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Math Undergrad: UChicago vs. Rutgers

  1. Apr 14, 2008 #1
    I'm really sorry if anyone thinks this is an obnoxious post, but I need advice and I'm having a hard time getting an informed, impartial opinion.
    So here's my situation:
    I eventually want to get a PhD in mathematics. I've been accepted to both the University of Chicago and Rutgers University for undergrad. Chicago would cost about 50k a year and Rutgers would be free and closer (I'm in-state). I know that Chicago has much more prestige, but I'm wondering if it's worth my parents and scraping together that much money every year and/or taking out huge loans. So, given that I'm the same person and I would perform at a comparable level at either school, would I be at a disadvantage to go to Rutgers when it comes time to apply to grad school? [Ideally at Rutgers I would be able to distinguish myself by being at the top of my class, taking grad-level courses, and graduating with 'highest honors' in addition to participating in research.]
    Thanks so much to anyone who took the time to answer and read this
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 14, 2008 #2
    My opinion is to take the free ride (especially since it's just for undergrad) and go to Rutgers. Do really well and go somewhere like UC for graduate school.
  4. Apr 14, 2008 #3
    A lot of the undergrads from the Rutgers honors program end up going to Princeton and other top schools. Go with the free ride rather than being saddled with 40-60k in debt. Rutgers is still a great school and if you do well there, you will get into a good PhD program.
  5. Apr 15, 2008 #4
    I am a Rutgers Grad student. What I can tell you is that the undergrad department has a rather weak standard to other schools. However there are many graduate courses you can take if you are very interested in maths, especially combinatorics.
  6. Apr 15, 2008 #5
    Take the free ride at Rutgers. The added value is not worth the cost, especially if you are borrowing money to do it. A great GPA and good GRE scores will land you a free ride at a top 20 school for your PhD.
  7. Apr 15, 2008 #6


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    As a math and physics undergrad at Stony Brook, I recall: after doing well in an Algebraic Topology course, I asked my professor how our course compared to one taught at Harvard [where he had taught]. He said that the other course would have gone further in the text and in more depth.

    So, that opened my eyes to thinking about grades and courses on an absolute scale [beyond my university]. That is, just because you get an A, it doesn't mean you have necessarily mastered the subject [fully at some absolute level]... there's always more to learn... and there's a big library available for an enthusiastic student!

    I had really appreciated and enjoyed my class... although I wondered how I would do had the intensity level been turned up a notch or two. In any case, I'm happy with the education I got at this state university...especially when you factor in the price. It helped me get into some good grad schools as well.

    So, wherever you go, if you are sufficiently driven, go beyond [for yourself] what is presented in your courses.
  8. Apr 15, 2008 #7
    Go to the best school you can go to. Chicago has an excellent undergraduate program, the likes of which you won't find at most other schools. Furthermore your peers will be more intelligent, which is perhaps the most important thing.
  9. Apr 15, 2008 #8
    I agree with rob, in the end, it is all about how far you take it. Yeah Chicago has probably, probably, a tougher curriculum, but it should never be tougher than what you expect from yourself. All I am saying is, college is not just about academics. There are financial considerations to take into account. Getting 100k in debt is not a pretty picture, especially if you plan on entering academia after doing a PhD. Think it over, Chicago is one of those ELITE schools but Rutgers is pretty good also.

    Again, it must be stressed, YOU go as far as you want to go. You are in an environment where you can go pretty far with a pretty DIVERSE faculty and a larger faculty. You can probably take a lot of grad courses and do research at Rutgers, especially since they have an undergrad honors program.

    http://www.math.rutgers.edu/undergrad/Honors/Track/ [Broken]

    Last edited by a moderator: May 3, 2017
  10. Apr 15, 2008 #9
    I don't know if any program is worth paying 50k a year for, especially when the alternative is a very good school that is free. Pay 200k or 0, hmm...
  11. Apr 15, 2008 #10
    Moreover, this is science we are talking about, not business or law. Making up for that kind of loan won't be easy.
  12. Apr 15, 2008 #11
    Go to Rutgers. Undergrad debt sucks to payoff. Rutgers is a good school and has a good math department. Honestly, it doesn't really matter that much where you go for your undergrad degree in math. The subjects that undergrads study in math for an undergrad degree haven't changed that much in 100 years.

    Going to Chicago would be a huge waste of money (I'm not saying that it isn't a good school).

    Ranking undergraduate institutions is extremely overrated. Tons and tons of ivy league/MIT/Caltech etc. trained professors teach at universities all over the country, not just at other ivies or extremely selective institutions.

    The only time you should really worry a ton about trying to get into the best school is when you work on your graduate degree.
  13. Apr 16, 2008 #12
    if your good enough to get into an elite graduate school you will be able to prove it at rutgers, so why take the debt it really is not worth it
  14. Apr 16, 2008 #13


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    Bingo! Getting into grad school depends a lot more on you, than on which school you went to. Get good grades, good GRE scores, show that you can think independently and creatively, participate in research, and make at least a couple of professors get to know you well enough that they can write good personalized recommendations.
  15. Apr 16, 2008 #14


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    RU Rah Rah
    RU Rah Rah
    Who Rah Who Rah
    Rutgers Rah
    Upstream Red Team
    Red Team Upstream
    Rah, Rah, Rutgers Rah!

    :uhh: I might be a bit biased. :biggrin: I didn't major in math at Rutgers, but did have plenty of math classes that kicked my butt around a bit. Knew a few math majors there, and they've done fine with grad school.

    Anyway, as others have pointed out, RU is a plenty good enough school, especially if you're saving $50K a year! Challenge yourself to do your best, and it won't matter where you go.
  16. Apr 20, 2008 #15
    I am a Rutgers Engineering Undergrad sophomore. I know the math department well and this is what I think you should consider:

    1) Think about where you want to live (geographically). If you really are hellbent on going to grad school 4+ years from now you have to realize that you might be tied down by a girlfriend or boyfriend (sorry, "pagene" couldn't be a more androgynous name). Also, you're plans may change in 4 years as you may be offered a job. My point is that the future is uncertain and you may find yourself stuck in the same state as your undergrad school.

    2) You will have no problem getting into the grad school of you're choice after going to either school. Rutgers had 3 gate's scholar's this year (free ride to Cambridge), second only to Harvard who had 4. The Undergrad math Professors have a lot of Merritt. It is a research university, just like UChicago. Unfortunately you may encounter many teachers that were selected not for their teaching ability, but for their ability to produce good research. This bears the following consequences...

    3) Now let me predict your freshmen experience in the Rutgers math department: 1 out of 3 math teachers will be German/Austrian or eastern European. They will be excellent at math but have a heavy accent and speak very quietly. This isn't so bad actually, but it gets worse. You can get 1 of 2 types of TA's in the math department. Type 1 is a swarthy Indian man with a thick accent and a lower hygiene standard than you are used to. Type 2 is a fatass nerd who has a pony-tail who plays dungeons & dragons and who has an even lower standard of hygiene. The punchline is that it will be the same at Uchicago because it is a research university as well. My point is that I simply cannot vouch for the math dept.

    4) I would still go with Rutgers, even if i had to pay for it. Its an Undergrad education. Trust me, you'll be learning the same math that they teach every where else. And financing a P.H.D is a monumental task.

    Good luck in your future. Email me if you have any other questions about Rutgers.
  17. Apr 20, 2008 #16
    "And financing a P.H.D is a monumental task."

    Why do you say that?
  18. Apr 20, 2008 #17
    3+ similar threads on the front page. Seems to me the majority of posters recommend a cheap undergrad and a top grad school. Sounds good to me.

    Jordan Joab.
  19. Apr 20, 2008 #18
    Trying to live off a $20-25K stipend in a major city, especially if you have a family to feed. Also, the opportunity cost of getting a PhD is ENORMOUS. You also have to pay a lot more in interest on your undergrad loans if you push off payments 6+ years extra. If you defer a $50,000 undergrad loan for 6 years locked in at a 4% interest rate, that is an extra $12,000 you will have to pay.
  20. Apr 20, 2008 #19
    Sure, you're not living it up at 20-25k per year, but the terminology is very misleading. I wouldn't say it was a 'monumental task' to finance a job at McDonalds. Also many graduate students don't have families and don't live in major cities. I agree with the opportunity cost argument; I just think the statement is off.
  21. Apr 21, 2008 #20


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    If you have a family to feed, your spouse should have a job to support them. The stipend is only meant to cover the living expenses of the student, not support a family. It's actually a pretty recent change that grad students come in already married with kids. When I was in grad school, both grad students and med students were mostly unmarried, a couple were married but delaying having kids so they weren't trying to support a family during that time, and the few that had families were coming back to school later in life after the kids were more self-sufficient. As it is, that stipend level is incredibly generous; it's a stipend, not a salary, it's supposed to provide your basic room and board type requirements, usually made affordable by sharing apartments with several other students, not meant to provide a lavish lifestyle.

    You don't have to go straight into grad school if you have undergrad loans to pay off first. Take time off, work, pay off your loans, put some savings in the bank, then go back to school.
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