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Harvard, Cambridge or Oxford

  1. Feb 18, 2008 #1
    Hi all,

    I'm a student from NZ, considering studying Physics for my Undergraduate course overseas, beginning September 2009. I know very little about the relative advantages and disadvantages of these three universities, and was hoping someone could provide a bit of general advice. I know there are many factors to consider, but for now does anyone know about the relative strengths of the Physics Undergraduate courses? Also I assume these will set one up equally for entry into post graduate study at various other Universities? How important is studying Undergrad at a reputed University like these, for later life...or is Postgrad more important?

    Thanks a bunch,

  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 18, 2008 #2
    First, you're going to have to be a really fantastic student to get into those universities. (of course, that doesn't mean you shouldn't try....) At least the NZ dollar is strong against the US dollar right now!

    Second, you should probably check to see what sort of financial aid you will be eligible for as an international student. You should also check to see if the NZ government offers scholarships for undergrads going abroad.

    Where are you planning to apply in NZ?
  4. Feb 18, 2008 #3
    I don't think that it's particularly important to do your undergrad somewhere prestigious. I know of two Kiwis in physics in Canada - one did her undergrad at Canterbury. The other went to Sussex in the UK after living in Scotland for a few years.

    I worked in New Zealand for a year - my supervisor did his undergrad at Victoria and his graduate work at Cambridge.
  5. Feb 18, 2008 #4
    Is it "easier" (i.e. do you have a higher chance) to get into those schools for graduate work than to get an undergraduate degree?
  6. Feb 18, 2008 #5


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    No, it's the other way around (at least for Oxbridge) since there are a lot more undergraduate places than there are graduate places!
  7. Feb 18, 2008 #6
    Also, a very high ratio of physics undergrads will "put their name in the hat" for big name places that they would have been unlikely to apply to on the undergrad level (for economic reasons, if nothing else).
  8. Feb 18, 2008 #7
    Thanks guys,

    I have considered the Financial Aid - which is why Harvard seems promising - though I was wondering if anyone knew of the actual merits of the physics courses there? I am worried about Harvard's, as one only does half of their courses in their "concentration", and the other half are languages and the core curriculum. So maybe it is not as rigorous?? I also hear that Cambridge is less rigorous than Oxford??

  9. Feb 18, 2008 #8
    I wouldn't worry too much about specifics.

    At my school (University of Washington), you do at least half "general eds", and it's a decent school.

    The caveat with my school is that the courses that count as 3 credits are actually 5 credits worth of work. I'm sure there is something similar to that everywhere. You NEED to take courses outside of your curriculum to get an education.
  10. Feb 19, 2008 #9
    I goto uni at st-andrews in scotland but we dont have to take courses outside our subject though you can if you want. We take 6 modules in the first year and 4 in the second then in the third you can pick and mix within your degree. I don't think it is the same in england as my friend at imperial says he has to do management courses and hes meant to be studying material science.

  11. Feb 19, 2008 #10
    If you don't need to take courses outside of your education then I would cock an eyebrow at the school. Is this some sort of technical school or what?

    If I were hiring people and noticed that Person A went to a regular university that had him take art, languages, history, etc. vs Person B that only took physics, I'd hire Person A because he no doubt learned new outlooks on life and problem that will help, vs. a literally close-minded physicist. Sure, Person B could have learned all of that on his own. But would it be up to college standards? Would it even be guaranteed? No.
  12. Feb 19, 2008 #11
    Don't think so Im pretty sure all universities in Scotland work along the same lines. I didnt go to university to study stuff I don't want to or am not interested in. I have had enough of English and French at high school. The university of course has other subjects and is seperated into 2 faculties arts and science. You choose which faculty to sign up to when you start your degree and are encouraged to take courses from within it though you can take a few modules from the other faculty.
  13. Feb 19, 2008 #12


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    I can't comment for Scotland, but the majority of universities in England do not require you to take any "gen ed" classes. There are exceptions of course (natural sciences at Cambridge being one that I think of immediately, and in any engineering degree you will have to do some management, like mentioned above). Of course, degrees in the UK are thus shorter than the US, since we don't have a year of courses outside our discipline, but just spend the entire time studying courses which are directly related to our degree.

    I don't see the point in studying general classes: afterall, isn't that what school is meant for, since you go to university to specialise somewhat!
  14. Feb 19, 2008 #13
    Also in most Universities in Balcan you are not required at all to take outside your degree classes, speaking for math departments. You have some 10-12 math courses each year, and are required to take that amount of courses. The length of studings depends, in some universities it is 4 years while in some others 3 years. I also agree with cristo, about the point of taking general classes.

    P.S. I am pursuing my undergrad studings at US right now!
  15. Feb 19, 2008 #14
    Poop-Loops: The United States is almost the only country in the world in which normal universities require students to take classes completely unrelated to their field of study.
  16. Feb 19, 2008 #15


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    Who told you that?

    To be honest, I wouldn't worry about going to a top-notch undergrad school, especially since you'll have to pay a lot of money since you're an overseas applicant. I think the tuition fees alone in the UK for overseas students are around £12,000 per year, and that doesn't count accommodation, food, living costs (and then you've got college fees if you go to Oxbridge). Have you thought about studying in your home country?
  17. Feb 19, 2008 #16
    He could also get a full-tuition scholarship, maybe, if he is a genius or sth. This is what a guy from my country did, although he did a master at Cambridge, he had to pay not a single thing for it, neither accomodation or anything.

    Edit: I forgot to mention, he is a genius by the way. He is in his 5th year in his postgraduate studdings at The University of Chicago,doctorating in Algebraic Geometry!
  18. Feb 19, 2008 #17


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    Masters degrees are a little different though, since there are not the huge number of students applying, and there are some scholarships available. Also, since he already has a degree, the university knows whether he is an exceptional student or not, whereas applying with A-levels from school (or equivalent) it is a lot harder to tell. Anyway, I'm not saying that there are no scholarships, just that one should be wary of the amount of money it costs for overseas students to study here (they're the ones that make money for the universities!!)
  19. Feb 19, 2008 #18
    Yes I agree the costs to oversees students are insane I think its about 10k a year. Of course we get our education for free north of the border so we just pay living costs. Im sure it would be cheaper for you to study in your home country. Though its deffinately worth checking for any bursaries, they have sustained me through my first year three cheers for the IOP ;)

  20. Feb 19, 2008 #19
    Seriously? That's about the only thing we've done on well for schooling, then.

    I don't see University as a specialization AT ALL. Right now I am taking QM and E&M, and after I'm done, I still won't know much about them. I see university as giving you an overall education, not just a degree. We have technical schools for things like that.

    Especially since, at least here, you don't have to decide on a set degree until the start of your 3rd year. I mean, how do you know what you want to do if you don't try a bit of everything?

    Even the classes that I took because I had to, like Technical Writing and the like, have taught me valuable lessons.
  21. Feb 19, 2008 #20
    The argument is that since high schools in Europe and Asia are so much better than high schools here, and also since only people who are actually going to go to college go to academic high schools, the last year or two of an academic high school education in Europe is essentially equivalent to an array of college gen. ed. classes in the United States. Thus European students have the same "breadth" and get to specialize sooner. So goes the argument. Whether it's true is up for debate.
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