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What are the best Alabama Physics programs?

  1. May 20, 2013 #1
    I am graduating from high school soon, in three days actually, and I need just a bit of advice on where I should go to school to be a Physics student. I live in Alabama and I'm in a position where I have to entirely pay for my college education, and because I did not do particularly well on the ACT, colleges aren't rushing to give me any money to attend their schools. I am pretty much stuck in state no matter what for my undergraduate education, and possibly will have to attend a CC. I am aware that Alabama is not famous for its rigorous academic institutions (though E.O. Wilson is from here!) and I am simply trying to get the best education possible.

    So does anyone have a suggestion on which Physics program is best within the state of Alabama?
  2. jcsd
  3. May 20, 2013 #2


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    Whew! I'm glad you didn't wait to the last minute to start deciding where to go to college. Most students start the application process for college in their sophomore or junior years of HS, not 3 days before graduation. As you will no doubt find out, you can't just show up at a college or university and expect to be enrolled for classes.

    That said, the University of Alabama at Huntsville will probably be your best bet. There are a lot of high-tech companies around Huntsville and there is the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center there as well.
  4. May 21, 2013 #3
    Really? Because this guy seems to disagree:


    It's been 9 years since that post, and he left before '04, and things could've changed since. Nonetheless, it's worth checking out.

    Also, afaik, there's nothing wrong with going to community college and then transferring. If you do really well, you could get into a good school with financial aid/scholarships. Don't dismiss private schools entirely because of their sticker price. Look up "full need" and "need blind". There's a big list on wiki, and they are schools worth looking into when you're transferring.
  5. May 21, 2013 #4
    If you want experience in the materials/condensed matter side of things, consider UA. If you lean towards the biophysics side, go UAB. If you want to work in astrophysics, then UA, UAH and UAB are all probably equally bad ideas (they have ok programs, but it’s a terrible idea to begin with).

    You’re not going to walk out of any of these programs into the job you were hoping for, so best to have your eyes on grad school. Get excellent grades, participate in research, and be preparing for grad school all four years.

    In my opinion, if you’re paying for it yourself, a physics BS is a horrible idea. But if you’re set on it, at least have a long view of the future and be getting real research experience early.
  6. May 21, 2013 #5
    Why do you say it is a terrible idea to begin with? Astrophysics is definitely what I am headed for (I suppose it would have been valuable to have mentioned that earlier) and grad school has always been my plan.
  7. May 21, 2013 #6
    Because there’s very little opportunity in astrophysics to actually do astrophysics. For the best odds of actually getting to work in the field, you need to be in a top program. While I don’t think poorly in general of the professors at those universities, I wouldn’t call any astrophysics program in Alabama a top program.

    You’d be better off just getting a low level office job now, rather than doing it 12 years from now with a ton of student loan debt.
  8. May 21, 2013 #7
    Just for fun, I threw the following into a spreadsheet:

    4 years of college in which you borrow $15k a year
    6 years of grad school in which you make $15k a year
    4 years of postdoc work in which you make $35k a year
    4 years as an assistant professor in which you make $55k a year
    22 years as a professor making $90k a year

    I consider those to be conservative assumptions, though of course that’s a very simple model. I used a 6.8% discount rate, found the net present value, and then calculated the annual payment on an annuity using the same 6.8% discount rate over 40 years.

    $33,000! If you got a $33k a year job right out of high school you’d have the same financial return as becoming an astrophysics professor (assuming a 6.8% discount rate). If you include the impact of inflation you might get to $40k.

    Now for many posters this doesn’t matter. They’re certain – despite the fact that they’ve never worked in the field for a day – that this is what they love, and that they are perfectly fine being poor because they will be happy. If that turns out to be true for them or you, then great! Money isn’t everything.

    But just keep this dangerous seed in the back of your mind as you make your choices: the single most upsetting discovery I made in the few years I spent around physics, is that a lot of the work people actually have to do in physics is really boring.
  9. May 21, 2013 #8


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    Good analysis, but I would still choose the professor/researcher track. I don't like digging ditches.
  10. May 21, 2013 #9
    You know I really believe that is what it all comes down to. Walter Lewin said in what I believe was his last lecture at MIT, that the one thing aspiring Physicists need is to love it. Most people would rather have financial success at the end of the day. Thanks for the insight!
  11. May 22, 2013 #10
    If you get the chance, let us know if you chose one of the schools discussed here (even if not giving the specific name) and what you think of which program you chose.

    Best of luck to you!
  12. May 23, 2013 #11
    Absolutely. Thanks again for the insight!
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