever science you're doing. The two don't always match.
  11. Jan 5, 2010 #10
    Munsteur, as you can tell you're going to get a variety of opinions here. I assume your ultimate goal is to get a PhD in physics, right? For what it's worth, I know people who went to no-name undergrad schools and got into really good graduate programs. I go to grad school at a middle of the road state school, but we have really good condensed matter research, and helped pioneer high energy astrophysics back in the day. There are people here who went to schools with really small physics departments. One of my fellow grad students did his BA at a school whose physics department will probably be non-existent in a couple years.

    Obviously there are limits. You shouldn't go to a school whose physics department is known to suck. For example, if you got your physics degree at, say, Bob Jones University, there's a good chance a lot of grad schools won't take you seriously. But as long as you don't go to some really bad school like that, I don't see there being any problems getting into grad school.
  12. Jan 9, 2010 #11
    If you wanna do real physics, do math and physics at UofT. If you kinda like engineering and like physics but not so much math then engsci.

    Note: Both are extremely hard.
  13. Jan 9, 2010 #12
    Also there is "good hard" and "bad hard". MIT and the Marines are examples of "good hard". Yes the courses are challenging and tough, but pretty much everyone makes it through them.

    I don't know of anyone at MIT that wanted to study physics, that didn't end up with a physics degree. There is also "bad hard" in which the department tries intentionally to weed out as many students as they can, so they set up the courses so that most people are going to fail them, and since they are looking for any excuse to get rid of people, the quality of teaching often stinks. (If you had good teachers, then *gasp* too many people might pass the class, and we wouldn't want that.)

    Probably the easiest thing to do is to talk with upperclassmen that go to the school that you are thinking about going to. I suppose the most important thing is to find out if they *like* doing physics. If you get a degree from a no-name school it's not going keep you from physics graduate school, but if you end up a senior that is burned out and hates physics that will.
  14. Jan 18, 2010 #13
    Yes, PhD in physics or astronomy would be my ultimate goal. I know it's gonna take a lot of hard work but I'm willing to take the risk in order to get what I want in life. And I will definitely considering physics programs in smaller schools. Also, U of T keeps messing up my application; they've sent me the wrong application numbers...

    Thank you all for leaving your comments and sorry for the late reply since I hadn't been notified by email about the updates on this thread for some reason. Every bit of help is appreciated.

    I applied to EngSci Physics and Astronomy and Physics Specialist at U of T and Physics - Astrophysics Specialization at McMaster. As I said, I'm really good at math, physics, and computers. Just to answer some of the responses, the reason that I don't like EngSci as much is that you have to take courses like biology etc which involve a lot of memorization during the first 2 years... I'm more of a logical person thus I don't think these courses would work well for me. I'm taking biology right now and I find it's not for me even though I'm getting a good grade in it.
    Last edited: Jan 18, 2010
  15. Jan 18, 2010 #14
    A statement is an assertion that has a truth value.
    A tautology is a statement that is always true.
    What you quoted is not a statement as it has no truth value.
    Therefore, it cannot be a tautology.
  16. Jan 19, 2010 #15


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    According to http://tech.mit.edu/V118/N40/sunkavally.40c.html , MIT's graduation rate is 89%. Assuming some of those who didn't graduate flunked out, as opposed to voluntarily quitting school to start a company or just not being able to pay the fees due to sudden financial difficulty, then how do you know that none of those who flunked out didn't want to study physics - yes, I know you said that you don't know, but would appreciate if you addressed if this affected your opinion of MIT as "good hard".
  17. Jan 19, 2010 #16
    ^ MIT's overall grad rate is 94%, according to the latest data on IPEDS. Some of them just take more than 4 years to do it.
  18. Jan 19, 2010 #17
    Because I got my undergraduate degree in physics at MIT. Yes, I know this is anecdotal and should be taken with a grain of salt, but I don't know of anyone that wanted to study physics and flunked out.

    It's also ***really*** hard to flunk out of an MIT class. It's partly a function that they make sure that people that take the classes have the right preparation, but the professors aren't out to fail people for the sake of failing people.
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