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Which school for physics?

  1. Mar 12, 2008 #1
    Barring some surprise from his 'reach' schools... it looks like our son is presented with the following options:

    1. University of Pittsburgh
    2. University of Minnesota
    3. University of Nebraska (resident school)
    4. University of Arizona State
    5. University of Oklahoma

    Anyone have any comments as to which one may have a better physics program over the others?

    Thanks for your input!

    EDIT: I guess looking at the rankings in the sticky thread under this forum... Minnesota would seem to be the best choice? (should one go purely off of such metrics)
    Last edited: Mar 12, 2008
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 12, 2008 #2

    Vanadium 50

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    Well, rankings tell you something, but they don't tell you how well a given program is a fit for your son. (I chose my PhD university over others that were ranked higher because I knew that I personally would learn more from that program than one with a higher ranking) I would suggest a campus visit.
  4. Mar 12, 2008 #3
    I second this advice. Campus visits are the best way (aside from actually attending the college) to get a feel for the academic program, the school as a whole, and the right "fit".
  5. Mar 12, 2008 #4
    He has made campus visits... and certainly has taken away pluses and minues in various areas from each school... all of which he is weighing in his decision. Unfortunately, these visits (at least in our case) didn't really give us an inside look at the physics programs themselves (although Nebraska rolled out the red carpet for him, with a physics professor giving him a personal tour... but again, hard to take away much in terms of how good the program really is).

    So I guess we're looking more for any personal experiences, specific knowledge of facilities, undergraduate research opportunities, etc, etc... things we weren't necessarily able to come away with from the usual 'dog and pony show' tours/presentations.

  6. Mar 12, 2008 #5
    If this is for undergraduate studies (Which is what I assume, since for Ph.D. studies he'd likely have some sort of idea by now of what's going on.), then it's not too important. Obviously MIT > Podunk State School, but the schools in your list are decent, so as long as he tries to get some research in with his professors, does well, etc., it shouldn't hinder him.
  7. Mar 12, 2008 #6
    Yes, undergraduate.
  8. Mar 13, 2008 #7


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    I think the rankings you may have looked at are the grad school rankings (i.e. rankings for research) which don't matter for undergrad studies. So no, as others have said, one should not base their decisions solely on league tables. What is more important is visiting the department. Whilst you say that you didn't get an inside look into the physics programs, you will have had a look at the campuses, facilities, clubs etc.. These should all weigh into the decision since, as long as you don't go for obviously low schools, the undergrad programs will be very similar. Unfortunately, I'm not from the US, and so can't comment on the specific schools you've mentioned.
  9. Mar 13, 2008 #8
    All these are decent schools for undergraduate work. You should also look beyond academics and look at the campus life in terms of socialization, intellectual activities, etc., all of which are part of the college experience. For example, the University of Pittsburgh is an urban school; the dorms and class buildings are on the city streets rather than on a grassy quad. If you're from rural Montana, that might take some adjustment. Or, if you truly love the football/cheerleader/bonfire/marching band experience, Nebraska really plays that up (sorry, Oklahoma - just a personal opinion:smile:). Visit all the campuses before deciding.
  10. Mar 13, 2008 #9
    Yeah, once again... we've visited these schools... and he certainly has developed preferences in various categories (and yes, he's a marching band nerd... that's something important to him, that the school have a marching band!)... I just thought perhaps there might possibly be some insight into the undergraduate programs of these schools. One school perhaps teaching more classes with professors vs grad students... feel for numbers of students actually helping with research... impressive facilities in some specific area(s) of study... propensity for one placing students in grad schools (and maybe some of these aren't valid questions, I'm looking for those too), etc... you know what I mean? About the only piece of information we came away from Nebraska was... that it has an impressive new laser (and maybe that is even subjective).

    Again, he has visited and obtained a feel for these schools in many different areas for consideration (dorms, culture, setting, size, etc, etc)... we were just hoping to get some small additional insight to throw in with all of the other attributes he's looking at.

    Perhaps there's no one here with any specific experience with any of these schools... that's fine too. Just putting the feeler out there to see if there's any comments one way or another ("Pitt's physics instructors suck!", "Oklahoma has antiquated lab equipment!", "Nebraska actively places all of their undergrads in research programs!"... etc, etc)

  11. Mar 13, 2008 #10
    You can check the professors at www.ratemyprofessors.com Click on a school, department, and have a look through what people think of the various professors.

    As for what kind of research programs for undergrads, that's hard to tell. It could be that a bigger faculty has more to do for an undergrad (I've been busy for the past 2 years now), but a bigger faculty could mean other things, such as not as close student relations, etc. It could be a trade-off, you could find the perfect school, or you could find a horrible school even though they have all the good "qualities". It's really hard to tell. :(
  12. Mar 13, 2008 #11


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    Is there a particular field of interest?
    Any leaning toward theory, experiment, computation, applied?
    What is Plan B, if things don't work out in physics?
    What are the plans after college?

    You could look over the list of colloquia and seminars to see if they are of interest.

    One could also use the level of activity of a Society of Physics/Sigma Pi Sigma chapter to see how much attention is paid to the undergraduates. e.g. http://www.sigmapisigma.org/radiations/2007/initiates.pdf from http://www.sigmapisigma.org/radiations/2007/fall.htm . (Note that some very good programs aren't active in SPS.)
    Last edited: Mar 13, 2008
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