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What are the top ten undergrad schools for physics?

  1. Jun 3, 2008 #1
    I've been searching online for one of the US News reviews, but I have found nothing as of yet. Would anyone here know what are the top ten undergraduate schools in physics and know the rankings?
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 3, 2008 #2


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    I'm sure you're going to get a lot of responses that shun these statistics, but I'd like to know as well.
  4. Jun 3, 2008 #3
    I've never seen that kind of list. Graduate schools are much more popular to rank.
  5. Jun 4, 2008 #4
    Either APS or AIP had some interesting statistics by type of institution, program size, and other such factors. The conclusion I drew is that the best criteria for an undergrad physics program is to find a moderate to large sized program in a department that doesn't have a PhD program in physics. Beyond that, look at the courses typically offered (look at actual course schedules for the last few years to see what sessions were actually offered, not at a course catalog which gives you no idea how often the classes are actually available!).

    There's also the obvious criterion - if you can pick a school that significantly reduces your student debt incurred as an undergrad, it leaves you with much more open-ended options later.
  6. Jun 4, 2008 #5
    I agree, better save your money. The curricula for undergrad. Physics are about the same around the world. You will get the basics of Experimental and Theoretical Physics and all the Math you need for that. Your success depends on your willingness to work hard to master it all.
    I know in Europe some universities emphasize more on the Mathematics, for example ETH Z├╝rich, where they include advanced numerical methods in their undergrad curriculum, whereas others offer a bigger choice of electives from other subjects, but these are merely details.
  7. Jun 4, 2008 #6
    The undergraduate school doesn't matter. The most important thing is that you maintain a high GPA and get REUs with well-known profs who can write you good recommendations to get into top 5 grad schools.
  8. Jun 4, 2008 #7
    What are these REUs everyone is talking about?
  9. Jun 4, 2008 #8
    Undergraduate research experience!
  10. Jun 4, 2008 #9
    I wouldn't quite go that far...

    But to partially answer the OP, the top five most popular schools in the U.S. for top incoming physics students are probably MIT, Harvard, Princeton, Caltech, and Stanford.
  11. Jun 15, 2008 #10
    Yea Stanford and Cal Tech have exceptional graduate school programs as well. I took a couple of classes in undergraduate physics at Stanford....it can be very math intensive!
  12. Jun 15, 2008 #11
    It's silly to say that the undergraduate program doesn't matter. It's something that can be mitigated, but undergraduates from prestigious programs will always have the upper hand. How many graduate students at top five schools did their undergraduate work at Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College?
  13. Jun 15, 2008 #12


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    Maybe it's different in the American system, but the thing is: physics isn't different from school to school. A fundamental physics education should cover the same topics regardless of where it's taught.

    What does matter are things like the professors and their enthusiasm for teaching, student access to professors, how modern and relevant the labs are, opportunities to get involved in research projects, and the number of like-minded students.
  14. Jun 15, 2008 #13
    Agreed, a fundamental physics education should cover certain things. Where I did my undergrad (at a giant state university) they are offering next semester a solid state course, for the first time ever. They offered optics once in the four years I was there. No general relativity for undergraduates. The way things should be aren't any different in America, but the way things are, the physics itself might be the same, but not all schools are created equal.

    In your list of things that matter - those are all things that admissions committees know students had at a prestigious (at least in physics) university. They are things that I only had rarely, if the admissions committees had ever even heard of the place I went. If you want to go to grad school, as I said, you can mitigate going to a crappy undergraduate program; it shouldn't matter where you go... But it does, so you might as well do yourself a favor and go to a good physics school.
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