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Studying Studying Physics at the Undergraduate Level, Urgent

  1. May 1, 2010 #1
    So essentially, I have not come to a decision in spite that today, May 1st, I must inform the colleges that accepted me where I am going to study for the next four years.

    My choices are: MIT, Harvard, Yale and Princeton.

    I am at my wit's end; here is the gist of it:

    a) I want to study the liberal arts, so MIT is essentially not what I want

    b) I wish to go to grad school for theoretical physics, so I would like a tight-knit and supportive (not outwardly competitive environment)

    c) Yale had some of the best people, and an amazing first year directed studies (humanities sequence) that I heavily like. Looking at the website, however, it does not look as if their physics courses delve as deep or are of as high quality as at Harvard or Princeton.

    d) I just want to make a decision, and I need advice.
  2. jcsd
  3. May 1, 2010 #2
    NOTE: All this advice is based on what I believe, not on absolute truth. Take it as such.

    MIT surprisingly has fantastic undergraduate liberal arts. (Arguably better than Harvard, Yale, Princeton in many ways). This is because all the professors are payed for their teaching ability. MIT's liberal arts are like the liberal arts at liberal arts colleges, unlike Harvard, Yale, Princeton, where there are a bunch of professors doing research who don't care about undergrads at all (meaning sucky undergraduate liberal arts courses). However, MIT has a super-ultra competitive environment. People get burnt out.

    This "competitive environment" at MIT I think has more to do with the student body than with the university itself. Everyone is supposedly extremely motivated, passionate, and always doing interesting work and going above and beyond. In a sense, it does have a "community" - students working with each other, etc. In terms of finding other students who share your passion about physics, you'd probably do much better at MIT than Harvard, Yale, or Princeton, merely because almost everyone is studying science/math! You'd just probably eventually feel pretty bad about yourself when you fall a bit behind.

    If you want tight-knit and supportive with strong liberal arts, Yale is looking pretty good. When I think of Yale, I imagine it to be the most relaxed of the four. However, Yale is the weakest of the four in physics. It's really not science oriented, but it's still strong enough that you wouldn't be held back! If you'd like to be the "minority" (which confers certain advantages: standing out from everyone else, not so much competition, more attention from science professors), then Yale is probably your best bet. The only thing is you'd need to be more self-motivated to make yourself competitive for graduate school. It would be very easy to accidentally not really be competitive for graduate school if you didn't push yourself.

    Harvard will have heavy competition in math (which I assume carries over to physics too), but not nearly as bad as MIT. Princeton is amazing for math and physics (I assume with probably about the same competition in science as Harvard). I wouldn't even dare try to draw a line between Harvard and Princeton on which has more opportunities for math or physics, though. They are essentially equal in math/science.

    However, I think Harvard had been trying to form a more "tight-knit" community. They've been trying to alleviate the pressure, and make students more chilled out about academics. I don't know about Princeton's efforts in that regard...

    Honestly, I don't think you can go wrong with whatever you choose... but you should have started thinking about this earlier!
    Last edited: May 1, 2010
  4. May 1, 2010 #3
    I have been thinking about it for a long time - I essentially arrived at the same conclusion. The problem is deciding among these excellent schools.
  5. May 1, 2010 #4
    If you are really having a hard time making this decision, you can submit deposits to all four.

    Just don't regret it.
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