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Thinking of Transferring

  1. Aug 5, 2008 #1

    I'm going into my sophomore year at Duquesne University, majoring in physics and math. I am thinking of transferring to another university, however.

    The reason is that I really want to be able to get into a top grad school to earn my PhD, because I want to go into research. Duquesne's physics program just isn't that big, nor does it have many resources for research, at all. I think there are 2 credits for research in the senior year, but that's about it.

    I really think I can do better, but I'm not sure where to start. I would like to choose about 5 universities, try to apply to them, and see how I do. I'd like to choose universities from various rankings, from those that it is not likely I'd be accepted, to those that I think I could definitely get into.

    Here are some of my stats:

    • I have a 4.0 GPA so far in college.
    • I got a 1970 on the new SAT's, and 1290 on the old. This includes 640 in reading, 650 in math, and 680 in writing. I kind of blame the math score on some technical difficulties with the braille copy of the SAT's in the math section, but I don't know.
    • I graduated with a little over a 3.7 in high school. This is the one point I'm not very happy about, which is why I've tried to work so hard in college.

    Here are some of the important things to me about the university:
    • Research: It should have sufficient research opportunities, hopefully enough to leave an impression for grad school
    • Cost: I'm currently paying between $35,000-40,000 per year. This is pushing it, though I could probably make it up to $45,000-50,000 or so. Obviously, the more financial aid, the higher the cost could be.
    • Accessibility: It should have plenty of resources for those with disabilities (I'm totally blind).
    • Greek life (optional): I'm in Delta Chi, and it'd be so great if I could find a chapter at the university I transfer to.

    Besides that, obviously it should have a good physics program. I'm really interested in quantum physics, so it'd be great if they had some courses on that.

    So, yeah, I didn't do the best in high school, but I've been working really hard to turn that around in college. I'm trying to get into a good university, so it can be a sort of stepping stone to an even better graduate school. Location is no matter for me, but unfortunately cost is.

    So, any suggestions would be much appreciated. I'm looking at Carnegie Mellon right now, because it isn't too much more expensive, and is just right down the road from Duquesne.

    Also, Purdue. A friend goes there and says it is pretty good.

    Besides that, I don't know. I have a few that I dream of but doubt I'd have much of a chance (e.g., Cornell, Stanford, etc).
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 5, 2008 #2
    Hoe Lee shhhh.... that's a lot of money per year.

    Really, it doesn't matter where you go from here with those prices. Carnegie from what I hear is pretty good.

    Apply to those dream schools, too, because you never know. It would be worth it.
  4. Aug 6, 2008 #3
    Really? I didn't think it was all that much for a private university. Everything I looked at seems to be in the $40,000 range.

    Why do you say it doesn't matter?

    Yeah, CMU seems pretty good. I think I'd have a good chance at getting in there, especially since they said that they give more weight to one's grades from college instead of high school, when transferring. The only thing I'm nervous about is that their 25th-percentile for the math score in the SAT's is 680, and I only got 650.

    Very true; I definitely will.

    Is Purdue well-known at all for physics? I've definitely heard of it before, and usually associate it with engineering and computer science, but I never see it mentioned here as one of the better ones for physics.

    Anyway, any other suggestions for universities I could have a chance at getting accepted into would be much appreciated. I'm not really familiar with that many, except for the obvious big-name schools.
    Last edited: Aug 6, 2008
  5. Aug 6, 2008 #4
    Sorry to double post, but I have some updates and clarifications.

    I looked at the costs for various universities today, as well as their selectiveness.

    I'm really liking Cornell. Their selectiveness seems to be comparable to CMU, and they are even a little cheaper. I was mistaken about CMU's cost; it actually is about $52,000. Cornell is about $45,000.

    I don't hold much hope for Stanford, but I may as well try.

    University of Pennsylvania looks decent, but I don't know too much about it.

    CMU is very nice, though a little expensive, unless they are generous with financial aid.

    Purdue is much less selective than I expected. What is their program like? Is it respected? They are only $32,000.

    I looked at University of Illinois, too, and without knowing very much about them besides what I read today, they look pretty good.

    Would you cut out any of the above? Would you suggest adding any?

    If I got into Stanford, I'd go there in a heartbeat. next would be Cornell. Everything else is as I've ordered them above.

    I would probably try to visit a few of these over winter break if I possibly could. I've already visited CMU because I almost went there originally, but that's it.

    Finally, how much weight will they give to my high school grades? I mean, will they see I've drastically improved in college, and so perhaps give me more of a chance?
  6. Aug 6, 2008 #5


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    Keep in mind that most people don't get all their research experience from their own university. I went to a small liberal arts college that graduated about 10 physics majors a year, and did 4 research projects while in college - none of them at my own school. REU projects and connections from those and professors at my college gave me lots of experience. Have you tried applying for REUs before thinking of transferring?
  7. Aug 6, 2008 #6
    Yeah, I understand that, but I want to go to a university that is known for having a good physics program, so that it stands for something when I go to apply to grad school.
  8. Aug 6, 2008 #7
    It won't matter, because they care more about what you've done, not what your school is known for.

    Someone who does independent research from a podunk school is still more desirable than someone who went to a more well-known school but didn't do any research.
  9. Aug 6, 2008 #8
    True, but surely one who has both gone to a good university and done a lot of research is better than both of these?

    I just feel like I'd have more and better opportunities at a better university.
  10. Aug 6, 2008 #9
    Sure, just don't think that simply getting in will be enough. It's still a lot of hard work.
  11. Aug 6, 2008 #10
    I'm well aware. I've worked hard to keep the grades I have in college right now. I know it won't be easy.

    My main concern right now though is geting in somewhere.

    So, any suggestions?
  12. Aug 6, 2008 #11
    I say transferring IS his best option. Think about it. He's paying 40k a year, and not in a great physics program? He can transfer to a school like Rutgers or Penn State and immediately have a good chance at a great grad school if he works hard, and he might have a good chance of getting into these schools. Why not transfer and still pay the same price?

    That being said, you don't have to go to a Harvard or a Cornell to get into a good PhD program for physics. It helps, but it is not necessarily. Stony Brook, Rutgers, Penn State are quite good and you probably have a decent shot of getting in as a transfer student (however contact the schools to see what your chances are).

    There are plenty of good UG schools for physics, and most of them might actually be a bit cheaper than what you are paying right now.
  13. Aug 6, 2008 #12
    Yes, that's exactly what I am thinking.

    Interesting. What specifically would you recommend? I have never heard of Rutgers or Stony Brook.

    I'm not sure about Penn State. When I looked into it before, it seemed not to be that selective. I mean that I want something challenging; not something I could easily get into. I only say that because it looked like their average SAT acceptance was about 1100 if I remember correctly.

    So basically, I know that I may not be able to get into some of the top universities yet, but I at least want something at around my level.

    ugh, I can't say that without sounding arrogant, but it's true. Duquesne was a last resort for me, but I really feel like it's below my level, and you can see that from their acceptance rate and what they accept. I don't want to make the same mistake again. Also, I get bored if things aren't challenging enough, which I'm also running into at Duquesne.

    But I am willing to work as hard as I need to in order to keep up at a better university.
  14. Aug 6, 2008 #13
    Okay I've read maybe the four first posts and skipped down here. I hear you on the 3.7 GPA, that's what I have and I'm a Sr. in High school. I'm not totally happy about it you know being older as I am now and realizing I need to spend much more time studying and striving for that 4.0 which I didn't do when I was younger. Don't sweat it man, college means much more than HS, and a 4.0 college will shadow over that 3.7.
  15. Aug 6, 2008 #14
    You really need to rethink your current financial situation. That is a huge amount to pay.
    Maybe go to the scholarship department with your 4.0 and apply to a state school.
    The amount of burden you are putting on your future self is *huge*.
    Frankly, you could not afford to do research with such a debt load.

    That said, you seem caught in the brand name.
  16. Aug 7, 2008 #15
    I don't understand. I'm already paying that much, so will be paying that if I transfer or not. I just want to be in a better physics program. The only way I can pay much less is if I go to Penn State, and I don't really like it there.

    How couldn't I afford to do research?

    Yes, it'd be nice. I just want somewhere that's known for physics. I figure it can't hurt. Mostly I just want somewhere that has a very good physics program, is challenging, and will look good when I go to apply to grad school.

    I don't understand what the problem is with this?

    I appreciate the advice, but I just want to know what schools you would recommend. I'm definitely transferring. It's pointless to stay where I am.
  17. Aug 7, 2008 #16
    Let me make some points here:

    Penn State physics has one of the best cosmology/general relativity departments. Rutgers and Stony Brook are well regarded physics institutions, top 30 departments.

    Let me also say you never hearing of Rutgers or Stony Brook really just shows you only know the brand name schools for physics, which is a handful of schools. Now it's not fair to hold that against you, you are still young, you're going to be a sophomore.

    Just because you never heard of them means almost nothing. You aren't a researcher. Any researchers knows that Rutgers, Penn State, Stony Brook, UIUC are great schools for physics.

    Stony Brook and Penn State are similar in terms of competition to get into UG. In the math department, Stony Brook has sent kids to Harvard, Berkeley, Texas, Cornell for math phds. I know in the physics department a few people got into top programs (UCSB, which let me guess, you never heard of?). Just because the UG is not super competitive does not mean they have a crap department.

    I suggest you really start listening to people here. Fact of the matter is, you are going to be a long shot for an Ivy League, plain and simple. But that is ok, there are a lot of schools that are great physics programs and get their kids into great phd programs.

    And you don't think assuming almost $200k in debt is crippling? Especially when physicists make around 70-100k a year on average? Pile on top of that how difficult it is to get a position in academia?

    Start being realistic about physics. Do you care about physics or do you care about getting into a big name school?
    Last edited: Aug 7, 2008
  18. Aug 7, 2008 #17
    Actually, I hardly knew of any good universities for physics, except for MIT. What I found was through looking up rankings for various universities for physics. That was my only resource. I also asked here, in order to add to that list.

    Did I say it meant anything? I just said I hadn't heard of them. I also said I wasn't very fond of Penn State. That has nothing to do with their program. I have no idea how their program is. I just said I didn't care for the university.

    You are putting words in my mouth. I asked for recommendations, specifically because I don't know of many good universities for physics.

    All that anyone is saying is that I shouldn't transfer. No, I'm not going to listen to that because, I'm paying $37,000 a year for a physics program that isn't very good, at a university that isn't very well-known. That's ridiculous.

    Long-shot? I don't know. I hoped they would look at my college grades. I've seen people here encouraging those with lower GPA's than I had in high school to apply anyway. I've heard stories of people with worse grades than I who got into Cornell as a transfer student. What is the harm in trying?

    I know that I can do very well. I didn't do so well for two years in high school because of some personal circumstances that I'm not going to go into here. It was stupid, I know. I know I'm able to do much better than that. I've worked very hard to maintain a 4.0 in college so far. I hoped that it would bring me better opportunities.

    And that is an argument for staying at duquesne, how? I'm paying that much already! Why not at least be going to a better university with a better program for that much? What is the sense in staying where I am? Please give me one logical reason why I should stay where I am.

    What do you know? Of course I care about physics. I also care about learning as much as I can about physics, which is why I want to find the best program possible that I can afford and that I can be accepted into, so that I have the best chance possible to do something significant with my life. Of course I'm looking at the big names, because they are big names for a reason. If you know of other good ones, please let me know. Why on earth are you attacking me though, when I'm just questioning, trying to get more information?

    No, i'm not staying where I am. I wanted suggestions for good universities to look at. I want something that is challenging. I want something that is going to open doors for me in the future, to be able to do the most I can possibly do.

    Who are you to shoot down ambition? Who are you to attack me for asking a few simple questions? For trying to do better for myself?

    If you have recommendations, let me hear them, and please excuse me for not being perfect, for not having gotten a 2400 on the SAT's, for making a few mistakes in the past that I am trying to recover from.

    Edit: Yes, the above was very defensive, but really I feel like you're attacking me for wanting to do better, and for asking a few simple questions, trying to get recommendations for better universities with better physics programs. I originally went to Duquesne for music, because they seem to have one of the better music programs around this area. They are known for music, for a reason. But now I'm in physics, and they just don't do very well in that department.
    Last edited: Aug 7, 2008
  19. Aug 7, 2008 #18
    One, I am for your transferring. Two, I am saying apply to range of schools.
  20. Aug 7, 2008 #19
    All right. I need suggestions though. Honestly, I hadn't heard of Rutgers or Stony Brook before today. I know of Penn State, but they have the reputation of being a party school. That's why I don't care for them.

    I'm open to suggestions, though.

    Also, how do those compare to Purdue? It looks like a good school that isn't too hard to get into.
  21. Aug 7, 2008 #20
    You already know which schools are hard to get into, it's the schools everyone knows about.

    Here are some schools that have placed math/physics undergrads in great phd programs that are not as competitive to get into:
    Washington, Stony Brook, Rutgers, UCSB (actually has a top 15 grad department, I highly recommend applying here), UCSD, Minnesota, UIUC (actually top 10 department, but it is a public school so admissions aren't super competitive), Ohio State, Purdue is very good as well for math and physics, Indiana, UC-Irvine. Some of these are party schools. I'm not quite sure which ones though. I would assume UCSD is one. But you'd have to ask regular students who go there. I think most of these schools have around a 30-40% acceptance rate, UCSB is higher than this, might even be 50%. Given your GPA and willingness to pursue physics, I think you have a good chance at these schools.

    All of the above mentioned schools are considered top 30 grad departments. Now I know it's not a great idea to use grad rankings for undergrad, but it just tells you the quality of professors that are here and this also means if you are taking grad courses say in your senior year, it looks very impressive on your grad application. And, a lot of these schools have success in placing their kids in summer REU's, which are summer research programs sponsored by the NSF and are gret ways to get involved with research and possibly get publications. However, look into each school, ask kids who go to those schools how they are. I recommend you going to:
    collegeconfidential.com and going to their message boards to see how the general atmosphere is there, i.e. for non-physics related questions about the school, including financial aid.

    Going to these schools will immediately up the ante in terms of workload, difficult of courses, but also quality of instructors. Some of these schools have very famous physics alumni, others have Nobel prize winners and inventors of important theories in physics.

    ^ I think that is a healthy array of schools that aren't Ivy Leagues but have placed kids in great PhD programs. That is the name of the game. Where you did your grad is the main thing. Doing your grad studies at a school that is well regarded for your particular interests is key to having a successful career in physics (along with tons of hard work).
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