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Preparation for physics graduate school

  1. Sep 29, 2007 #1
    I'm a senior in high school and I am going to major in physics in college. Ultimately, I want to become a theoretical physicist, but the problem is, I don't really know where I should go for undergraduate study for physics. All other variables aside, like cost and chance of acceptance, I would greatly appreciate some suggestions as to some of the best options in regard to preparation for graduate school. Thank you.
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 29, 2007 #2

    Chris Hillman

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    We need more information

    First question: are you in the U.S.?
  4. Sep 29, 2007 #3
    His profile says Dallas.

    http://www.physicstoday.org/vol-56/iss-9/p38.html [Broken]

    The above article might be worth skimming through. The authors have included a list of schools (see "box 1") which "continued to produce a large number of undergraduate physics majors" even in the period 1990-2000 where the number of physics students declined in the US. So that gives you a few more ideas.

    PS. Don't go to Caltech. That school eats undergrads for breakfast.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 3, 2017
  5. Sep 29, 2007 #4
    Since your profile says Dallas, I feel obligated to encourage you to attend my university, THE University of Texas. I think you'll find the education there will prepare you for your future in Graduate School. Furthermore, since life is more than education and work, you'll always have plenty to do in Austin, regardless of what kind of person you are. :D

    *sells pitch over*
  6. Sep 29, 2007 #5

    Chris Hillman

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    PowerIso: Wait, are you recommending UT Austin or UT Dallas?

    dream90: UT Austin is probably more selective, but you can probably get a good education at either one.

    If you are from TX, there is something to be said for going to school in a distant land, like NYC or Cambridge, MA :wink: OTH, you can save much money by staying in state, so I guess one question is whether your education is funded by an oil baron :wink: Another would be whether you prefer big cities to small towns. If the former, you're in luck, most good schools are in big cities, although some of the best, like Penn, U Chicago, Columbia, Johns Hopkins are next door to scary inner city neighborhoods. If the latter, there's my alma mater, Cornell and a few others.

    Vocabulary, courtesy of KDict http://www.icewalkers.com/Linux/Software/510410/Kdict.html

    Selective (a.):
    1: tending to select; characterized by careful choice; "an exceptionally quick and selective reader"- John Mason Brown
    2: characterized by very careful or fastidious selection; "the school was very selective in its admissions"

    Land (n.):
    6: a domain in which something is dominant; "the untroubled kingdom of reason"; "a land of make-believe"
    7: demense, as in "foreign domain".

    Baron (n.):
    3: a very wealthy or powerful businessman; "an oil baron"

    Prefer (v.):
    4. To set above or before something else in estimation, favor, or liking; to regard or honor before another; to hold in greater favor; to choose rather; -- often followed by to, before, or above.

    Scary (a.)
    1. Subject to sudden alarm, as in loud sirens, gunfire.
    2: Causing fright; alarming, as in "others".

    Neighborhood (var. spelling "neighbourhood", n.):
    1: The quality or condition of being a neighbor; the state of being or dwelling near; proximity. "Then the prison and the palace were in awful neighborhood". -Lord Lytton.

    Alma Mater (from the Latin, "fostering mother"): A college or seminary where one is educated.

    Cause someone suggested in another thread that I should define my terms :smile:
    Last edited: Sep 29, 2007
  7. Sep 29, 2007 #6


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    I think I will make this a new guideline. :wink:
  8. Sep 29, 2007 #7
    Sorry, I was talking about UT at Austin. I figured the "THE" part would show that, but my mistake!
  9. Sep 29, 2007 #8


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    my understanding was that your ug mattered much less in the usa since most people went to a local university for financial reasons and us ug degrees were less specialised.

    ps typing on a phone nocaps
  10. Sep 29, 2007 #9


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    :rolleyes: I loved it there. Although it isn't for everyone, there was probably no better place for me.
  11. Sep 30, 2007 #10
    Thanks for your input. The only fear I have for a large school such as UT is that I will not be able to get much personal attention, or so I've read.
  12. Sep 30, 2007 #11


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    That's why smaller colleges exist. :smile: Different people feel comfortable in different environments. I did my undergraduate physics degree at a small rural liberal-arts college with about 1000 students total, and three physics professors who were all very accessible because their main job was teaching. My graduating class had four physics majors.

    For graduate school I then went to the University of Michigan, a classic Midwestern mega-university. My three classmates went to Ohio State, Tufts, and Washington U. (St. Louis). I enjoyed life at U of M as a grad student, but I think I would have been overwhelmed by its size as an undergraduate.
  13. Sep 30, 2007 #12
    I dream of going there (sometimes literally :redface:) Chances of getting in are low though. Looking at the stats is depressing, but I've still got the rest of sophmore and junior year to worry about before I get to that point.

    I'd recommend UCSD, but being out of state really makes that difficult.
  14. Sep 30, 2007 #13
    Ah, it's nice to hear something good about the place.... As an undergrad I had one professor who'd started at Caltech and then bailed for U Chicago when things got too freaky. Another friend of mine took 8 demoralizing years to finish his B.Sc there and another guy I know who went there for grad school reported that he felt sorry for the undergrads. Ouch!
  15. Sep 30, 2007 #14
    I find it interesting that an Ivy League school like Caltech has such a reputation. I personally would have given up my left arm for a chance to earn a bachelors degree in physics there. I thought that Caltech was suppose to be one of the top schools in the world as far as physics goes.
  16. Sep 30, 2007 #15
    There was actually a series of comics called crippling depression made by some of the undergrad students there. It depicts a grim picture, but I'd give anything to get a chance to undergrad there

    crippling depression
  17. Sep 30, 2007 #16


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    It is one of the top schools in physics. As might be expected, that means that it's very hard and very focused. For several reasons, that causes serious problems for some people. For example, those who go there tend to have been the best in everything academic without ever having given it much effort. Some people don't react well to being suddenly "average" or worse. There are also social issues such as the lack of women that upset certain people.

    It's certainly true that a lot of Caltech grads will claim that the place ruined their life. Plenty of people also claim the opposite. You just have to be very certain of your personality type before going there. The administration has been trying - openly and otherwise - to address these issues in various ways, although I strongly disagree with some of their methods.

    By the way, Caltech isn't technically Ivy League. But that really just denotes an old athletic conference for schools in the Northeast.
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