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Schools UCLA/CAL or Cal Poly SLO free

  1. Mar 5, 2016 #1
    Son wants to study physics and eventually go to grad school for PhD. We live in California and would not ever get merit aid. Cal Poly SLO offered him the new $20,000 per year Frost scholarship. Tuition is only $9,000 so would be almost free to attend. Believe he will also get into Cal and UCLA because he has 35 on ACT, 4.9 weighted GPA, ECs, was offered to apply for some Regents/Alumni scholarships, etc. He really liked Cal Poly campus when we visited two years ago and is very impressed by/appreciative of this scholarship offer. We could pay about 20 of the 30K UC cost, but he'd get loans for the remainder. Free is fantastic, but should he give up the UC prestige?
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  3. Mar 6, 2016 #2


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    By prestige, are you referring to the feeling or the extra money that comes with it? It may be better to save $ for the actual PHD and go to cheaper undergrad, which often matters less than the school for the PHD. Being in a campus where he feels comfortable is very helpful and conducive to good grades and good performance.
  4. Mar 6, 2016 #3
    I was mainly referring to the idea that the UCs have higher rankings, more prestigious reputations than Cal Poly. When applying for PhD programs will the schools look more favorably upon a candidate from Cal or UCLA if grades and scores are equal, and can an undergraduate at Cal Poly get research experience that is quality enough to get them into a good graduate school.
  5. Mar 6, 2016 #4


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    I think it may be possible if you look up research opportunities or contact profs in advance in this respect. Even better if your son has an idea of what area he would like to do research and then having him contact a prof. working in that area, or at least the dept. head for advice. He may get more individualized attention at Cal Poly than at a larger school like UCLA where profs may be busier traveling and doing research.
  6. Mar 6, 2016 #5
    Good advice. Thank you.
  7. Mar 6, 2016 #6


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    I wouldn't give up a free ride at a reasonable school for going into debt at a more prestigious one.

    I'm not familiar with Cal Poly, so I don't know the details about the quality of the education there, but one thing that I've observed over the years is that physics programs tend not to vary too much from school to school. The core curriculum and textbooks are fairly consistent. What do vary are things like:
    • Optional Courses
      Larger schools tend to offer more than just the core options, so there is more opportunity for undergraduates to explore topics that interest them.
    • Research Opportunities
      With a larger school hat brings in more funding, there are more opportunities to get involved with research as an undergraduate. That said, smaller or "lower ranked" schools may have just as many or more opportunities per student - it's just that they will likely be more limited in scope. That REU programs tend to compensate for this.
    • Peer Group
      There are positives and negatives to this one. But consider that the higher ranked schools will often have higher admission thresholds. A program where minimum high school GPA for admission is 3.8 might look different than a program that will admit anyone who can afford the tuition. The courses may be taught to a different level. The projects may be more involved with more competitive students, etc.
    • Opportunities Stemming from a Larger Department
      Most departments will invite guest speakers to come and give talks. At the larger institutions there can be more money available to bring in more top experts, which can broaden the scope of experience the student gets.
    That's not all of them, but I'm sure you get the picture.

    When graduate school admission committees assess candidates, in my experience there isn't a lot of emphasis on the program the candidate came out of. The GPA usually isn't scaled in one direction or another based on the candidate's program. (Largely the PGRE exam is expected to serve as the great mitigator.) What they look for are students who have potential to do well in the program. So they look at marks, reference letters, experience, and subject-related activities (publications, research experience, etc.).

    In addition they also pay attention to scholarships and awards. And a scholarship that gives someone a free ride can be significant - particularly if it comes with stipulations of maintain a given GPA etc.
  8. Mar 6, 2016 #7


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    No problem, good luck on your son's school plans.
  9. Mar 7, 2016 #8


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    Cal Poly SLO is a fantastic school. I work at a National Lab and we employ interns from Cal Poly SLO regularly. If your son works hard and applies himself he can get into any PhD program from Cal Poly. No doors will be closed to him.

    On the other hand, one benefit of Cal is the proximity to Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. A lot of Physics undergrads get internships there.

    For what its worth, if it were my son, I would advise taking the scholarship to Cal Poly SLO.
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