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Undergrad university choice - your opinion of two schools

  1. Apr 1, 2013 #1
    As a high school senior, I have just heard back from all of my schools and now must make my decision. I plan on majoring in physics tracking myself towards graduate school, and eventually a research position, so naturally I want to be involved with undergrad research as soon as possible.

    As of right now, my choices are as follows

    Penn State-
    I am in state, so the tuition is already reasonable, plus they have given me a tremendous amount of merit awards. I also know many people in the physics department through personal interactions and the fact that they are actively recruiting me. They know me by name.

    Just heard that I was accepted, and am quite pleased by that alone. They offered me a less than stellar financial package that very well may be unaffordable. I have absolutely no connections there, but it is an elite university, which speaks for itself.

    What would the better choice be, in your opinion? Would I be in a better place for grad school admission if I chose UPenn? And most importantly, would I be missing out on some great ivy league inner circle of research and prestige if I chose the more reasonable Penn State? Both schools are great in my opinion and I would be happy to go to either, I must think in terms of what is best for grad school now.

    Thank you in advance for your consideration and advice.
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 1, 2013 #2
    Go to Penn State since you describe a huge financial difference and you are planning on going to grad school. I would only suggest going to UPenn if you were a business/finance major and you were planning on doing a lot of networking
  4. Apr 1, 2013 #3
    I go to a large state university and I'm assuming that Penn State is not too different from where I go. Large state universities have a ton of perks which usually include great facilities and well known researchers in whatever field you're interested in. I have no doubt that doing well in your classes and standing out at Penn State will put you at the same level come graduate admissions time as anyone from UPenn or any other ivy league.

    However, do realize that going to a big state university puts more responsibility on you. When you get there, the school won't be there to hold your hand and make sure to get to know you. You'll have to put in more effort to get to know professors and find research.

    You can't go wrong with either school though!
  5. Apr 2, 2013 #4
    If finances were equal (or if UPenn were affordable), I'd say to go to UPenn. But if the financial package is unaffordable, your choice is already made. And Penn State is a good university anyway; you'll still be positioned well to go to grad school.
  6. Apr 2, 2013 #5
    Penn State; you would be off to a much better start financially and socially through your connections there. As far as I know, prestige is really only a big factor if you plan on doing business and finance.

    Not really. Saying "I went to UPenn!" doesn't really describe the kind of work you did.
  7. Apr 4, 2013 #6
    I wish that were true.... but even in Engineering that lion's share of recruitment efforts go to a very small number of school (and UPenn isn't one of them). That said, Penn State probably has a better reputation overall in Engineering than UPenn. My point is prestige really does matter until you've been working for a few years and can stand on your own merits.

    My advice is to go to Penn State.
  8. Apr 4, 2013 #7
    Where are you getting your information carlgrace, because everything I've experienced tells me what you're saying is complete nonsense.

    I know many individuals at the large state school I'm attending who all got offers while still in school. They were top students here. The school I'm attending has a slightly above average engineering reputation but is not a top school. The offers weren't poor either, they're all working for places like Intel, General Dynamics, or going to grad school at Stanford.

    Everything I know about prestige actually makes it seem as if it makes far less of a difference than anybody makes it out to be. Much of the confusion results from the fact that say, MIT accepts lots of top students, whereas UCSD probably accepts many more ordinary students, so there is an apparent correlation between school and employment, but not actual causation.
  9. Apr 4, 2013 #8
    I'm sorry you feel that way, Aresenic&Lace. I work in the San Francisco Bay Area and have been in the semiconductor industry for over 10 years post-PhD. You haven't worked in industry so you just don't have the perspective yet. You have a myopic view on industry but that's to be expected since you're an undergrad. The organizations I have worked at recruit FAR more at a small handful of schools (e.g. Stanford, UCB, UCLA, MIT, Caltech, UC Davis, Michigan, UofI and a few others that depend on the specialty). In grad school it really matters first who your professor is and second what school you went to. Like it or not, this world is all about your connections and the better your school the better your connections. Now I need to clarify that the prestige of a school is highly dependent on whatever niche you go into. While Berkeley, Stanford, and MIT are pretty much good at everything, every niche has smaller schools that are top-tier in that niche (for example University of Utah for Graphics and UCSB for semiconductor lasers).

    But it you're interested in startups, well you really better go to the most prestigious school you can. I was involved in a pre-IPO communications IC company and all the founders went to Stanford and UCB. They also salivated when they could talk to someone from a top-tier school.

    I strongly, strongly, strongly disagree with you about the correlation/causation thing. From my perspective in industry, I will say that someone's *talent* is weakly correlated to their school, but people's level of *success* is highly correlated to their school. Take what you want from that, but facts are facts.
  10. Apr 4, 2013 #9
    My apologies for being a bit abrasive, Carl.

    Now, none of what you just said is necessarily untrue, but the generalization is mostly untrue. I go to Arizona State University. Local branches of Intel and GD heavily recruit from ASU and the University of Arizona. It may very well be that your vantage point in the Bay Area is truly the myopic one; you're in the nexus of the semiconductor industry, where all of the top employees are likely to be found, so they probably recruit locally (5 of the universities you mentioned are in Cali!) and from top tier schools.

    So that's why I said you're generalization is mostly untrue; strictly speaking, working for Intel in Phoenix is probably "less successful" than working for Intel in Cali. But now we're splitting hairs.
  11. Apr 4, 2013 #10
    If I already have a master's in a different field and study physics or engineering at a state school like City College, SUNY Stonybrook what does that do for my job prospects and resume?
  12. Apr 4, 2013 #11
    Actually for semiconductors ASU is an excellent school. Very close to top-tier, certainly just one notch below Stanford and UCB and the like. I feel like you're selling your own school short. It is quite highly regarded in electronics, particularly in analog.

    And I'm not implying you won't be successful if you don't go to the right school, but it will certainly help.

    Intel's Chandler site (I know several engineers there) is excellent. What I mean is if you want to really get ahead in this industry it helps a lot to go to a big name school. If you want to find yourself in a powerful role and be a "player" in the industry, you're better off going to the best-known school you can get into. I may be myopic, but there are almost more jobs around here than in the rest of the country put together.
  13. Apr 4, 2013 #12
    It's great. SUNY Stonybrook is a great school. Highly respected especially in the northeast.
  14. Apr 4, 2013 #13
    Thank you for the perspective on the semiconductor industry, I am not being sarcastic when I say that I was genuinely interested by it. But as I said. I wish to go to grad school and work in a research capacity - not engineering.
  15. Apr 4, 2013 #14
    Oh, in that case you're doomed whether you go to Harvard or Arizona State University, it doesn't make a difference really.
  16. Apr 4, 2013 #15
    I know it is hard to get in, but am I really doomed?
    Are employment statistics that dismal?
  17. Apr 5, 2013 #16
    Basically don't count on becoming a professor. There are certain things you can do to increase your odds, such as getting good grades and getting into a school with a really excellent department in your field of interest (which, by the way, might not be Insert Top Ranked School Here!), but neither of those points is a given and there are many factors which are just outside your control. There are countless pitfalls on the way to professorship, and even if you dodge all of the controllable ones (grades, tests, research etc), you still have to win the lottery.

    So if that's what you want to do, don't necessarily give up, just be very clear that you probably won't get it and that you need a diverse portfolio of options. If physics isn't such a deep passion for you that you're willing to put up with the BS along the way, major in something else.
  18. Apr 5, 2013 #17
    This seems to correlate with what I have noticed. I imagine having the amount of experience in industry means you have a larger amount of real life experiences and observations.
  19. Apr 5, 2013 #18
    In big companies HR people are a big part of the first barrier and they run on "elevator pitches" where big name school are like buzzwords to show how good a recruiting job they are doing.

    Although you might luck out where you might go to the same school that isnt well represented/recruited in the company where one of your interviewers goes to the same school and is willing to be on your side significantly more because he/she doesnt see that many candidates from his school.

    I imagine to some extent when a school is heavily recruited the alums for the big name school dont feel any need to be on the same corner as any given student since they see many candidates from the school. However this is all given you get pass the HR barrier.
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