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UC San Diego or Berkeley?

  1. Apr 16, 2006 #1
    I'm wondering if anyone has any firsthand experience with the Physics department/program at either of these schools. I am going to have to choose where to go in the next two weeks. I am well aware of the social atmospheres and other non-academic aspects of the two places, and have several reasons why UCSD is still very high on my list but arent really relevant to this forum. So far the only things I know about the physics departments is that UCSD is very small and lower division classes are on average 30 students (150-200 at Berkeley unless in honors). Right now I only see this as a positive, are there inherent cons to a small department?

    While I definitely think a smaller more personal setting would make Physics much more enjoyable, I know that I will need and plan to go all the way through a PHD degree. What kind of impact on my future in schooling will a name like Berkeley have versus UCSD? Could the possibility of more involvement due to such a small department at SD outweigh the name of Berkeley?

    I appreciate any insight you have about these two schools, thanks.
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 16, 2006 #2
    Lower divsion physics classes at UCSD are only about 30 for physics majors. They are about 300 or so when you take physics for science and engineers. I attend UCSD and I can attest to the great weather and many many research opportunities. Even though you are a physics major you can always do research in engineering fields if you choose.
  4. Apr 16, 2006 #3
    I'm doing the Physics minor at Berkeley and I can say the program is very good for the minor itself. If you check out the curriculum, it constitutes a good chunk of the whole major itself so I can somewhat vouch for it.

    For the most part, especially when you're in the lower division classes (such as Physics 7A...7C), you will be in pretty big classes (probably 100 students), but that does not limit your ability to still talk to the professor. The professors in my experience been pretty free because a lot of people ask their GSI (Grad. Student Instructor) for help. But either way, in all my classes, there is still a possibility to actually get to know the professor. Ugrad student's aren't really "ignored" as some might think. Thus, even though it may be better to be in a smaller class, you're not a "lost cause" or anything like that.

    Now, when it comes to research, you'll already notice (if you went to Berkeley) that we have Lawrence Berkeley Labs which is just up the hill. Lots of research goes on around there. Then there's tons of other researching centers in the Bay area (Lawrence Livermore Labs for example). There's plenty of other researching possibilities in the area as well.

    I don't think the name will make a significant impact on your "future" schooling because that's all pretty much based on how well you do in school and what you do in school (such as research, etc.). But Berkeley is a well-known place, especially in the science/math fields so you cannot go wrong choosing it (unless you fail miserably in your classes). Personally I wouldn't base anything on names. Just do a bit more research if you have the time and see what's best for you. I chose Berkeley for many reasons when I was in the same situation as you two years ago.

    Small classes/huge classes was also an issue to me but I found that big classes wasn't really a big thing to fuss about. You still have the ability to get to know your professor, and the pro side I found about it is that you have much more people to get to know. And knowing others who can help contribute to your education is a big PLUS.
  5. Apr 17, 2006 #4


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    I agree with BryanCP, and I'm doing the physics major at Berkeley. I'm a transfer student from community college, however, so I didn't take 7A and 7B, but I did take H7C and there were only like 20 people in that class. The large classes don't really matter, though, like BryanCP said. All my professors have been extremeley easy to talk to, and if you can't make it to their office hours they are quick to reply to e-mail and can set up appointments that work around your schedule. I'd say the best thing about Berkeley is the research opportunities - you might get better undergrad teaching elsewhere (although I don't know anything about UCSD) but getting your hands in the thick of it by doing top-notch research is what makes Berkeley stand out. I've had excellent math teachers as well, I think we have a really strong math department. I guess it really comes down to personal factors, though. I'd suggest you look and see what professors and doing interesting research at both schools.
  6. Apr 18, 2006 #5
    What is your eventual career goal? If you don't end up working in physics, Berkeley will probably sound more prestigious to someone who doesn't know the difference.

    It all depends on your personality, but I generally favor the bigger school for an undergraduate experience unless you're 100% positive you know exactly what you want to do. And even if you think you do, you don't.
  7. Apr 18, 2006 #6
    Bigger in size or name?
  8. Apr 18, 2006 #7
    Both. I think in this case Berkeley is bigger in size and name. I'm an east-coaster, but my understanding of the UC system is that Berkeley is considered the big tamale.
  9. Apr 18, 2006 #8
    UCSD has more undergraduate research opps. It is in La jolla, very nice weather.
  10. Apr 19, 2006 #9


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    Where are you getting that UCSD has more undergraduate research opps?
  11. Apr 19, 2006 #10
    I'd like to know the same.
  12. Apr 19, 2006 #11
    Both are above the 20 thousand mark, very big.

    This is what I mean though, all other factors aside, how big of a role should the name of Berkeley play into my decision?
  13. Apr 19, 2006 #12
    I think if you want to be a theoretical physicist of somesort, it really doesn't matter where you go. What matters the most (at least to me) is a good teacher (not a good researcher) and a good book. It will entirely depends on your luck to have a good teacher.

    UCSD has following majors that will lead you to have b.s degree
    Computational Physics
    Condensed Matter Physics

    They are all considered to be physics major but yet have quiet different graduate requirement.

    Somebody mentioned about having more research opportunity at UCSD compare to that of Berkeley, I am not sure if that is true. I really think it's matter of how hard you try.

    One thing that I know the difference from personal experience though is that UCSD Physics is more flexable in terms of graduate requirement and options for changing major. It is not uncommon for a good standing junior Physics major to change his/her major to Electrical Engineering. Such thing is not very common in Berekley if it's not possible at all.
  14. Apr 19, 2006 #13
    Looked it up. Berkeley has a few thousand more undergrads, twice as many grad students, and twice as many faculty. It probably has the edge on lab facilities and almost definitely on research funding.

    Again, I'm just going by reputation and hearsay. It seems to me like Berkeley might have a wider variety of options and potentially a higher caliber of classmates. Ultimately, you have to go with your gut and figure out where you feel most comfortable. Both are great choices.

    On one hand, I know that reputation can be largely a myth. However, as unfair as it is, going to a higher rep school can sometimes give you an edge whether you deserve it or not. That's a fact of life.

    Also, you're going to be an undergrad, right? I know you think you're deadset on physics but look around and get a feel for some other programs. There's no reason to commit to anything at your age.
  15. Apr 19, 2006 #14
    Flexibility of majors is actually one of the reasons UCSD sounds more appealing. I am technically accepted at both schools as a Chemistry major, and since Berkeley has a separate college of chemistry I am going to have to apply to transfer into other majors in the college of letters and sciences. It would definitely be possible to do, but also possibly a headache and in the meantime I would be required to follow a chemistry course outline.

    At SD on the other hand, it is even possible to switch into many Engineering majors (non-impacted) just like any other major. Berkeley, like most other schools I've seen, has a separated college for Engineering and is much harder to transfer into.
  16. Apr 20, 2006 #15
    That's mainly because of the impactedness within the colleges. It's hard to have people transfer back and forth unless you have the credentials to do so (good grades basically). That pretty much gives you a sense of how competitive it is within the colleges.

    There are upsides and downsides to that, but I mean why exactly would you switch lets say, during your junior year. A lot of the policies in our school revolves around getting you into a major and spending a lot of time in that major so you can get out knowing what you need to know. If you're already in the middle or end of your 2nd to last year and you still don't know what to do, then that's a problem because you'd either need to stay another year (if they allow that in your school), or the program is weak because you can finish it in a year (or extremely difficult, putting everything in one year). The point is they want you (at least in our math dept) to get as much formal teaching in math as you can get, which is apparently at least 2 years.
    Last edited: Apr 20, 2006
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