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Schools What school/program to look for -- high school junior looking at going into a career in physics

Hello,
I am a high school junior looking at going into a career in physics. Over the past few years, I have found that I enjoy physics, specifically in "understanding" the atom, and the mind boggling ideas of what happens at that level. I think I want to study particle physics or quantum physics.

I finished AP Calc AB (Calc I), and have run out of high school math classes. I am taking Calc II and General Physics at a local Community College this summer. Next school year I want to take Calc III first semester and maybe a higher math class the next semester. I am currently looking at colleges and I am unsure what programs are good or what won't carry any weight. Some mentors are recommending Ivy league schools such as Princeton, but I personally don't think that I am qualified to get into such a school. As a result, I want to look into other schools and their programs. I would prefer a school on the US East Coast, but I don't mind going further. What suggestions do you have?
 
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College is the next big step for you, but beyond that is the rest of your life. I would urge you to think about what sort of a career you are preparing for. There are very few job openings for folks assigned to sit around and think beautiful thoughts, no matter how pretty they may be. Think about what you want to be doing day to day 15 to 20 years out. Where are you going? I suggest to you that you probably have a lot of exploring to do before you settle on a career choice. The results of that exploration will help to guide your college choice.
 

gleem

Science Advisor
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Yes, and the problem I always see with them is that they always come up with Ivy League schools (Princeton, Cornell, Harvard, Yale, etc.). I'm looking for lower schools that may be less competitive.
Yes they accept about 10% of applicants There are about 750 physics programs in the US that grant over 8000 Bachelors degrees each year. The Ivy League schools grant only about 150 Bachelors each year in total. The good California schools add about 550. Other great schools as MIT, U of Chicago, U of Illinois, U of Wisconsin, U of Washington, etc may add a couple hundred more. That's a total of only about 15% of Bachelors, Some good schools in the upper 15% in the east are Johns Hopkins, Penn State, U Mass(Amherst), Boston U, Duke, Maryland, Rutgers, Rensselaer Poly, NYU, Univ of Rochester, Carnegie Mellon, Boston U,. U of Florida, Georgia Institute of Tech. and some are a bit fussy too. Check out the range of ACT and SAT scores that they accept.

Of also importance is to determine if the chosen school has Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program of interest to you.

The following document put out by the American Institute of Physics lists physics programs in the US, the numbers of junior and senior physics majors as well as the number of BS degree awarded . You may not want a real big program for example

https://www.aip.org/sites/default/files/statistics/rosters/physrost16.4.pdf
 
So after doing some (superficial) research into top school, I have put together a list of schools that I found consistently fell in top spots, though some of them may be less competitive. I did not discriminate based on location, simply on multiple appearances on lists that ranked schools based on physics programs. The list is as follows(in no particular order):


California Institute of Technology
Stanford University
Yale University
Harvard University
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
University of Massachusetts(Amherst)
Dartmouth College
Princeton University
Columbia university
Cornell University
New York University
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
University of Rochester
Carnegie Mellon University
Lehigh University
University of Pennsylvania
Brown University
Harvey Mudd College
Vassar College
Rice University
University of Chicago
University of Michigan
Boston University
John Hopkins University


This is a large list, and I will be going through and trimming it (based on student size, local culture, climate, extracurriculars etc.). Yes it has the Ivy League schools, because those consistently hit the lists. I will be looking past these for the most part. I was wondering if anybody had any recommendations on adding or trimming this list. Please also let me know if there are things I should factor into my choices that I probably won't/haven't thought of (as most members have been to college, I'm assuming you will have wisdom from experience).
Thank you so much for the feedback.
 

StatGuy2000

Education Advisor
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To the OP:

Just out of curiosity, which state do you live in? I'm asking because I am aware of differences between in-state and out-of-state tuition rates for colleges/universities, so I was wondering if you have taken that into account as well. You did state that you preferred to look at schools in the US East Coast, so I presume you are from there.
 

jtbell

Mentor
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differences between in-state and out-of-state tuition rates for colleges/universities
These generally apply only to state schools, not to private ones. At least I don't know of any private schools that charge different rates for in-state and out-of-state students. Most of the schools on Xelikai's list are private ones.
Pennsylvania
IIRC Penn State has a solid physics program, although I don't think it would be considered a "top" or "elite" school. Is cost a consideration for you (or your parents :oldwink:)?
 
IIRC Penn State has a solid physics program
The only thing I'm worried about with Penn State is the large student size. Like I said in the OP, while "top" or "elite" schools are nice, I would rather be in an environment where I can push my own understanding of the material to new heights. Large student size makes me worried that maybe I might get lost in the crowd.
 

gleem

Science Advisor
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I would rather be in an environment where I can push my own understanding of the material to new heights.
I don't understand. How does student body size affects your understanding?
 
I'm just worried about not enriching myself/not being able to work as close with the professors. I feel like being in smaller classes nurtures education more. Personal preference I guess
 

gleem

Science Advisor
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What would you consider a maximum satisfactory class size i.e. number of physics major in your class.
 
What would you consider a maximum satisfactory class size i.e. number of physics major in your class.
I would probably want to have no more than thirty, though twenty would feel better, I think.
 

StatGuy2000

Education Advisor
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671
The only thing I'm worried about with Penn State is the large student size. Like I said in the OP, while "top" or "elite" schools are nice, I would rather be in an environment where I can push my own understanding of the material to new heights. Large student size makes me worried that maybe I might get lost in the crowd.
Since you are a resident of Pennsylvania, you might want to consider applying to a liberal arts school like Swarthmore College. Even though these tend to be 4-year schools focusing on undergraduate study, they have excellent reputations in terms of teaching science, and many graduates from Swarthmore have gone to pursue graduate studies in physics (among other fields).

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swarthmore_College

Another liberal arts school worth considering is Juniata College, which have an excellent academic reputation. William D. Phillips, the 1997 Nobel Prize winner in Physics, was an alumni from that school.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Juniata_College

It's also worth pointing out that CMU, U Penn, and Lehigh are all in Pennsylvania as well.
 
and Lehigh
What is the reputation of Lehigh in the Physics community? They are a school I've considered, and I'm going to their table at a college fair this week. What are their big programs? I know they are an amazing engineering school, but I haven't heard much about their physics program.
 

gleem

Science Advisor
1,290
698
According to the AIP survey Lehigh granted 9 BS degrees in Physics in 2016 and also had 10 junior and 19 senior major in 2016 . It also has a small PhD physics program with over 40 grad students.
 

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