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What determines whether a school is good for physics

  1. Apr 1, 2012 #1
    What determines whether a school is "good" for physics

    I'm looking around at colleges (I plan on majoring in Physics), I've looked through the rankings, but I haven't seen anywhere talking about how or why is a school determined to be good for physics.

    Is it the Teachers/Classes available? Prestige or previous graduates? research opportunities? Etc.
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 1, 2012 #2


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    Staff: Mentor

    Re: What determines whether a school is "good" for physics

    Which rankings?

    The people who make those rankings should describe the criteria that they use, somewhere.
  4. Apr 1, 2012 #3


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    Re: What determines whether a school is "good" for physics

    This is a very good question to be asking because the various ranking systems have a wide array of criteria that they evaluate - not all of which may be relevant to you as a potential student.

    Factors that are often included are:
    - student satisfaction survey data
    - faculty to student ratio
    - number of graduating students
    - number of publications coming out of a department
    - number of citations attributed to a department
    - facilities available to students
    - teaching awards
    - grants held by faculty
    - etc.

    As you can tell, the list goes on. Some of the factors may have little-to-no relevance to your particular situation. For example, if a smaller department has a controversial professor who's work is often cited, it could boost that school's ranking tremendously, but that has no bearing on the quality of education you would get by attending that school.

    Some schools go through the exercise of specifically channeling resources into the criteria evaluated on these rankings (often at the expense of other things that matter) to boost their standings. Others ignore the rankings completely.
  5. Apr 2, 2012 #4
    Re: What determines whether a school is "good" for physics

    I wouldn't place too much weight on rankings. Instead, I would just go over the physics courses that are on offer at the college, which of those are required for the major and which are the electives, and also what textbooks they use. If available, I would also like to know where the people who graduated with a physics degree there have ended up.

    I can't quite remember the name of the college but one could graduate with BS in Mathematics there without doing some fundamental topics that are present in the typical math BS. Subjects like differential equations, analysis (can't recall if it said "analysis" or if there were two courses, one for real and one for complex) and topology were offered as electives in the major and only three/four of these so-called upper level courses could be chosen. In a good program, one would have covered these topics and then some more (perhaps not topology) by the end of either their sophomore year or the first semester of junior year, if I'm not mistaken. With that in mind, I would not apply to such a college. It may have better programs in other disciplines but apparently not in maths.
  6. Apr 3, 2012 #5
    Re: What determines whether a school is "good" for physics

    Something else I would consider instead of rankings:
    Not to doubt your desire for physics or anything, but there is a possibility you might change majors once you get into college. I entered as Chem. engineering and changed mine 3 times (counting adding majors) and I've ended up as a double in chemistry and physics. I still have all the same interests, I just found out that I like the work of scientists more than engineers. Something that's hard to know until you get the experience.

    My advise: Pick your college based on other factors as well. You will be spending 4+ (nothing wrong with +!) years there AND make lasting memories.
    Think about if you would prefer a big school or small school.

    Big school or big physics program: Good choice if you are competitive/rise to the top easily/outgoing. Keep in mind you might have classes with hundreds of people at first and they'll get smaller as you get into your major.Big schools have impressive rankings and reputation. This makes it easy for graduate schools and employers to make quick judgements on your education. You can also meet bigger names in your desired field and have more a large variety of research to get involved with. However,there will be a lot of smart cookies with a lot of desire you will have to beat out to get research positions or leadership positions/scholarships. Some big name schools have GPA inflation. Non-acedemic wise, you'll find a lot of people with similar interests and a lot more fun stuff to do on/around campus!

    Small school (or teaching non-research schools): These schools don't graduate students so the classes are all taught by full-ledge professors almost always with Ph.Ds. Your classes, for example, could have around 60 people freshman year and maybe only 10 for upper division. These schools are good for people who maybe smart and enjoy leading, but maybe need encouraging to get into leadership spots. You get the opportunity to develop close relationships with your professors and peers. They also usually have quite a few research opportunities open compared to research schools. However, because they're small they may not have specifically what you would like to do.

    I'm sure you've heard this already, but I thought I would give you my thoughts. If you haven't made your decision on this matter yet, keep it in your mind as you are deciding. I didn't and I went to a teaching uni close by to save money. It turned out to be a perfect fit so I stayed.
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