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Undergraduate Physics

  1. Sep 18, 2011 #1
    Hello, I'd like to ask you all for some help in narrowing down my college choices. I plan on majoring in physics, most likely regular physics as opposed to applied physics, with maybe a double major in applied math. I live in the Illinois and here's a list of colleges I'm currently looking at:

    U of Chicago
    U of Michigan (Ann-Arbor)
    Purdue U (West Lafayette)
    U of Wisconsin (Madison)
    U of I (both Urbana-Champaign and Chicago)
    Northwestern U (Chicago)

    I'm also somewhat considering U of Florida and Caltech. I got a 33 composite ACT, i'm in the top 10% of my class, weighted GPA of about 4.3, and I have a very rigorous schedule (6 AP classes this year), though my extracurriculars and volunteer work are not exactly up to par. I'm not too worried about cost, class size, etc., I'm more interested in the quality of the physics departments. Any helpful comments or insights are greatly appreciated.
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 19, 2011 #2
    Also, I plan to go into graduate studies after I get a B.S. in Physics (Math), and I'm thinking of applying to 5 schools, so I need to eliminate 2 from the main list. I suppose if you guys are convincing, I'll maybe apply to U of F and Caltech as well
  4. Sep 19, 2011 #3
    I'm a physics major at UChicago. I've been generally satisfied with the department: It's got some great lecturers (Stuart Gazes, Henry Frisch, Juan Collar...), and all the faculty I've met have been friendly and generally helpful. That said, there's a fairly hefty lab component (including a year-long course called "experimental physics", which is widely loathed), and these are not usually well-run. Many of the TA's speak very poor English, some don't know how to work the equipment, and it's common for a TA to show up 15 minutes late to lab.

    If you're highly motivated, there are lots of great opportunities (I know one major who took graduate-level QM in sophomore year, for instance), but for the rest of us, I suspect the education is about the same as you'd get elsewhere. We use mostly the standard books (including Griffiths' QM and E&M, Kleppner/Kolenkow, Purcell...), and cover the standard material.

    Perhaps this is true at many schools, but our physics department seems to soak up all the most obnoxious and pretentious undergrads (such a student is known as a "that kid"). Students who interject irrelevant material to try to show off, or go out of their way to remind you they learned Fourier analysis in high school. They aren't the majority, but they are a very vocal minority.

    The math department, however, is excellent: the course offerings are very different from most other schools (for instance, there is no multivariable calc course for math majors: everyone goes from calc straight to analysis), and the work is hard enough to beat some humility into would-be that-kids.

    As for life outside the math and physics departments, there's too much to address here. Let it just be said that you will have to study a lot of things besides physics if you come here. Some of it will be fascinating, and some of it will be a waste of time. Check out Unigo for full reviews.
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