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Resuming Second Bachelors: Columbia GS or City College of NY, CUNY (CCNY)?

  1. Jul 9, 2012 #1
    Hi all,

    I'm new to the forums and am hoping for some advice. I'm glad to have found these forums, and am excited to comb through them and get to know people here.

    After getting my BFA in Photography (2007), I started a BS in Physics at a good college in Boston (a different institution than my BFA). I did not finish the BS, but did get excellent grades (GPA 3.73), and participated (for a year) in faculty research (materials science) which was published (my name is on the paper as a student author). I left after the spring 2009 semester.

    I left school to move to NYC to work in photography, which I currently do full-time at a 4 year art school. However, after lots of careful deliberation and a reassessment of my long term intellectual goals/work/life satisfaction, I have decided to return to school and finish my BS in order to go onto get my PhD, and build a life/career in physics. (My general area of interest is cosmology/astrophysics: origin/shape of the universe, black holes, dark matter, relativity, complex systems, and such). I am very excited about this.

    Here are my questions (with the one caveat that I have to remain in NYC to do this):

    I have looked into the available schools in NY, and narrowed it down to Columbia's General Studies (it's not continuing ed, it's just the college for adults (I am 31)...you take classes with all other Columbia undergrads and get a Columbia degree) and The City College of NY at CUNY.

    I plan to apply to both, and see what kind of aid I would be offered at both if I am accepted. I am not in a position to take out a large number of loans (especially for an undergraduate, second degree), and will need to work to support myself through school, at least for the first 2 years.

    Additionally, Columbia is currently my top choice for graduate school (still planning on staying in NYC or commuting to CT or NJ for graduate school), so I question whether or not it would be a good idea to attend an undergrad school knowing you want to also go to graduate school there.

    I read good things about City College, they seem to have a lot of research opportunities available, and they are, of course, very affordable. Plus I am thinking that so long as I work hard, distinguish myself, and participate in research it will not matter as much where I go to undergraduate, and Columbia is, well, quite expensive.

    Another option I am looking into is getting a job at either CUNY or Columbia, both of which offer tuition benefits for employees.

    My questions for anyone willing to offer opinions and advice:

    1. Is it generally considered a bad idea to get your undergrad from the same place you strongly desire to attend graduate school? Or does this not make a difference?

    2. Has anyone here attended City College, and can comment on their experience there with the Physics department/doing undergraduate research?

    3. Does anyone else have any advice/recommendations/opinions on this topic?

    Thanks in advance for any help!
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 10, 2012 #2
    Disclaimer: There are far better experienced people than me on these boards, so my advice is probably a bit limited.

    Anyways, I think you are correct that where you do your undergraduate degree is not important, provided you do well there (which it sounds like you can). So then the logical step is to go where the money is.

    Also, there are numerous examples of well regarded physicists who attended City College, Leonard Susskind (famed String theorist) and Julian Schwinger being the two I know best. Honestly though I'm not sure if that actually says anything meaningful about the college to a prospective student. I suspect that it doesn't.
  4. Jul 10, 2012 #3
    I can't comment on the undergraduate education at either school. I am a graduate student at the CUNY graduate center (teach at York College, research at Natural History Museum). Both programs are solid, both large programs which means there should be ample opportunity for undergraduate research. You just have to be proactive about it.

    So some things to keep in mind: is money an issue? Clearly CUNY is much more affordable than Columbia. And while I've seen plenty of people attend graduate school at the same institute where they got their B.S., it doesn't seem the more common of the two options.

    Columbia and CCNY are both solid schools, neither of which could possibly hamper graduate admissions, so far as I can see. And there is nothing stopping you from sitting in on classes at the other institute, nor from talking to professors from either school. The two schools are rather close to each other, after all.

    So I wouldn't worry about the academic situation. Go where you feel is best for you, whether it is for financial reasons, or if you simply feel like you fit with one school better than the other. You are going to want to be comfortable, or else it will be that much more difficult to study harder and learn the material.
  5. Jul 10, 2012 #4
    It is important when trying to place in a top 10 school like Columbia University. Getting a 3.9 GPA from an unknown college is different than getting a 3.9 from a top 30 or top 20 university or that has great reputation in the field you are aiming at. I'm not trying to nitpick here but this line of thought has been growing rampant in this forum, it is simply not true for those who are trying to go into competitive fields such as the ones the OP is interested in. It can do harm to those who are trying to be competitive in an already very competitive field. And I don't mean to attack you, just to dispel what seems to be a common myth around this forum.

    I don't know about CUNY's physics program and reputation -- so I can not comment on that.
  6. Jul 11, 2012 #5
    Well, I'm not going to pretend to be an expert in a subject about which I am probably quite ignorant. However, I want to toss in a few more thoughts Nano and see what you make of them:

    1. Aren't research universities highly pragmatic institutions, seeking to obtain the best researchers? Therefore, wouldn't the best indicator be research experience, rather than gpa anyways? It seems unlikely that research experience at Arizona State University is likely to be inferior to that of say, Berkeley.

    2. Members of this forum who have experienced both the worlds of the highly elite (e.g. MIT) and the somewhat less prestigious (public universities) routinely claim that the rigor of physics programs across institutions varies little.

    3. Finally, a little bit of not-quite science: I looked at the CV's of professors at two institutions: Stanford University and University of Texas at Austin, and decided whether or not I would judge the undergraduate institution as being elite or not. Without very rigorous methodology we could of course see enormous variation between two individuals doing the same research, but I would be curious to hear of your opinion all the same:
    Out of 35 professors at Stanford, 15 of them did not attend an "elite" institution.
    Out of 41 professors at UT Austin, 27 did not attend an elite institution. Perhaps these statistics would be different for theoretical physics?
  7. Jul 13, 2012 #6
    Yeah, I think this is an excellent point. I was thinking the same things myself.
  8. Jul 13, 2012 #7
    Thanks, everyone, for all of the good pointers. I am excited about both schools, and will see how the admissions process pans out.
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