Question About Relevance of a HBSc degree at UofT Compared to US Universities

  • #1
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I am currently a University of Toronto student. I recently had some doubts about how good my school is compared to other top US universities (such as MIT, Princeton, Caltech, Berkeley, Stanford, Harvard, UCLA), even though I did my research before attending UofT, these questions pop up regularly so I thought this place would be the best place to ask questions such as this. For some more background, I am a physics and mathematics specialist which translates to a double major in math and physics, and want to pursue theoretical physics (hopefully).

After a brief look at math and physics courses offered at MIT and Princeton, I found the courses offered by UofT to be actually really good. I mean we even have some courses that our math dept. offers but MIT's does not. But how come our university is not as well known as MIT, Princeton, Caltech, or other high rankers?

I thought this may be due to not many research opportunities, and did some research. At UofT we have tons of avenues for research, even sometimes cold emailing physics profs here works (did not try, I'm a first year). Our university offers tons of different opportunities and programs and even courses that make you do research or investigate a topic. I think this is the most a university can offer, right? What more could a university do? So I partially ruled out this reason.

Then I looked into the profs, knowing that ours are not as good as theirs. It turned out to be true, but not as bad as I thought. Yes we do not have Nobel Laurates but we still do have pretty good profs from the feedback I've heard from upper year and grad students. From what they say, the profs explain topics in a manner to give as much intuition and explanation, in a way how a prof should teach and inspire.

Lastly, I reached the conclusion that it is due to the student profile difference. People at UofT only got high marks in high school and got in, but over at MIT, Princeton, Caltech, Berkeley those students "proved" that they have future in these fields by doing relevant activities. Can this be the reason as to why we are not as good? Even though I would prefer that cohort any time in my life, I don't think it is "THAT" big of a contributor.

Now having ran out of any explanation, I have no clue why our university is not as good as those others in physics according to rankings, industry, and prestige in general. What could be the reason? Am I overlooking something? Am I wrong about anything? What makes those universities better than ours? What do those universities have that makes someone more prepared towards a theoretical physics research career, compared to UofT?

I don't want to cause any misunderstanding. I hope I don't come off as "bragging" or anything else. I am just irritated by the fact that I cannot prove something so well known, currently just trying to get to the bottom of the matter and find the reason.

Edit1: I also wish to not come off as an undergrad too anxious about their university. I am perfectly happy with UofT, I just want to understand the reasoning behind all this prestige so that I can have a more complete idea of my experience here and experience people have at those other universities.
 
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  • #2
Have you looked up the criteria for whatever ranking system you are looking at?
 
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  • #3
Your uni accepts 40 out of 100 people who apply. These ones accept 4 out of 100 at the low end, and 14 out of 100 at the high end. Your university accepts from ~x10 to ~x3 the number of students these programs do. So, clearly the competition is higher, the student body is more competent, and they have more academic discipline than the average student at your university.

The top students at UofT would be competitive with these people, but the average student at MIT/Princeton/Harvard/Caltech would probably be in the top 10 of your cohort, if not the top. I'd wager that even the bottom students that get accepted to these universities would be a top student in your cohort.
 
  • #4
Ege Artan said:
compared to other top US universities
Um...Toronto isn't in the US. :smile:

romsofia said:
Your university accepts from ~x10 to ~x3 the number of students these programs do
Another way to look at this is that Canada (the country in which Toronto is located, just to be clear) has 1/8 as many people as the US. So, all other things being equal, you'd expect the #1 Canadian school to be in the Top 9 of US and Canadian schools.

MIT enrolls a tenth as many students as Toronto (and Caltech fewer still) so of course they can be more selective. MIT has an order of magnitude larger endowment and an order of magnitude fewer students, so the endowment per student is 100x larger.

Finally, Toronto is an excellent university. Lots of people around the world would love to go there. If you feel, however, that it is not prestigious enough, for you, you can always transfer. Be aware, however, that Caltech (for example) takes on average 5 transfers per year.
 
  • #5
Vanadium 50 said:
Um...Toronto isn't in the US. :smile:
Yep, I am aware dw, probably my English did not English for a second while writing the post.

Vanadium 50 said:
Another way to look at this is that Canada (the country in which Toronto is located, just to be clear) has 1/8 as many people as the US. So, all other things being equal, you'd expect the #1 Canadian school to be in the Top 9 of US and Canadian schools.
So, is it possible to say at least UofT is somewhere in the top 15 (probably around the top 15-10) universities in the US?
Vanadium 50 said:
MIT enrolls a tenth as many students as Toronto (and Caltech fewer still) so of course they can be more selective. MIT has an order of magnitude larger endowment and an order of magnitude fewer students, so the endowment per student is 100x larger.
As a UofT student, I can clearly say that the determination of endowment per year is not that simple for UofT. We have tons of, and I mean literally tons of, life sciences students. So, according to MIT, they have about 180 physics undergraduate majors. Let's suppose about 40 of these are math and physics double majors. We have about 20-30 students in each cohort at UofT that take an equivalent course load to MIT double majors. This means, MIT approximately has half of the number of students at UofT.

With MIT's endowment at 23 billion and UofT's at 3.2 billion, MIT has approximately 7 times the endowment. If we were to assume all of the endowment is spent on undergrads, which I think is highly unlikely, an average undergrad here would probably have about 1/40th-1/50th of MIT (don't want to calculate exact numbers rn, just took a Discrete Math midterm).

My point in saying all this is, even though we assume 1/50 ratio, how big of an impact would that have on a student's experience and knowledge until graduation? I mean, right now, I cannot think of any single additional thing that UofT could give us apart from better professors. What am I missing here, what makes the difference?
Vanadium 50 said:
Finally, Toronto is an excellent university. Lots of people around the world would love to go there. If you feel, however, that it is not prestigious enough, for you, you can always transfer. Be aware, however, that Caltech (for example) takes on average 5 transfers per year.
It is not about prestige tbh. I just want the smoothest undergrad experience I could ever have and learn as much as possible, just for the sake of knowledge. So yeah, if I can justify that MIT, Caltech, Princeton, etc. have that big of a difference than UofT at an undergrad math&phys double major perspective, then I might take my shot and throw in a couple transfer applications.

So what do you say? Is there that much of a difference that would justify me applying to transfer to another top school?
 
  • #6
romsofia said:
Your uni accepts 40 out of 100 people who apply. These ones accept 4 out of 100 at the low end, and 14 out of 100 at the high end. Your university accepts from ~x10 to ~x3 the number of students these programs do. So, clearly the competition is higher, the student body is more competent, and they have more academic discipline than the average student at your university.

The top students at UofT would be competitive with these people, but the average student at MIT/Princeton/Harvard/Caltech would probably be in the top 10 of your cohort, if not the top. I'd wager that even the bottom students that get accepted to these universities would be a top student in your cohort.
Yep, I agree that you are absolutely right, the cohort here is nowhere as disciplined or "promising" than at those universities and I acknowledged that in the original post. I mean, we have so many students here that are only filled with popular science stuff such as "black holes", "string theory" and stuff, yet they did no further research on those topics, like their mathematical background, implications, and derivation.

It might sound kind of "bragging" (don't know the exact word :( ) but, I do not like the cohort here at all. Yes, even though I am one of them now, I do not feel "at home" here and don't have as many actually intellectual discussions that I presume those schools' undergrads have.

My question was oriented more towards what makes those universities' undergrad programs stand out more than ours? Apart from obvious differences like professors and the student cohort, what makes the difference? I suppose the difference cannot only be these two effects, there has to be more as UofT is not ranked as high as those others.
 
  • #7
Haborix said:
Have you looked up the criteria for whatever ranking system you are looking at?
Yep had a brief look and it is mostly about employment rates, professors, and other stuff that I found not justified enough. Hence why I started asking these questions here, to get a better understanding.
 
  • #8
If Toronto's not good enough for you, by all means, transfer. Makes more sense than to gripe about it here.
 
  • #9
PS MIT takes an average of two students per year from your country, and transfers vary, but are around 2-3% of freshman admits. There's a calculation you might do.

They, and probably all the schools on your list except maybe UCLA which is sort of an outlier, will ask "Why do you want to leave Toronto and come here?" I suspect they will not be impressed with "I'm too good for Toronto" so you might think now about how you are going to answer it.
 
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  • #10
I suggest you concentrate on being among the very best students at your current school. Don't waste any more mental energy on "rankings" compiled by strangers with irrelevant and/or unknown motives.

When your professors think back on your class, you want them to say "oh yes, @Ege Artan." That will take a lot of work on your part.
 
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  • #11
In Post #1 of this current thread, you say you are not anxious about your current university:

Ege Artan said:
Edit1: I also wish to not come off as an undergrad too anxious about their university. I am perfectly happy with UofT, I just want to understand the reasoning behind all this prestige so that I can have a more complete idea of my experience here and experience people have at those other universities.

But in your recent post in another thread, you certainly sound anxious to me:

Ege Artan said:
Hello, I am a first year student that eventually wants to pursue mathematical physics as well (especially HEP), therefore, I also want to get a PhD as well.

However, I have been just demotivated thinking that I won't get a good learning experience with a good advisor because I won't be as competitive during applications. If you don't mind me asking what was your resume like? What are the great takeaways that I have to keep in mind as well?

So are you indeed concerned that a degree from Toronto won't get you into a top-tier (however you define it) PhD program?
 
  • #12
Ege Artan said:
Yep had a brief look and it is mostly about employment rates, professors, and other stuff that I found not justified enough. Hence why I started asking these questions here, to get a better understanding.
Then you're looking at the wrong rankings. Have a look at

https://www.shanghairanking.com/rankings/gras/2023/RS0102
https://www.usnews.com/education/best-global-universities/physics

but neither are a ranking of undergraduate program quality. They are predominantly a measure of research quality and output and are more relevant to ranking graduate programs than undergrad. Also the top US programs have many multiples more research funding than UofT and an ability to attract researchers of the highest calibre.

This has very little bearing on undergraduate program quality though and there is no rankings organization out there that objectively ranks undergraduate programs. In any case the top programs in the US, are majority private schools with large endowments and research budgets with small entering cohorts and have the ability to be more selective with which students they admit.
 
  • #13
gwnorth said:
there is no rankings organization out there that objectively ranks undergraduate programs
I don't see how you could. Even if we all could agree on the criteria, how would we agree on the weighting? Which is more important: sending students to graduate school or high average salary in industry? Or number of books in the library? Or number of research papers with students aa authors? Or....

I think the OPs focus on ranking and prestige is...um...no, can't use that adjective...not that one either...um...ill-advised. He would be better served to do well at Toronto (maybe get the 3.8 GPA up) than either complaining about it or transferring. But it's his life.
 
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  • #14
CrysPhys said:
In Post #1 of this current thread, you say you are not anxious about your current university:

But in your recent post in another thread, you certainly sound anxious to me:

So are you indeed concerned that a degree from Toronto won't get you into a top-tier (however you define it) PhD program?
Please for the love of non-existing god, can people try to just stop trying to ask gotcha questions that are far out of the scope?

The whole point of the part Edit 1 was to stop these conversations from even taking place, I don't want to explain what I want in life or my how I feel about stuff. I would not want to hear someone else's motivations and stuff as well, do you really think someone online is entitled to asking such question trying to corner my purpose of asking questions? It feels like grabbing onto clues to find some kind of insecurity of an online random, that is weird and kind of "aggressive" (don't know the right word). Please either answer or don't answer the question but stop asking randoms online such personal stuff. But since you felt it was okay to ask then I am going to tell you why.

Yes I am not anxious about my university's education, I feel like I am learning a lot and I am trusting in our math department. Even though I don't like our physics department as much as math, I still do. I know UofT has prestige and stuff. But if the other schools have that better of an education, then I might shoot my shot and try to transfer. The whole purpose of asking these sets of questions HERE was to understand the thought process of what makes a good school a "good school".

Then I asked that question under that thread because I do not want to have my PhD at UofT, heard of academic inbreeding before? I want to make sure that the time I like here is worthwhile, sure you might like the present but you also have to think about and plan the future. That question had a whole different purpose as well and you bent it in some kind of way to find a contradiction, for no reason at all. My man, this is weird af.

Are you satisfied by these answers sire? Please, don't try to corner randoms online and don't try too fish for anything, it feels fishy (see the pun? :D) and weird.
 
  • #15
gmax137 said:
I suggest you concentrate on being among the very best students at your current school. Don't waste any more mental energy on "rankings" compiled by strangers with irrelevant and/or unknown motives.

When your professors think back on your class, you want them to say "oh yes, @Ege Artan." That will take a lot of work on your part.
Got it.

I don't know I just question stuff like these a lot and can't stop myself from thinking. Even though I agree with what you said (I should focus on being among the bast at my school), I ask non-academic yet academic stuff like this frequently, generally unwillingly.

Thank you for your answer, perhaps I should work more towards actual academic stuff rather than miscellaneous topics like this.
 
  • #16
gwnorth said:
Then you're looking at the wrong rankings. Have a look at

https://www.shanghairanking.com/rankings/gras/2023/RS0102
https://www.usnews.com/education/best-global-universities/physics

but neither are a ranking of undergraduate program quality. They are predominantly a measure of research quality and output and are more relevant to ranking graduate programs than undergrad. Also the top US programs have many multiples more research funding than UofT and an ability to attract researchers of the highest calibre.

This has very little bearing on undergraduate program quality though and there is no rankings organization out there that objectively ranks undergraduate programs. In any case the top programs in the US, are majority private schools with large endowments and research budgets with small entering cohorts and have the ability to be more selective with which students they admit.
So are you essentially suggesting that there is perhaps not much difference in undergrad apart from the cohort and profs?
 
  • #17
Vanadium 50 said:
I think the OPs focus on ranking and prestige is...um...no, can't use that adjective...not that one either...um...ill-advised. He would be better served to do well at Toronto (maybe get the 3.8 GPA up) than either complaining about it or transferring. But it's his life.
I mean the reason why I asked the questions about why they are more prestigious and ranked higher was to understand if we have great differences in education quality. As someone who is hooked on physics, like almost all of us here, you guys might understand it when I say, "I want to learn as much as possible with as much insight as possible". That was the whole purpose.

As I got no tangible answer on why we are "lower" I suppose the only difference in education is the cohort and the profs. All in all, I agree right now that my mains focus should be and is to get my GPA up and focus on Toronto but it is in the human nature to ask questions. Same for me, questions such as this pop up and I ask them here, can't see much wrong here. As no-one knows me here in person, it feels kind of useless to "stop" me from asking, assuming that I don't focus on stuff I normally have to do. But the thing is I do the stuff I have to, these questions are just "side products" of my daily life.
 
  • #18
A few comments:

You could have simply asked "how does Toronto's undergrad program compare with schools A, B and C?" Instead you wrote 8 paragraphs. And now you're getting angry and a little huffy that people are using those 8 paragraphs to try and better help you.

At some time on your journey to a PhD you will need the help of other people. If you come across as ungrateful and entitled, do you think they are going to go out of their way to help you? Or when they see your head metaphorically go under water will they simply wave bye-bye?

Finally, you have made multiple negative comments on the Toronto physics faculty. Not only are you in no position to pass judgement on them, they include some of the best and brightest in the world. If they are not good enough for you (or if you are too good for them) you are in the soup, because it is highly unlikely that you will find a place substantially better.
 
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  • #19
Ege Artan said:
I got no tangible answer on why we are "lower"
Indeed you did. As I indicated rankings are majority based on research output and impact, none which has any bearing on the quality of undergraduate education. If what you're asking is if UofT's undergraduate Physics program is sufficiently rigorous and affording of opportunities to enable top students to present a competitive enough profile to be admitted to highly globally ranked Physics graduate programs?

Yes.
 
  • #20
Ege Artan said:
So what do you say? Is there that much of a difference that would justify me applying to transfer to another top school?
The most important part of my undergraduate education was seeing the quality (and sometimes intellectual superiority) of my classmates. Also Cornell attracted a very broad range of people whose interests ranged from one day being superman (Christopher Reeve was in my class...sad) to Ruth Bader Ginsberg (before my time). You learned to expect the unexpected and to never judge a book by its cover . Now that's an education.
 
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  • #21
Ege Artan said:
I mean the reason why I asked the questions about why they are more prestigious and ranked higher was to understand if we have great differences in education quality.
My view is that "education" is not so much something that they "do" to you, instead it is something you "do" yourself. So don't expect a better outcome by simply going to a different school.

Now, having said that, for most people, it is easier to maintain focus when all of your classmates are maintaining theirs. I think that is the chief advantage of the "better" schools - the students are more interested in their education. It is a "good" peer pressure.
 
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  • #22
Though it depends on your definition of "better". Not all of the US top undergraduate programs are solely focused on academic excellence. Many have other institutional goals that go beyond enrolling the most academically selective class they can.

Regardless of that, Physics and Math by their very nature attract some of the most academically capable students, and UofT being Canada's premier university and due to it's large size, enrols a very large proportion of them. So despite the OPs viewpoint that their classmates are somehow lacking, I find it questionable that they're having such difficulty finding suitably capable peers in their program that they need to transfer to MIT or Caltech.
 
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  • #23
Ege Artan said:
I am currently a University of Toronto student. I recently had some doubts about how good my school is compared to other top US universities (such as MIT, Princeton, Caltech, Berkeley, Stanford, Harvard, UCLA), even though I did my research before attending UofT, these questions pop up regularly so I thought this place would be the best place to ask questions such as this. For some more background, I am a physics and mathematics specialist which translates to a double major in math and physics, and want to pursue theoretical physics (hopefully).

After a brief look at math and physics courses offered at MIT and Princeton, I found the courses offered by UofT to be actually really good. I mean we even have some courses that our math dept. offers but MIT's does not. But how come our university is not as well known as MIT, Princeton, Caltech, or other high rankers?

I thought this may be due to not many research opportunities, and did some research. At UofT we have tons of avenues for research, even sometimes cold emailing physics profs here works (did not try, I'm a first year). Our university offers tons of different opportunities and programs and even courses that make you do research or investigate a topic. I think this is the most a university can offer, right? What more could a university do? So I partially ruled out this reason.

Then I looked into the profs, knowing that ours are not as good as theirs. It turned out to be true, but not as bad as I thought. Yes we do not have Nobel Laurates but we still do have pretty good profs from the feedback I've heard from upper year and grad students. From what they say, the profs explain topics in a manner to give as much intuition and explanation, in a way how a prof should teach and inspire.

Lastly, I reached the conclusion that it is due to the student profile difference. People at UofT only got high marks in high school and got in, but over at MIT, Princeton, Caltech, Berkeley those students "proved" that they have future in these fields by doing relevant activities. Can this be the reason as to why we are not as good? Even though I would prefer that cohort any time in my life, I don't think it is "THAT" big of a contributor.

Now having ran out of any explanation, I have no clue why our university is not as good as those others in physics according to rankings, industry, and prestige in general. What could be the reason? Am I overlooking something? Am I wrong about anything? What makes those universities better than ours? What do those universities have that makes someone more prepared towards a theoretical physics research career, compared to UofT?

I don't want to cause any misunderstanding. I hope I don't come off as "bragging" or anything else. I am just irritated by the fact that I cannot prove something so well known, currently just trying to get to the bottom of the matter and find the reason.

Edit1: I also wish to not come off as an undergrad too anxious about their university. I am perfectly happy with UofT, I just want to understand the reasoning behind all this prestige so that I can have a more complete idea of my experience here and experience people have at those other universities.
University of Toronto is a great school. It's probably better than MIT in certain subfields like Machine Learning. Your best bet, IMO, is to just do really well there.
 
  • #24
To @Ege Artan ,

You seem to be concerned that an undergraduate degree from the University of Toronto (UofT for short, to those outside of Canada -- my alma mater, btw) will somehow put you at a disadvantage. This is frankly false.

Plenty of graduates from my school have subsequently continued to further graduate studies in the US. Just as an example, here are two old friends & classmates of mine, both with undergraduate degrees in mathematics from UofT, who are now faculty members at different places:

https://math.bu.edu/people/szczesny/ (finished his PhD in math at Berkeley)

https://www.cs.sfu.ca/~mori/ (finished his PhD in computer science at Berkeley)

I have also known people who have specifically graduated with a joint specialist degree in math and physics (equivalent to a double major in math and physics in American universities) who have pursued graduate studies (in either math, applied math, physics, or other cognate fields) in the US, UK, European countries, or within Canada.

So I do not think you are somehow being shortchanged by pursuing your studies at my alma mater.
 
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