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Majoring in Physics = Backdoor of College Admission?

  1. Dec 16, 2009 #1
    Something I'm sure the majority of you are aware of is the overall lack of physics undergraduates, even among the best physics universities. Take the University of Chicago for example: for the large number of undergraduates that attend, given the tradition of physics which is associated with the university, there are only about 100-200 students that pursue physics as a major. Even though I'm aware they have a solid influx of graduate students, for a school that prides itself in the spirit of rigorous inquiry, you would think that there would be more people who would want to follow in the path of renowned physicists such as Enrico Fermi.

    My question for you is: Do you believe that by applying to highly selective universities with the intent of majoring in physics makes it easier to get in?
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 16, 2009 #2
    Then their going to have a very very hard time getting out.
  4. Dec 17, 2009 #3
    I belive that is definately possible that applying to a university with the intent to major in a less applied for field will raise your chances of acceptance. Less students applying = less competition. If a particular school has a program built for 200 students and they only get 150 students of the caliper they would normally take I could see them accepting 50 more they would normally reject. However, I strongly advise against trying this. If you do end up getting accepted for one field but really want to switch into a different major it might not be that easy to do so, especially at some more selective universities. You would then be stuck majoring in something you don't enjoy or transferring and wasting money on the higher tuition for that first year.

    And just because the University of Chicago only has 100-200 physics students doesn't mean it is easier to get into. They could just be extremely selective because they want to keep their number of students in the program under 200. What you would really have to look at is the acceptance rate into the program (% of applied vs accepted).
  5. Dec 17, 2009 #4
    I can't speak to how effective this is overall, since people change majors all the time once they're in. I have seen anecdotal evidence that especially for majors that are particularly heavily represented by one demographic, being a minority can be helpful. For example, women may get more of a boost applying to physics or engineering than psychology. In general though it's harder to say, and it all may or may not be negligible depending on the school etc.

    One basic rule of thumb is that if they advertise some statistic, like a high proportion of women in engineering, which some schools do advertise, then they are more likely to want to keep supporting that number. At the same time, there can be a variety of reasons that the stats can end up one way or another. I don't know of any schools or even departments advertising a particularly high physics enrollment.
  6. Dec 17, 2009 #5
    Here's what I found on the University of Chicago website:
    To me... this appears to mean the following. The acceptance process to the university is the same for all students, regardless of major, but that some PROGRAMS are more selective. Therefore I think that you'd get accepted to the university first... and that choosing a major such as physics will NOT "help" you get in. Most commonly, I see these extra "supplemental" applications in cases in the arts (like music, theatre, or even architecture -- where they need to see proof of "creativity" or "talent") or where a program is highly ranked (and therefore has higher standards than the rest of the university... in the case of our university, that's business and nursing, which are well-ranked and also popular because of good levels of post baccalaureate employment.)
  7. Dec 17, 2009 #6
    I don't see why in should be surprising.

    Most people go to universities to 1) get away from their parents and 2) to get a piece of paper that qualifies them to make $$$$. The corporate interests that run the world are fine with that, since they want large numbers of technically educated people to run the machines, they don't care much about people asking fundamental questions, and would in fact would prefer if people didn't ask too many questions. Someone that thinks a bit too much about the big bang might start asking the question "so why are you making all the money?" and that would be bad if too many people started asking too many questions.

    At the undergraduate level no, because the admissions are centralized, and they don't know if you are telling the truth. Remember that the admissions departments have to deal with vast numbers of people that have been coached to say the right things, and there is no way that a university can keep you from switching from physics to business right after you get in.

    Graduate school is a different animal.
  8. Dec 17, 2009 #7
    At a select few schools this "strategy" may help out, but in most case I doubt it would have any effect because most schools admit you to the university as a whole, and it's up to you to major in whatever you want.

    I know of a few exceptions. Cornell is broken into several different colleges, and each college handles its own admission. So you apply directly to the college housing the types of majors you'd like to pursue. The interesting thing is that different colleges have different acceptance rates--their admissions are almost completely independent. The College of Arts and Science at Cornell is a lot more selective than pretty much all the other colleges, for instance.

    I think Carnegie Mellon is like this as well.

    But even at both these schools, it's still only the college you choose to apply to that affects your chances, not your particular major (although how well you seem prepared for what you want to study very well could be taken into account as they read your application).
  9. Dec 17, 2009 #8
    Part II of this is that if you want to switch to a major in a different college at the same university, you often have to apply as a transfer student to that school. At mine, you're not even allowed to declare an engineering major until you meet a set of criteria, and if you're coming in from a different school (from College of Liberal Arts and Sciences to School of Engineering or School of Architecture), you've gotta fill out an intra-system application form. Going the other way, Engineering/Architecture -> Liberal Arts/Sciences doesn't have an issue 'cause the general school is easier to get into and you've got all the requirements sorted out.
  10. Dec 17, 2009 #9
    One of the more interesting models of admissions I was exposed to was when I was applying to various law schools. They had a method known as "the party model."

    http://www.deloggio.com/admproc/partymod.htm [Broken]

    I'm not sure how relevant it is to undergraduate admissions at prestigious schools, but it's kind of interesting to peer into an admissions officer's thinking.

    My guess is deciding you want to major in physics won't help. It probably doesn't do enough to make you an interesting student to them.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 4, 2017
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