# Schools Stony Brook for Undergrad?

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1. Mar 26, 2017

### PhysicsPhan

Hi everyone, I have a choice between Stony Brook and Cornell for my undergraduate education in physics and I am at a cross-roads. I want to show my father that I'm a grown man and willing to allow him and his wife to remain financially not-bankrupt so to speak (also not psyched about the student loans). However, my dream is to go to a top 10 grad school and I don't know if Stony Brook has the prestige necessary. I know I sound ignorant as heck, and I'm aware that Stony Brook's physics program is incredible. Anyway, do you guys think that the two physics programs are comparable? Do I have an equal, or only marginally worse, chance at getting into a top grad school?

Thank you guys so much, I love this community, PF forums have helped me so much in the early phases of my physics self-study.

2. Mar 26, 2017

### Staff: Mentor

I cannot imagine any physics grad school admissions committee using a perceived difference in "prestige" between Cornell and Stony Brook as a factor in deciding between candidates from those schools.

3. Mar 26, 2017

### PhysicsPhan

What do you think of Stony's program?

4. Mar 28, 2017

### Wminus

Don't you have a student loan system in the US? If there was a way for you to get zero-interest loans, then I'd go to Cornell.

The reason being, is that you really don't have a reliable way of knowing whether grad school will be an option/something you want in 4 years. Perhaps circumstances will force you to get a normal job, and if you're from Cornell it'll generally be easier to convince employers to hire you even if the physics programs at Cornell and Stony Brook are mostly the same (and there are other advantages to attending a top uni too - like contacts). It's stupid/unfair, but that's just how the world works.

That said, I don't think the grad schools give a toss about prestige: What they care about is getting a good candidate, and I'm sure you can become a good candidate thru hard work in stony brook.

Last edited: Mar 28, 2017
5. Mar 28, 2017

### StatGuy2000

Wminus, I take it you are not an American, so therefore, compare the tuition rates between Stony Brook and Cornell for in-state residents (i.e. those who are residents of New York state) for 2017:

Stony Brook: $6017.50 per year for a full 12 credits (full-time students) http://www.stonybrook.edu/bursar/tuition/ Cornell:$52,612.00 per year for full-time students

https://www.dfa.cornell.edu/bursar/students-parents/tuition-rates-fees

As you can see above, undergraduate students at Stony Brook pay a fraction of the cost in tuition that Cornell undergraduate students pay (and btw, this is tuition only -- the costs do not include the cost of housing, books and school materials, food, etc.). And given the reputation of Stony Brook in STEM fields (both in math and physics), I highly doubt that the OP will get much more out of attending Cornell. So is it really worth putting the OP in debt to attend Cornell? And I'm not even sure how easy zero-interest loans can be obtained for American students.

6. Mar 28, 2017

### Wminus

OK, nevermind my post then, I'm totally wrong and I shouldn't have spoken without looking at the tuition rates. 53k per year is insane... But there are no scholarship options for those who can't afford it?

Last edited: Mar 28, 2017
7. Mar 28, 2017

### Dr. Courtney

Stony Brook is a good school. It would be a top choice for my own children among schools in NY.

I went from LSU to a top ten school (MIT), so no doubt you could do it from Stony Brook. Mind that GPA and get involved in research early. Impress your research supervisors so they write good recommendation letters.

8. Mar 28, 2017

### PhysicsPhan

Thank you guys. This was very helpful, I'm going to Stony. The American student loan system is incredibly unfair.

9. Mar 29, 2017

### Wminus

So basically Ivy League is a rich-kids only club? I thought they gave out scholarships for those who couldn't afford it.

Wouldn't it (almost) always be smarter to just do an undergrad at state-school and then go Ivy League for the MS? Or try to transfer from college/state school to an ivy-league for the final 1-2 years during the undergrad?

10. Mar 29, 2017

### Dr. Courtney

My view is it's almost always smarter to take the debt-free path, which often looks like an in-state school for the BS degree followed by the top school for the advanced degree, using TAs, RAs, and fellowships in grad school to avoid debt.

Incurring massive debt for undergrad just does not seem like a wise investment.

11. Mar 29, 2017

### Dishsoap

Yes, some Ivies give you a full ride (tuition + room/board) for domestic students from families who make under a certain income (for Princeton this is 54k, Cornell 60k, Columbia 60k, Harvard 65k...).

I did the state school -> Ivy transition from undergrad to grad school (though I'm only in my first year), and there are definitely downsides to that as well, depending on the level of state school (mine was ranked >250, which hurt me in a lot of ways).

12. Mar 29, 2017

### PhysicsPhan

No, they do not award 'scholarships', but 'financial aid'. However, the financial aid is rarely substantial enough and is distributed at the discretion of..whomever.

13. Mar 29, 2017

Staff Emeritus
What's unfair about it? Someone loans you money, and you agree to pay it back?

Essentially, the people who have the money decide who they want to give it to. Is that not also fair?

14. Mar 29, 2017

### Dr Transport

He who has the gold makes the rules, the Golden Rule of business......

15. Mar 29, 2017

### StatGuy2000

I think what the OP is referring to is not that loans are themselves unfair, but the terms on which students must agree to get these student loans are unfair. For example, people who owe student loans are unable to declare bankruptcy if they are unable to make their payments (unlike those with any other types of debts). There may also be concerns on interest payments to recoup the loans, are these loans available to all students, etc.

Whether the process you describe above is fair depends on the terms on which the money is lent out (or offered). My ideal is that no student should be denied the opportunity to attend post-secondary education because of financial concerns. After all, in many countries around the world, post-secondary education is free (i.e. no tuition). Even in the US, until fairly recently, public universities had tuition rates that were affordable for most students without having to rely on excessive amounts of debt.

16. Mar 29, 2017

### Wminus

I think it's unfair because it leads to an increase in inequality, and further universities that behave such as this impair the optimal distribution of resources in the economy (optimal as in optimal for wealth generation); this is bad for everyone.

IMO education is far too important to be left to the whims of the free market/greed, but I'm not American so don't take my opinion too seriously.

17. Mar 29, 2017

### StatGuy2000

18. Mar 29, 2017

### Dr. Courtney

Yes, I would love feedback here as well. I am mentoring a number of students and our standard recommendation is for most high achieving STEM majors to go to a good in-state school for undergrad and aim top 10 for grad school to minimize (or eliminate in most cases) debt. However, in most cases, there are top 100 schools in state, often top 50. Combined with articulation agreements where credits transfer to the better STEM schools in a state, students can often live at home and commute to a nearby school for a couple years before transferring to the big state school (if needed). This approach saves even more if scholarships are unavailable to cover campus living expenses the first two years.

The biggest downside we've seen with schools ranked outside the top 100 tends to be more limited research opportunities and faculty who are not as highly esteemed in a discipline, which yields letters of recommendation without the same power to open graduate school doors. We believe this can be somewhat counter-balanced with quality publications that potential downstream advisers can read and assess for themselves. If an undergrad is first author on several quality publications (rather than a middle author on 1 or 2), suddenly the reputation of the faculty adviser who wrote the recommendation letter is less important. When we mentor a high school student who goes to college, we keep the doors open to keep collaborating with us and publishing papers until the opportunities to publish open up at their undergraduate institution.

19. Mar 29, 2017

Staff Emeritus
You mention that these loans are not discharged through bankruptcy. The student has a choice - she can take a loan out at 6.8% that's not discharged by bankruptcy, or she can take out an "ordinary" loan that is. That's riskier for the lender, so the interest is higher. Possibly a lot higher: at least 15% and probably at least 20%. But this sidesteps the issue - the situation may be undesirable for the student, but how is it unfair?

Again, why is the alternative unfair?

Even in countries where it is "free", some schools are costlier than others. Is it not reasonable for the student to ask herself "is the more expensive school worth the difference?" In this thread, the OP has decided that the difference between a Top 20 school and a Top 15 school isn't worth $200,000. I think that's a completely reasonable decision. 20. Mar 29, 2017 ### Choppy Students don't have to pay tuition. It's important to remember this is not free though. The professors and supporting staff have to be paid. The buildings have to be built, heated, etc. Students need computing infrastructure, laboratories, libraries, recreational facilities, journal access, etc. This all comes with a cost. When students - those using these services directly - don't pay for them, the taxpayers do. 21. Mar 29, 2017 ### StatGuy2000 I think that is an important point -- as I see it, the responsibility of ensuring that post-secondary education is available to all those who wish to pursue it (and to avoid saddling or burdening potential students) should be the taxpayer, or more broadly, all of us in the public. It is the responsibility and obligation of the public (i.e. everyone) to ensure that education is available to all, and to ensure that research and other important components of a university is available. In return, universities provide considerable benefits economically and thus benefit the public. So it is a great return on investment from the public. 22. Mar 29, 2017 ### Dr. Courtney It would be a good return on investment if universities showed less tolerance for neglecting studies while drinking and partying and sowing their wild oats. But unis have figured out the only thing they need to do to keep the taxpayer money flowing is to make sure a very high percentage of students pass, regardless of whether they are meeting learning objectives promised to the accrediting agencies. Willingness to work hard to pursue higher education is much different than what a lot of college students are doing: partying hard while doing the minimum necessary to keep the cash flowing to the college. 23. Mar 29, 2017 ### Dr. Courtney Most aspiring STEM majors who can get into the likes of Cornell and Stony Brook have the chops to get full (or nearly full) tuition scholarships to top tier state schools, or sometimes state schools one rung down on the ladder. In most cases, gaps in funding are more related to housing costs and living expenses as high school graduates wish to throw off the yoke of accountability often associated with commuting to a more affordable college from home. (Over 4 years, these typically add up to$40-\$50k.) Since many high school graduates live within commuting distance of pretty good schools (or there are affordable distance learning options), an awful lot of accrued debt is more related to the lifestyle choice of independent living rather than educational necessity of pursuing college education.

24. Mar 29, 2017

### UsableThought

The concerns mentioned so far have been with student responsibility and choice. However @Wminus in comment #4 made a point that is also relevant in whatever the larger debate here might be about educational costs and who should bear them & why:
The issue for me (and I'm not alone) is that a systemically inequitable society, if things get extreme enough, tends toward self-destruction; historical examples abound. Obviously the complicity of great universities as well as many other institutions in the perpetuation of inherited wealth is a centuries-old tradition; nonetheless we would be better off, given the worsening political & economic polarization in the U.S., attempting to improve the situation; a nearly impossible task and best done by inches if it can be done at all. Along these lines I found a relevant article from the January 28 Economist: "Colleges and inequality: New data show that joining the 1% remains unsettlingly hereditary". Here's the gist, from a couple of paragraphs near the the top:

"New data on American universities and their role in economic mobility—culled from 30m tax returns—published by Raj Chetty, an economist at Stanford University, and colleagues show that some colleges do a better job of boosting poor students up the income ladder than others. Previously, the best data available showed only average earnings by college. For the first time, the entire earnings distribution of a college’s graduates—and how that relates to parental income—is now known.​

"These data show that graduates of elite universities with single-digit admissions rates and billion-dollar endowments are still the most likely to join the top 1% (though having wealthy parents improves the odds). And despite recent efforts to change, their student bodies are still overwhelmingly wealthy."​

And here's the link to the actual study: "Mobility Report Cards: The Role of Colleges in Intergenerational Mobility," Chetty et al, 2017. Here's the abstract; as usual it's a single paragraph, but I've broken it up for easier reading. What I find encouraging is that the focus is constructive, as you'll see from the summary sentence:

"We characterize rates of intergenerational income mobility at each college in the United States using administrative data for over 30 million college students from 1999-2013. We document four results.
• First, access to colleges varies greatly by parent income. For example, children whose parents are in the top 1% of the income distribution are 77 times more likely to attend an Ivy League college than those whose parents are in the bottom income quintile.
• Second, children from low and high-income families have very similar earnings outcomes conditional on the college they attend, indicating that there is little mismatch of low socioeconomic status students to selective colleges.
• Third, upward mobility rates – measured, for instance, by the fraction of students who come from families in the bottom income quintile and reach the top quintile – vary substantially across colleges. Much of this variation is driven by differences in the fraction of students from low-income families across colleges whose students have similar earnings outcomes. Mid-tier public universities such as the City University of New York and California State colleges tend to have the highest rates of bottom-to-top quintile mobility. Elite private colleges, such as Ivy League universities, have the highest rates of upper-tail (e.g., bottom quintile to top 1%) mobility.
• Finally, between the 1980 and 1991 birth cohorts, the fraction of students from bottom-quintile families fell sharply at colleges with high rates of bottom-to-top- quintile mobility, and did not change substantially at elite private institutions.
"Although our descriptive analysis does not identify colleges’ causal effects on students’ outcomes, the publicly available statistics constructed here highlight colleges that deserve further study as potential engines of upward mobility."​

Last edited: Mar 29, 2017
25. Mar 29, 2017

### Dr. Courtney

Yes, but one observation I've made repeatedly over the years is that parents who are paying tend to do a better job of enforcing good student responsibility and choice than government. Government tends to keep paying as long as a school will have them.

In contrast, I've seen dramatic improvements in effort and outcomes when mom and/or dad finally says, "If you fail physics again, I'm not writing the checks next semester."

Separating the funding scheme from student responsibility and choice is inherently foolish.

My own parents bless me greatly with the clarity with which they linked my GPA to their check writing.