Which College Should I Choose for Physics: UF or Cornell?

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In summary: I guess you could say that it would be worth the 25k difference in tuition.In summary, This high school senior wants to pursue physics in college, but is unsure about whether to attend a state university or a prestigious private university. He has been told that he is a national merit scholar, which means he can receive a scholarship to cover tuition and other expenses at either the University of Florida or Cornell University. However, he is unsure about whether to attend UF or Cornell because the latter would be 25,000 dollars more expensive. He is also unsure about the importance of undergraduate school and what qualifies as a "big difference" in quality between two schools.
  • #1
AtlasB
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Hi all.

I am a high school senior in Miami, and I want to pursue physics in undergrad (obviously). With college applications so close I have been faced with a very unexpected dilemma. I also don't have anyone to ask about physics specifically, so I'm hoping for some life-advice from people in the field.

Apparently I am a national merit scholar. This means that if I stay in the state of Florida for college, I can receive the Benacquisto scholarship which would cover all living expenses while I am in school (tuition, room & board, study abroad, books, transport, you name it). This completely blows my mind, and would mean that I could go to the University of Florida (my state's flagship) for free.

The issue (and I feel slightly ridiculous for having an issue) is that up until now I've had my heart set on Cornell University. Their on-campus labs, associated research opportunities, the size of their program, their good name, and the great variety of available courses all appeal to me considerably. However, it would be a full 25k/yr more expensive than UF. This means that parents would lose a good chunk of money (which they are willing and able to do, they want me to make this decision myself), I would not be able to increase my own savings, and my quality of life would be a little bit worse than at UF (where i could have a cushy meal plan and a fancy single-person dorm). Also, I'd be a semester ahead at UF because they accept way more (14 vs. 7) of my AP credits.

Given that scenario, I want to know what you all think: what school should I go to (assuming acceptance to both)? Does anyone have experience with either school? And not just between Cornell and UF, but would it ever be worth it to spend 100k over 4 years to go elsewhere? I've seen mixed info about how much undergraduate school matters, and what exactly qualifies as a big difference in school quality.

Any advice would be so greatly appreciated. I'm not sure that I'm ready to make this big of a decision on my own, and I feel like I don't know enough about the physics field to understand the difference between UF and Cornell.
 
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  • #2
AtlasB said:
Apparently I am a national merit scholar.
Welcome to PF and Congrats! :smile:
AtlasB said:
This means that parents would lose a good chunk of money (which they are willing and able to do, they want me to make this decision myself)
What do you mean by "able to do"? Would that 100k be half of their current liquid savings? Or a tenth? If a tenth or less, that gives you more flexibility. If more than a tenth, that's a bit painful for you to inflict on them, IMO.
 
  • #3
Thanks :)

It would be a little under half their current savings (which is why I'm really hesitant to drag them into this), however it's reasonable to expect a large inheritance (maybe 2-3 million in cash and real estate) from my grandfather.
 
  • #4
I think you may be getting ahead of yourself. It sounds like you haven’t applied yet, let alone been accepted. You must be a strong student, but the acceptance rate at Cornell is quite low so it is not a guarantee. I also suspect that you will not know the financial aid packages you will receive from most schools until after you are accepted (although it sounds like the Florida schools may be an exception if all merit scholars get that scholarship). Are you sure Cornell would actually cost 25k more?
Jason
 
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  • #5
jasonRF said:
I think you may be getting ahead of yourself. It sounds like you haven’t applied yet, let alone been accepted. You must be a strong student, but the acceptance rate at Cornell is quite low so it is not a guarantee. I also suspect that you will not know the financial aid packages you will receive from most schools until after you are accepted (although it sounds like the Florida schools may be an exception if all merit scholars get that scholarship). Are you sure Cornell would actually cost 25k more?
Jason
Im definitely getting ahead of myself, but I think i have decent reasoning. If I don't get accepted to Cornell then I don't have any decisions to make and all is well.

If I do get accepted then I will have to make this decision at some point. I would like to make it now because if I decide that Cornell would be worth it, I would like to apply early decision. My school college counselor (I trust her greatly) tells me that if Cornell were ever going to give me aid beyond my financial need, it would be during the early decision round.

Beyond that, their net price calculator estimates that my need based price is 25k. Again, my counselor assures me that this is a very reliable estimate.

So overall I am working with non-guaranteed but trustworthy information. I don't really feel like I have the option of waiting for guarantees
 
  • #6
Avoid spending much more money than you need to. Attend in Florida. If you are successful, then ask yourself if maybe Cornell is a possibility for graduate school.
 
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  • #7
symbolipoint said:
Avoid spending much more money than you need to. Attend in Florida. If you are successful, then ask yourself if maybe Cornell is a possibility for graduate school.
Thanks for the direct answer. Do you have a moment to explain your reasoning? Not that I disagree I just want to learn more
 
  • #8
AtlasB said:
If I do get accepted then I will have to make this decision at some point. I would like to make it now because if I decide that Cornell would be worth it, I would like to apply early decision. My school college counselor (I trust her greatly) tells me that if Cornell were ever going to give me aid beyond my financial need, it would be during the early decision round.

good point. I had forgotten about early decision!
 
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  • #9
AtlasB said:
Thanks for the direct answer. Do you have a moment to explain your reasoning? Not that I disagree I just want to learn more
You may be worrying too much and this worry is interfering with how your reasoning ability is working. Take a rest. Now, after a few hours maybe, ... you need no explanation.
 
  • #10
symbolipoint said:
You may be worrying too much and this worry is interfering with how your reasoning ability is working. Take a rest. Now, after a few hours maybe, ... you need no explanation.
HHAHAHAH. I suppose I don't really have a way to argue against that...
 
  • #11
i suggest you visit these schools to get an idea of what you are comitting to for 4 years. in your position i chose harvard over vanderbilt, although at much higher cost, but the benefit was finding a student body with whom i could much better identify and feel at home with. the level of expertise of the faculty was also much higher. i admit however that i did not perform well at harvard for several years because of the severe culture shock and big jump in level of expectations, and only realized its potential as a postdoc there 15-20 years later. i.e. i did not have the requisite work ethic and study skills to succeed at harvard as an 18 year old freshman which i did have as a 30 something married family man. still, i do not know if i would have become a successful postdoc there had i not gone there as an undergrad. you have to jump in the deep end sometime if you are ever going to swim there. You are a bit young to be a wine drinker, but in my old age i have noticed that cheap wine is usually not as rewarding as more expensive wine. the same probably holds for educational institutions.
 
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  • #12
You're in an extremely fortunate position if the question is really one of how much money this is going to cost your parents and either way you graduate debt free. For most students, a problem like this needs to factor in how much debt they are going to incur.

To keep things in perspective on the debt side of things, let's suppose you pursue an academic physics path. Undergrad is going to cost what it costs. Then you're going to go to graduate school for another ~ 6 years where you'll likely earn just enough money to support a frugal lifestyle without incurring further debt, and defer payment on any debt you have. You graduate near your thirtieth birthday. Then you take on another several years jumping between postdocs, earning about $55k per year with limited benefits. At this point you'll have to start paying off any undergraduate debt. If you've got at least a 100k hole to crawl out of at this point, that won't leave a lot of flexibility for things like a mortgage. You can make a lot more, provided you leave academia though.

So is that $100k worth it? I'm Canadian and so from my perspective I'd say certainly not, but in Canada undergraduate physics programs I don't think vary in quality as much as they can in the US. You'll have to really look into the details each program and make this call yourself. But I would look at the courses covered and the textbooks they use. What you're likely to find is that both schools are quite similar. Look for evidence and statistics on where graduates from each program are ending up. If graduates from the state school are typically getting into great graduate programs, it suggests that you'll be able to do the same.

You can look at research opportunities, and with a bigger name school, they'll probably be more and cooler sounding options. But so long as you'll have the opportunity to get involved in *some* research as an undergrad and it's something you'll be interested in, that's what matters most. If you really want to study black holes as a graduate student but as an undergrad you end up taking on a project in condensed matter because that's what's available... that's not going to hurt you provided you do well in it.

And don't overlook the fast that at the state school you'd likely have your own apartment and (presumably) a better lifestyle. In a cumulative sense, the ability to live with less stress and more control over your environment is likely to allow you to focus more on your studies. And you want to factor in how well you are likely to perform in each program. If you flunk out, the most prestigious school name in the world isn't going to mean much.
 
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  • #13
Choppy said:
Canada undergraduate physics programs I don't think vary in quality as much as they can in the US.
Do you think (e.g.) Bishop's is nearly on par with Toronto? In physics. Not brewmastery.
 
  • #14
Vanadium 50 said:
Do you think (e.g.) Bishop's is nearly on par with Toronto? In physics. Not brewmastery.
Touché. I don't know anything about Bishop's University.
 
  • #15
AtlasB said:
Im definitely getting ahead of myself, but I think i have decent reasoning. If I don't get accepted to Cornell then I don't have any decisions to make and all is well.
I hope you intend to use proper punctuation when you fill out your applications.

AtlasB said:
If I do get accepted then I will have to make this decision at some point. I would like to make it now because if I decide that Cornell would be worth it, I would like to apply early decision. My school college counselor (I trust her greatly) tells me that if Cornell were ever going to give me aid beyond my financial need, it would be during the early decision round.
Do you have a reason not to apply to give yourself the option in case you later decide Cornell is worth it? How can you make an informed decision if you don't even know how much financial aid the school will provide?
 
  • #16
I know little about it as well. It's English-language, even though it's in Quebec (like McGill) and has a department of Chemistry and Beer Brewing.
 
  • #17
vela said:
Do you have a reason not to apply to give yourself the option in case you later decide Cornell is worth it? How can you make an informed decision if you don't even know how much financial aid the school will provide?
If I don't decide to apply ED I will of course apply RD. I will not apply ED if I am unsure that Cornell is the best option, as it would be impossible to decline an acceptance.
 
  • #18
Choppy said:
You're in an extremely fortunate position if the question is really one of how much money this is going to cost your parents and either way you graduate debt free. For most students, a problem like this needs to factor in how much debt they are going to incur.

To keep things in perspective on the debt side of things, let's suppose you pursue an academic physics path. Undergrad is going to cost what it costs. Then you're going to go to graduate school for another ~ 6 years where you'll likely earn just enough money to support a frugal lifestyle without incurring further debt, and defer payment on any debt you have. You graduate near your thirtieth birthday. Then you take on another several years jumping between postdocs, earning about $55k per year with limited benefits. At this point you'll have to start paying off any undergraduate debt. If you've got at least a 100k hole to crawl out of at this point, that won't leave a lot of flexibility for things like a mortgage. You can make a lot more, provided you leave academia though.

So is that $100k worth it? I'm Canadian and so from my perspective I'd say certainly not, but in Canada undergraduate physics programs I don't think vary in quality as much as they can in the US. You'll have to really look into the details each program and make this call yourself. But I would look at the courses covered and the textbooks they use. What you're likely to find is that both schools are quite similar. Look for evidence and statistics on where graduates from each program are ending up. If graduates from the state school are typically getting into great graduate programs, it suggests that you'll be able to do the same.

You can look at research opportunities, and with a bigger name school, they'll probably be more and cooler sounding options. But so long as you'll have the opportunity to get involved in *some* research as an undergrad and it's something you'll be interested in, that's what matters most. If you really want to study black holes as a graduate student but as an undergrad you end up taking on a project in condensed matter because that's what's available... that's not going to hurt you provided you do well in it.

And don't overlook the fast that at the state school you'd likely have your own apartment and (presumably) a better lifestyle. In a cumulative sense, the ability to live with less stress and more control over your environment is likely to allow you to focus more on your studies. And you want to factor in how well you are likely to perform in each program. If you flunk out, the most prestigious school name in the world isn't going to mean much.
It makes a lot of sense economically, especially if I start thinking that far into the future.

I'll get in contact with the UF department to try to get some specific information about what graduate schools students end up at. I haven't been able to get solid data online.

Thanks for the message, you've given me a lot more to consider and to research.
 
  • #19
AtlasB said:
If I don't decide to apply ED I will of course apply RD. I will not apply ED if I am unsure that Cornell is the best option, as it would be impossible to decline an acceptance.
I didn't realize it was binding. Still, you do have this out if it's a financial issue.

While your early decision acceptance to Cornell is binding, you may be eligible to be released from your early decision agreement if your financial aid award does not make a Cornell education affordable for you and your family.

https://admit.cornell.edu/early-decision
 
  • #20
What is the fascination with Cornell? It is a highly ranked school but there are numerous others that offer a substantial advantage at equivalent cost or maybe better. Most (all) schools offer financial assistance.

You say that Cornell is expected to allow you $25K with their tuition about $57K and living/travel expenses around $15k gives a total out-of-pocket expense of $48K/yr.

The U of Florida is an academically well-respected state university. Its graduate program does not seem too shabby either.

Keep in mind it will be your effort and accomplishments that will be most important to your success not necesarily where your went to school.
 
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  • #21
Anywhere you go will provide an adequate formal education in Physics (or whatever you end up persuing...it might be something else)
I attended Cornell fifty years ago. Cornell kicked in half my $3000 annual tuition and I paid much of the rest with some parental help. For me it was the best thing that could have happened: it is a joy to assume the person to whom you are talking is at least your intellectual equal. With respect that will not be true most places including U Fla. It was quite a shock to realize how differently bright were my fellow Cornellians. For me it was a good decision.
All you need to do now is apply. I would go early decision and see what happens. You never know and do not be afraid to negotiate. See if you can visit.
 
  • #22
Think about this, if you apply for early decision, you are committing to go if you are excepted. Getting out of that isn't a trivial task.
 
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  • #23
gleem said:
What is the fascination with Cornell? It is a highly ranked school but there are numerous others that offer a substantial advantage at equivalent cost or maybe better. Most (all) schools offer financial assistance.

You say that Cornell is expected to allow you $25K with their tuition about $57K and living/travel expenses around $15k gives a total out-of-pocket expense of $48K/yr.

The U of Florida is an academically well-respected state university. Its graduate program does not seem too shabby either.

Keep in mind it will be your effort and accomplishments that will be most important to your success not necesarily where your went to school.
I meant to say that Cornell would give me a grant reducing the price to 25k, but i think your reasoning holds. Thank you for the input.
 
  • #24
Dr Transport said:
Think about this, if you apply for early decision, you are committing to go if you are excepted. Getting out of that isn't a trivial task.
The more I consider this the more I agree with @Dr Transport .
I still resoundingly recommend Cornell (even at somewhat higher expense) but the advantages to you of applying EA are not obvious.
 

Related to Which College Should I Choose for Physics: UF or Cornell?

1. What factors should I consider when choosing a school?

When choosing a school, it is important to consider factors such as the school's academic reputation, location, cost, available majors and programs, campus culture, and resources for students.

2. Should I prioritize a school's ranking or the program/major I want to study?

This ultimately depends on your personal goals and priorities. If you are looking to pursue a highly competitive field, a school's ranking may be more important. However, if you have a specific program or major in mind, it is important to research the school's reputation and resources in that area.

3. Is it better to attend a large university or a smaller college?

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Visiting the campus, talking to current students and alumni, and researching the school's academic and social environment can help you determine if a school is the right fit for you. It is also important to consider your personal values and goals and how they align with the school's mission and culture.

5. What should I do if I am unsure of what I want to study?

It is common to be unsure of your major or career path when starting college. In this case, it may be beneficial to attend a school with a wide range of majors and resources, or to consider a liberal arts education which allows for exploration of different subjects. It is also helpful to talk to academic advisors and career counselors for guidance.

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