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Strongest Undergraduate Programs in Canada?

  1. Jan 5, 2012 #1

    I am an eager high school student trying to research ahead for the university I want to go to.

    I'm torn between studying either science or applied science. I was thinking if I spend one or two years in undergrad doing a bit of both, I might make a decision.
    Science: Particle physics, Astrophysics, Theoretical Physics
    Applied Science: Physics engineering, Experimental physics, Aerospace Engineering (?)

    The reason I put applied sciences into the picture is that having some of this in my knowledge would help me land a better career. That is my opinion right now as a high school student, and might change when I actually get into it, such as liking the feel, challenge or contribution of applied sciences more. Then again, I also like thinking and getting into the core of everything, other than just working with machines on them. I'm kind of sure I do not want to teach after graduating, but to go into research & development.

    So I was wondering which undergraduate programs in Canada would be considered the strongest (best facilities, great teachers) to help me get into the field a bit better, and hopefully to eventually get into a good graduate school in America. (Caltech, UC Berkeley, MIT)
    Other factors in choosing a university do not weigh in as much as getting the best education and getting good ties, but it will help if costs are not through the roof. I'm going to apply for scholarships, so I hope I get it.

    Some schools that have popped up are:
    U of British Columbia
    U of Toronto
    U of Waterloo
    Ryerson U
    U of Manitoba

    I live in: Manitoba
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 5, 2012 #2
    I grew up in Waterloo, so maybe I can help a bit.

    I can tell you that UWaterloo has quite the reputation for math and computer science, so I'm sure you'll find that your mathematical training will be great if you go there. I can't speak directly for any other school since I haven't looked at their course material.

    That said, if your goal is to be "at the top" and get into a good grad school in America, then honestly, I don't think that school "reputation" matters as much as you think it might.

    I'll use myself as an example here. Like I said, I grew up in Waterloo, and many of my friends are at UWaterloo for math-related programs. However, I went to Guelph, which has notably less of a reputation for math (read: basically none; its reputation is in agriculture/veterinary sciences).

    So, why did I go? Well, long story short, they offered full tuition, but much more importantly, they offered *lots* of networking opportunities. In my first summer (after 1st year) I was working at a national research lab. I've also gotten a chance to meet fairly high ranking government officials, and that sort of thing. Basically, if I had gone to another school, I would have been "just another student" (scholarships or otherwise), but here, I'm able to access a number of exclusive networking systems only available to me and a few others. In terms of grad school, this helps because I get better access to research opportunities.

    Anyways, I guess what I'm really trying to get at is this: If you want to be really, really good at what you do, you'll need to go way beyond the expectations of any of your courses. So don't take academic reputation too seriously (but of course, don't ignore it altogether), because no matter how hard your school pushes you, you'll want to push yourself harder. Moreover, remember that a more reputable school won't always necessarily give better networking. That said, if you can get great scholarships and networking opportunities at a very reputable school, then go for it.

    Now, I've said a whole bunch, but I guess I haven't *really* answered your question. So, I'll list some programs/universities that I think are strong, and I'll list why. Note that I'll list only programs/universities that I've personally interacted with in some way, otherwise I'd just be reciting stuff from magazine rankings or something. In no particular order:

    Waterloo - Physics. Reason: Strong math courses (and good variety of math courses)
    Guelph - Nanoscience. Reason: Absurdly high funding/equipment/faculty-to-student ratio
    Saskatchewan - Physics. Reason: Canadian Light Source. Strong geophysics.

    But yes, I would look in detail at the courses you would be taking for each program, and compare it against each other program. What do you gain/lose between each?

    Hope this helped.
  4. Jan 5, 2012 #3
    I can say I haven't thought of going into as much detail as looking at all the courses they offer for each program. I will soon, so thanks.

    And I did mention something about ties, or at least I attempted to. Like research opportunities, connections, and ties with institutions (such as when I read U of T is connected with the Canadian Institute of Theoretical Astrophysics).

    So far here is an improved list I made of potential schools (Most with both Physics & Engineering Physics in their programs):
    -U of T
    -U of Alberta
  5. Jan 5, 2012 #4
    Well, all the schools you've listed are good schools. So, I don't really think it makes much of a difference which you go to. Just find somewhere that doesn't put you under too much financial strain, and has an atmosphere that you like, and you'll be set.
  6. Jan 5, 2012 #5
    If you come to carleton, you'll have to take a first year calculus and algebra class.

    here's a sample of what we're doing now in algebra

    http://people.math.carleton.ca/~mezo/math1102.html << teaching this class this term.

    http://people.math.carleton.ca/~mezo/math1002.html << he doesn't teach this class this term

    Also there are alot of good looking girls at carleton. (NOT IN SCIENCES..Except for biology). Don't know if that sways your choosing in any way. But it definitely would for me.
  7. Jan 5, 2012 #6
    I'm going into AP Calculus, so that's like 1st year Calc I guess? I'm not too worried about prerequisites cause I'm willing to take any classes I need.

    And I'm a girl. So, no.
  8. Jan 6, 2012 #7
    No i raelly don't think AP calculus has epsilon delta proofs or much proofs at all for that matter. I've never been in an AP calculus course but it's just not going to be the same as the course i've listed.

    The calculus link that i've given is a full year course. You have to take it for 2 semesters to get the full credit. It's aimed for math majors.

    If i were you, and if i could redo it over again, i would definitely pick up a book called "spivak calculus" and just do everything there. It's such a helpful book to get you prepared for calculus.

    side note: if you aren't into girls, you can still come to carleton to look at me.
  9. Jan 8, 2012 #8
    Great post. In addition, I think the spread in quality between different established Canadian universities is much less than in the US. They are all pretty solid.

    Any particular reason you dropped UVic from your list?
  10. Jan 13, 2012 #9
    Well while doing a bit more browsing after my first list, UVic didn't really show up. I only put UVic on my first list in the first place is because I remember it from a search I did a few months back, but that was for a slightly different subject while still slightly relevant.
  11. Jan 13, 2012 #10
    I'd say the best chance you have of going to a top tier US grad school would be to take engineering science. U of T has a very tough engineering science program (lots of info about it on this site). Queens also has some good engineering science majors (eng. physics, eng/math, eng.chem). Both programs are accredited engineering programs so you would still be qualified to become a professional engineer if you want to go into industry.

    In terms of teaching, one major will learn pretty much the same material regardless of school. This is because most engineering programs in Ontario are accredited (they have to teach the similar numbers of math courses, science courses, electives, and communication courses). In my opinion, ratemyprof is a good source to compare quality of teaching amongst different schools.

    I believe there are only 2 B.Eng aerospace programs in Ontario (maybe Canada too?), Ryerson and Carleton, where I am.
  12. Jan 13, 2012 #11
    Yeah after some thinking more or less sold on going into Engineering Physics (and the possibility of Experimental Physics, but I need to look into that more and what it's really about).

    When you said tough program from UofT, would that be a good thing?

    And just wondering, what are you taking at Carleton?
  13. Jan 13, 2012 #12
    I'm going to have to disagree with this. Now, I'm not saying that taking engineering science would decrease your chances by any means. However, it's naive to think that the program you choose really has that much to do with graduate school acceptance. Regardless of what you study or where you study it, you need to make sure you're at or near the top academically and that you expose yourself to a good amount of research experiences (so for Canada, that would be NSERC USRA/URA stuff). Don't rely on the program/school you choose to get you into grad school.
  14. Jan 13, 2012 #13
    I'm pretty sure you need at least a low 90s high-school average to get into eng.sci at UofT. It has a reputation of being one of the most difficult undergrad programs in the country. There are threads on this website specifically about eng.sci at UofT, so I recommend you check those out.

    I am taking aerospace engineering.

    I have heard of more people going to top US grad schools from UofT eng.sci and Queens eng.physics much more often than going to say Caltech from a B.Eng in mechanical engineering from the same schools. My limited research would also agree with this, however this could be a complete myth. I do agree with the rest of your post though.
  15. Jan 14, 2012 #14
    I currently have a low-mid 90's average, so I guess that's okay.
    And thanks, I will.


    Okay so I looked up what people had to say about EngSci at UofT...
    made me **** bricks.
    I don't know what to think about this
    Last edited: Jan 14, 2012
  16. Jan 14, 2012 #15
    Well, it looks like you're aiming for the top in terms of grad schools. Be prepared to be pushed to your limits -- whether by your own will or by your profs.

    Don't get too frightened about people claiming how hard some undergraduate programs are though. If you believe yourself to be good enough for the best grad schools in the world, then you'll be fine for pretty much any undergrad program.
  17. Jan 17, 2012 #16
    I am currently in my third year in the Engineering Science Physics option at UofT. I'd have to say I really enjoy it. It is definitely more work than your average engineering or physics major, but compared to the Physics/Math specialist at UofT I would say its probably of about equal difficulty or lesser difficulty. It is more work in the sense that you are always taking 6 hard courses, meanwhile science students can get away with 4 or 5 courses (an extra course will always mean more work).

    One thing that is nice about Engsci is that the averages for the courses are consistently held around B- to B+ (in the 70s range). However, arts and science at uoft tends to keep their averages in the 60s. Also, Engsci is super friendly (like one big family!) and everyone helps each other. I don't know if you can say the same for pure science/math programs.

    Anyways if you have any questions about the program then just PM me. I could probably answer most if not all of them.
  18. Jan 18, 2012 #17
    Thanks everyone for all the help!
    I'm almost pretty decided on UofT, but being only in Gr11 (but technically I'm done my gr12 requirements), I was naive in the beginning of this post. Now I learned that my available budget and tuition IS a big deal.

    So here's the question:
    What is the highest amount of scholarship UofT gives?
    If I still couldn't make it, what would I have to take at different universities (Most likely U of Manitoba :c ) if I want to pursue grad school/a career in Engineering Physics?
  19. Jan 18, 2012 #18
    I got 5000 when I got accepted into Engsci. That's way more than what most people get. (I had a 98.5 average in high school)

    If I were you I would expect either nothing or maybe up to around 1-3k. Anything more would just be lucky. I consider myself lucky.

    You can always apply to other scholarships and such. The one I got was simply due to my application.
  20. Jan 18, 2012 #19
    Most Canadian universities offer full scholarships (Toronto included) if you're really good. That is, not just in terms of marks, but in community service, leadership, etc. If you're up for it, apply to some bigger scholarships and then money won't be an issue. I think Toronto's is called the National scholarship or something like that (pretty sure it's about $40k). Then there are others which aren't affiliated with a particular school, like the Loran ($75k) or the TD ($70k) scholarships.
  21. Jan 18, 2012 #20
    Wow that's a lot. My average is usually around mid 90's, and I do some volunteer work. So I guess my profile isn't THAT impressive but still has a bit more stuff than average. I don't really do any sports, so that doesn't help..

    I guess when the time comes, a few months before graduation, I'll start scouring the internet and talking to my counselors for scholarships.
  22. Jan 18, 2012 #21
    Mid 90s average is fine. Truth be told, once you're above 90+ average, no one really cares except for other students. You said you're in grade 11 right? There's plenty of time (read: rest of this year) to make your profile competitive. I was pretty much in your position at your age, and I said, "Hey, I should get some friends and make a math enrichment program for kids because why the hell not." Aaand, fast forward a couple years later and I have full tuition paid at a Canadian university.

    So, don't ever think it's too late or that you can't do "outstanding" stuff. If you have any specific questions, feel free to PM me.
  23. Jan 19, 2012 #22
    It might be too earlier for you to decide, but different schools provide different specialized courses and faculty members at higher levels, so you might want to pay attention to that too...

    For instance,
    UBC: Strong High Energy Exp. group, affiliated with TRIUMF and many faculty members offer summer positions there

    UW: Apparently strong at Quantum Computing, affiliated with IQC and offers some Quantum computing related courses in upper years

    McGill: Seems to have more faculty on the theory side and offers grad courses as string theory for adv. undergraduates

    UofT: Lots of ppl working in Condensed Matter and AMO, has a list of upper year APM courses about the mathematical formalization of GR, fluid mechanics and QM and also grad physics courses in CM and High Energy Physics...

    I'm from UofT so I'll give a bit more comments on the program there...

    If you're planning to go to UofT, I'd second on going to EngSci. Besides the GPA issue, the program also equips you with useful electronic and computing skills (If I'm not mistaken in C or sth useful, at least not Python), which will be very useful if you are trying to get a summer position.

    On the other hand, if you're picking between Physics and Maths&Physics specialist, I'd recommend you go for the latter, basically because it's simply an upgraded version of the former. The Physics class are almost all identical, but with all the Maths class upgraded and you'll taking upper year maths classes dealing with Physics (as well as the same experiment courses). Most of the people I've seen who went to top schools come from the Math&Physics program. Be aware, however, the program is extremely tough.

    Take the second year course MAT257 as an example. They use Spivak's/Munkres book as text and the professor picks the hardest questions from the textbook and assigns some himself at a level substantially higher as assignments, and still the course average is somewhere around C+ to B-.
    Only very few people get A/A+ in the course and those who actually get such grades are those who have excelled maths at a earlier age, either Olympiad participants or extremely bright students at the level.
    Not that EngSci is easy, but it's just way harder to catch up with those up there when you're talking about Maths.

    In a nutshell, if you're not extremely interested or brilliant in Maths, I think EngSci would be a better program.
    Hope that helps
    Last edited: Jan 19, 2012
  24. Jan 21, 2012 #23
    You make a good point, and got me really thinking on how to improve my profile more! :)

    Thank you, this information is actually so helpful!
    It's not that I'm not good or interested in Maths, I am, but I chose Engineering Science or Applied Science in general because of the career prospects, I mean it's not that I think I will make more money, but that I believe I will have more opportunities into getting involved if I know my way around the applications of science, and not having only the theory of it under my belt. Because in the end what really matters to everyone is how Science will help improve our world (And I'm all for that).

    If someone has any insight or knowledge about how I'm going about this (prove me wrong, or add on) I would be grateful!
  25. Sep 19, 2012 #24
    Saint Mary's University in Halifax, Nova Scotia has a really good astrophysics (and general physics) program. SMU is a relatively small school compared to say, Dalhousie, which is also located in Halifax. I go to SMU and I must say, I really enjoy it. The campus is smaller and has a much more...relaxed(?) environment. There are 14 faculty members which make up the Astronomy and Physics department at SMU. The majority of the faculty members have PhD's in astrophysics. We also have (at least) one faculty member with a PhD in nuclear physics and another in particle physics. SMU's approach seems to be coming more from the theoretical side of physics as opposed to experimental and applied physics.
    Last edited: Sep 19, 2012
  26. Nov 26, 2012 #25
    If you're fluent enough in French, try University of Montreal also...
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