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Undergraduate Physics decision help?

  1. Apr 1, 2012 #1
    I am a current high-school senior and was recently accepted into Hopkins, Duke and Cornell. I intend to major in Physics (although not 100% sure) and was wondering, how greatly would choosing any one of these schools affect my career choices? I've heard overwhelmingly that graduate school is what matters for careers, so would going to Duke (30th in Physics) hurt me as opposed to going to Cornell (7th in Physics)?

    If it doesn't affect my career paths will it affect my grad school options significantly? Are there any other things I should know while making this decision? Thoughts? Advice?

    Thanks for your help!

    EDIT: I was citing these rankings - http://grad-schools.usnews.rankings.../top-science-schools/physics-rankings/page+2# which are in fact graduate school rankings. I made the assumption that there was a correlation between a strong graduate department and a strong undergraduate department, although I realize this may not be true.
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 4, 2012 #2
    Shameless bump? :/
  4. Apr 5, 2012 #3
    As far as I know there are not separate undergraduate and graduate departments. One's physics classes will be taught, generally, by faculty from the physics department. This applies for most subjects. (things might be different for say, a course that is interdisciplinary)

    I have not been to any of these schools but word on the street is they're all good schools. Why don't you visit them and try to make a decision then? If I'm not mistaken, colleges have some sort of event for admitted students. For example, Yale has Bulldog Days.

    The general agreement here is that it does not matter too much where one does their undergraduate degree at. Rather, it is what they do there which is more important. Some important questions for you to ask include but are not limited to the following:

    - Will I be happy/miserable here?
    - Do the people seem like people I'd like to hang out with? Sometimes, a little "bad feeling" is enough to put someone off!
    - Are there any sports or other activities at this particular school that I'd like to be part of? A writing or stand-up comedy club?
    - Climate/weather - is that something that can be a deal maker/breaker for you?
    - Does this place encourage and properly guide their students with undergraduate research?

    You might also want to check out www.physicsgre.com and see how people have fared with graduate school admissions.
    You'll see that the people who've gotten positive responses from the schools they applied to generally have lots of research experience (sometimes a publication or two), great PGRE scores (*accepted* international students tend to have higher ones) and high GPAs (>3.5). Letters of recommendation should usually be from someone one has done research with and are quite important as well.
    One thing to note is that, judging from the posters there, people who go to "top 20" undergraduate colleges seem to have an easier time than people who went to Podunk State U. This might very well be wrong but it is what I have observed. Some also argue that women tend to have things a *little* easier for them as well but I've never read anything from any source other than applicants, so take those with a pinch of salt.
  5. Apr 5, 2012 #4
    What Mepris has said. I also want to add a bit to what they said: consider finances and check what kind of classes and research they offer. Pick what appeals to you.
  6. Apr 7, 2012 #5
    Thanks for the input! I just wanted to make sure that if I chose Duke I wouldn't be putting myself at a large disadvantage for getting into a good graduate program in physics.

    I will be visiting all three in the coming weeks.
  7. Apr 8, 2012 #6


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    Staff: Mentor

    Duke is definitely not "North Podunk State." (or my favorite example, the University of South North Dakota at Hoople :smile:)

    The school that is best for you is the one that has the combination of "climate" and academic/research opportunities that lets you learn and perform to the best of your abilities, and be recognized for them in the form of grades, letters of recommendation, etc. If you go to a "high-reputation" school that makes you miserable, you're probably not going to do well.
  8. Apr 8, 2012 #7

    king vitamin

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    Yeah, to second what others have said, if you go to a place that makes you miserable, you probably won't do well.

    But of course, if you do end up enjoying Ithaca/Cornell, and you're fairly certain you want to go to grad school for physics, you should keep in mind that you will have more opportunities to meet and work with some very strong faculty who will probably have connections with all of the best schools. These opportunities will exist at Hopkins and Duke as well, but Cornell would give you a slight advantage.
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