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The Horrible Ranking Game: Brown vs. UC Boulder and what the hell I'm doing in school

  1. Jul 18, 2012 #1
    There's a lot of background information that I'll spare you guys, but I'm currently on leave from Brown and am considering going to UC Boulder instead and am just curious how the programs might compare, what my graduate prospects will be, and so forth.

    Actually, some background: I transferred into Brown as a sophomore from Reed College, and ended up on a bit of an unusual track for the physics major, as students at Reed do not do multivariable calculus until their second year (as it's a year-long, proof-heavy intense course and they believe you need a year of proof-based mathematics in preparation). So I was the one physics major that did not take electromag sophomore year as I didn't have the necessary vector calculus.

    Anyway, I only did a semester at Brown before going on leave. I now have the vector calculus and can complete the course, but I'm currently in a position of playing "catch-up" and will have to continue to do so throughout my remaining 5 semesters there (I'm out of "sync" with the physics program in that I'm lagging in a semester, so courses are offered at inopportune times, etc). It basically boils down to me doing an extremely heavy course-load every semester.

    As a partial remedy to this, and thoughts that I might want to go to medical school, I decided that if I were to go back to Brown I could do their chemical physics major. It basically gives you a lot more freedom as it allows you to pick and choose between chemistry and physics(so, if I had a particularly heavy semester coming up I could take quantum chemistry instead of the physics department's quantum offering, which is much more difficult and intensive). But it seems like that's just too much breadth and I'll be missing out on courses fundamental to physics and fundamental to chemistry. I'd still be playing catch-up (especially since I've taken no chemistry, and I'd be in my 4th semester) and have very high course loads.

    Alternatively, I could go to the University of Colorado at Boulder. This is the only alternative, I'm unwilling to apply to any other schools. There, I would have more time to complete the major (a combination of the school being cheaper and the fact that they don't enforce an 8 semester limit like Brown does), and I think I'd choose to do physics and minor in chemistry (simply out of interest for the subject and to keep the medical school option open).

    I hate myself a little for this, and I hate that in my mind rankings are worth a damn, but somehow there's something unsavory about going from an oh-so-glamorous-and-prestigious Ivy League to a state school. Even if that state school arguably has the better physics department, etc. And I'm also worried about it in terms of medical school admissions, if I do decide to go that route.

    It seems to me that my quality of life would be better in Boulder. My schedule would be more relaxed, I'd have more freedom to take courses that I'm interested in, and I'd probably do better academically. But at the same time, Brown has its advantages--I'd graduate early, I'd have Brown on my transcript, and so forth.

    I'm just unsure what to do. And I guess to top it all off, I'm unsure if I'm going to be successful in physics. Thus far, I have been doing well. But I don't feel like I understand anything--I can do the problems asked of me, but if I sit down and think to myself how a swing works, or just about some simple principle, I don't find that I really understand it in any capacity. I'm basically booksmart when it comes to physics, but don't have a true, legitimate understanding. I'm not sure if this is common throughout undergrads and it gets better, or if I should consider something else (when I took AP Chemistry, and yes--I know--just AP Chemistry, I felt like I really had a *proper* understanding of it. It made clear, lucid sense to me. Should I consider going the chemistry route? The thing that bothers me here is that math is deemphasized in chemistry, and it almost seems as if you're being "cheated" out of the insights that math offers).

    Sorry for the ramble. I just have no idea what the hell I'm doing.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 18, 2012 #2
    Re: The Horrible Ranking Game: Brown vs. UC Boulder and what the hell I'm doing in sc

    If you are serious about switching schools arrange to visit Boulder and see for yourself how you like the school. Also, just because a school is a "state school" does not mean it is a "bad school". State funded institutions usually have more money and thus more opportunity. Judging by your description of Brown, it does not seem like they care much about their students. Ask yourself: What is the point of attending school with an environment that does not encourage your growth? Also, the freedom at Boulder will allow you to learn at your pace which is crucial for a QUALITY learning experiance. Provided you arent studying physics at McDonalds University the quality of your education is more depended on the effort and time you spend learning the material. You want to be in a place that make you feel empowered to learn on your own; not pass the class for the sake of a grade. If you still feel like Brown is a better fit for you then opt to take summer classes to lighten your courseload.
  4. Jul 18, 2012 #3


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    Re: The Horrible Ranking Game: Brown vs. UC Boulder and what the hell I'm doing in sc

    I don't get this correlation between state schools -> mediocre schools that people keep making. UC Berkeley, UIUC, UC Santa Barbara, UW Madison, UT Austin, Boulder are all state schools and are much higher ranked for physics (if that matters to you) and also much more known for physics in general than Brown. I don't see how it simply being an ivy helps if you are going for the physics track (I mean if its Princeton or Harvard or Cornell that's a different story since they are immediately VERY well known for physics in general).
  5. Jul 18, 2012 #4
    Re: The Horrible Ranking Game: Brown vs. UC Boulder and what the hell I'm doing in sc

    You only mention two advantages of Brown: you graduate early and you have Brown on your transcript. Normally graduating early is good for money issues, but since Boulder is cheaper for you, you can spend an extra semester or two so that you have proper time to catch up. Hardly anyone would care if you have Brown on your transcript. Don't forget: CU Boulder is very well known in physics.

    Since you are thinking about medical school, your GPA is important. At Boulder you will have more time to focus on your important classes, and that extra semester or two will give extra time for things such as research (medical schools do take this into consideration).

    Instead of worrying about a name, you should worry about being competitive and convincing others you are the one, whether it's a job or grad school.
  6. Jul 18, 2012 #5
    Re: The Horrible Ranking Game: Brown vs. UC Boulder and what the hell I'm doing in sc

    Should have stayed at Reed IMO, still do not understand your reason behind leaving...

    Ranking of the overall school doesn't mean jack, if the academic department of that school that you are interested in isn't rigorous in it's own right, especially for something like physics.

    The impression that I got is that your looking for an easy way out, thinking that a state school will offer that... Cannot really tell what your true intentions are...

    As for medical school, volunteer at a hospital, and shadow experts in the specific departments your interested in. You'll find out real fast if you want to be a physician or not.
  7. Apr 10, 2013 #6
  8. Apr 10, 2013 #7
    When considering academic rankings, I find it very helpful to partition the question of "which is better?" into two questions:

    0) At which university will I learn more?
    1) Which university is more likely to give me the documents and/or social connections needed to be permitted to continue doing research?

    The answer to 0) is: Rankings are almost completely useless for determining where the good teachers are. I went to a very selective and highly-ranked undergraduate program where the other students and I learned almost zero from our classes. Several of my colleagues went to cheap state schools with excellent teachers. (This does not imply state-school > selective-school. I have also found a few very effective teachers at highly-ranked universities. Good and bad teachers can be found in many places.)

    The answer to 1) is more complicated. At the graduate level, the most important factor is having a competent advisor who wants to help you, has time to help you, and wants to work on a subject you also want to work on. At the undergraduate level, the most important factor is convincing a graduate school to accept you in the near future. Some graduate admissions committees are obsessed with rankings, and others are not. I wish I could give you a list of both, but I don't know enough to do so reliably.

    I lean very heavily toward universities located in places I want to live. But this is a personal preference and not necessarily good advice for everyone.
  9. Apr 11, 2013 #8

    Vanadium 50

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    Um..look at the date, folks. The decision has been made already.
  10. Apr 11, 2013 #9
    Yeah. I was wondering why the hell this got resurrected.
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