Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Going to a normal school for college

  1. Feb 22, 2007 #1
    Hi all,

    I want to be a professor of mathematics and computer science at a major research university. I only came up with this goal recently, so I haven't really applied myself in school up until now, and I'll be going to the respectable University of Arizona rather than some ultra big-name school. Now that I have decided what I want to do with my life, I am sure that I have the drive and intelligence to succeed there.

    How much will graduating from a "normal" college affect my chances of getting into a good PhD program? It seems like all the best professors and scientists got their PhDs from places like MIT, Stanford etc., so I definitely want to go to a place like this to get my PhD. My question is, how much will not having gone to a top school for my bachelor's degree affect my chances of getting into one of those places afterwards? If I do extremely well at the University of Arizona, is it possible?
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 22, 2007 #2
    It honestly doesn't matter where you finish your undergraduate studies. I will be transferring from a community college into a somewhat prestigious public university with a fairly respectable mathematical physics department and I expect no problems applying to graduate school.

    Graduate schools, as far as I know, don't care what school you went to. They are more interested in what research you did, your GPA, your GRE scores, what activities you participated in, what courses you took, letters of recommendation, etc.

    Generally, undergraduate courses are approximate to one another. Also, if you honestly want to get a PhD in mathematics, you are going to want to study independently. Work through the text book ahead of class, work on other maths courses and try to stay ahead of your class.

    You will fall behind in comparison to the other individuals applying for graduate school if you do the bare minimum that the professor asks of you. I am not saying study 24/7 either. I balance school work with my job, girlfriend and partying and have no problems so far. Just spend time thinking a lot about maths and working on maths to stay fresh.

    What area of mathematics are you interested in? Applied or Pure Maths? Anything with applications in physics?

    We can help you! :P
  4. Feb 22, 2007 #3
    First, Bear Down, Arizona! :smile:

    Second, graduation with a decent academic record UofA will make you competitive for admission at any graduate program in the country. I received my bachelors degree in optical engineering from UofA, and I am now I am finishing up my PhD in electrical engineering from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. A number of my UofA classmates are in graduate school in places like Berkeley, Harvard, MIT and Cambridge.

    If you have any other questions about UofA, don't hesitate to ask. I will be more knowledgable about engineering programs, but I feel that I am reasonably qualified to advise someone who is just beginning undergraduate study in math or physics.
    Last edited: Feb 22, 2007
  5. Feb 22, 2007 #4
    Thanks for the messages, they reassure me. If the school you went to for your undergraduate education is relatively unimportant, then what is the point of getting a bachelor's degree from Harvard etc. for someone who's planning on getting a further degree after that? Are "elite" universities just a big scam or what?

    As I said although in my math classes up to this point I have found the subject extremely interesting (and it comes naturally to me), I don't really know much math. So obviously I'm not sure if I'll even enjoy or have an aptitude for higher-level mathematics. The highest class I've taken in high school so far is pre-calculus, last year, and I'm going to take calculus next year (this year I'm on a year-long exchange program in France. I'm taking math at the French high school, but they are much less advanced for their grade level in math than Americans, so I'm not really learning anything new). It follows that I don't really have a good understanding of the various areas of math and what they entail. That said, I think I'd be more interested in pure mathematics than applied mathematics.

    Anyway, supposedly the optical engineering program at the U of A is one of the, if not the, best in the country. I don't know how good their math or CS programs are. By the way I'm planning on getting a double major in math and CS. That way I'll explore two subjects that interest me, have more options open for graduate school, and be able to consider a career in the computer industry if I decide being an academic isn't for me.

    Wow, that was a really meandering post, fortunately I'm just trying to express my thoughts, not trying to win a Nobel Prize in literature. That'll teach me not to try to write after midnight!
  6. Feb 22, 2007 #5


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor
    2018 Award

    There are MANY schools that are not "brand name" schools but still are quite highly respected. University of Arizona is nothing to sneeze at at all! If you get good grades there, there is every chance that you can get into other highly competitive schools of your choice for graduate studies. This should be the least of your concern.

    Last edited: Feb 22, 2007
  7. Feb 22, 2007 #6
    Thank you for the replies, everyone, you have greatly relieved me.
  8. Feb 22, 2007 #7
    Be sure to study independently though, to ensure you master the relevant material on your own, if you don't during the course.
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook