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Which southern college for undergrad degree?

  1. Aug 20, 2014 #1
    Hi, I am doing research along with my son on the best path to take. In the end he wants to get a PHD in astrophysics. He is currently in 10th grade in highschool. Georgia Tech was recommended, but I also found that College of Charleston, which is closer and alot cheaper, also offers a physics degree. Right now he is set on MIT for grad, but that may change. Would College of Charleston work for him, or is Georgia Tech the best route. Any other suggestions are appreciated also.
    Thanks in advance,
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 20, 2014 #2


    Staff: Mentor

    Welcome to PF!

    Have you looked at University of Texas at Austin?

    Current news:

    http://www.utexas.edu/news/tag/astrophysics/ [Broken]

    and the department homepage:


    UT maintains the McDonald Observatory too.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 6, 2017
  4. Aug 20, 2014 #3
    I will take a look. The reason I was wondering about College of Charleston, is that we live on the outskirts of the city and tuition is roughly $10,000 for instate tuition. Plus lottery assistance etc.
  5. Aug 20, 2014 #4


    Staff: Mentor

    Thats a good reason, although I know many students want to escape from home by going far away and then getting homesick.

    I didn't have that problem I went to a local liberal arts college where the classes were small but the Physics program was first class vs the nearby state university where the classes were huge and professors were too busy to deal with students in a one-on-one setting.
  6. Aug 20, 2014 #5


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    Science Advisor

    It's typically much easier to access good internship and research opportunities from a well-known school, and this can help greatly trying to get into MIT. I would strongly suggest you carefully consider the savings you would get from College of Charleston against the opportunity provided by Georgia Tech, UT Austin, or University of North Carolina, or Texas A&M.

    If your son takes advantage of the opportunity you can consider tuition to Georgia Tech an investment in his future.
  7. Aug 20, 2014 #6
    Check out NC State, UT - Knoxville, Florida, etc. These are all great schools but at the same time low ranked enough such that your son would have a serious shot at merit aid.
  8. Aug 20, 2014 #7


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    The College of Charleston has an excellent physics and astronomy program; it's very large for a college of that type, and Charleston is a great city. Their graduates get into great grad schools, and have plenty of research opportunities. Clemson is the only better program in the state for physics and astronomy.

    Don't let him get hung up on MIT or any school in particular for grad school. It really comes down to what specifically he will want to study and where the best school for that is. In the vast majority of cases, it's not going to be MIT.
  9. Aug 20, 2014 #8


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    Science Advisor

    I have to disagree with that somewhat. The job market for Astrophysics is ATROCIOUS and not expected to get better anytime soon. If someone really wants to be one of the very few who gets a career in Astrophysics that person needs to go to the best grad school possible. I know several astro and particle physicists and they mostly went to Harvard, Stanford, Princeton, and UC Berkeley, with few exceptions.

    For a less competitive career, I would agree with you. I'm an Electrical Engineer and I went to an excellent regional (but not name-brand) University and it worked out well for me. Had I wanted a career in academia, I would have taken the student loans and gone to Stanford.
  10. Aug 20, 2014 #9
    Do keep in mind that the top few grad programs in physics are exceedingly competitive. Like making getting into an Ivy for undergrad looking almost easy in comparison kind of competitive.

    So the MIT could change whether he wants it too or not. It's important to really look over the department well and who is working in it and to hear various first hand stories from graduate students at each department when trying to figure out where to go.
  11. Aug 20, 2014 #10
    Yeah, to actually get a position at a top research university is extremely difficult. I'd say it's the most difficult on the particle theory side of things (it can be like 1000 people applying for a single position and 900 of those 1000 all appear to have been #1 in physics at Princeton grad school or the like too) and then for other things on the theory side and then for experimental physics.
  12. Aug 21, 2014 #11
    I'm from Atlanta, and I just spent a week in Charleston on vacation, and by god if I had reason to move there I would. That city is beautiful! I remember thinking what a great place it would have been to go to college. In comparison I think Atlanta is kind of dirty and boring and too difficult to get anywhere without a car.

    I wouldn't listen to the name brand gate-keepers...name brand can help but it by no means determines your ability to get into somewhere like MIT. It is not very important for undergrad; grad school is where it seems to "raise the glass ceiling" as far as future career options, but there are of course always exceptions.

    Its definitely not worth paying 40,000/year just to go to a school that's "well known" when you can get a perfectly good education in Charleston, paying maybe $40,000 for your entire 4-5 year stay and possibly getting state scholarships. On top of that, when I went to Georgia Tech to get some prerequisite courses done, I noticed that there is a strong "grade deflation" culture there. I.e., many professors will give impossible tests where the class averages in the 40s and then they will "curve" it up so that they can get their nice bell curve required by the department. In my opinion this is fraud, it is not representative of students' true ability and it encourages unnecessary and sometimes cutthroat competition among students in an environment that should be conducive to learning and academic success.

    In my undergrad, I went to an unranked school in mathematics that no one outside of my state can even pronounce let alone has heard of, and for grad school I got into the number 3 school in the US for nuclear engineering, and I won an international fellowship to study for free in the UK for a year.

    Not that I'm tooting my own horn...I'm just saying that undergraduate education is what you make of it. For any given degree program, you are going to "be taught" more or less the same material whether you are at Harvard or West Virginia State. What one actually "learns" depends on one's motivation and persistence in seeking out opportunities that will lead one to success in graduate school (for example research internships, REU's, graduate courses, directed study, research with a professor at the home university).

    Getting into a top school basically comes down to grades, GRE scores, letters of Rec, personal statement, and research history (coupled with letters of rec). You can get all of these things excellently at a smaller school if you play your cards right and put in effort. An outstanding letter of rec from an unknown professor is better than a bland one from a superstar. That's not to say they will be handed to you at Princeton or MIT, there it will take the same amount or more work because you will be competing with other so-called "genius" grad-school bound students for the same resources. Getting a 4.0 at Charleston would look much better than a 2.8 at GT.

    PS: If your son is willing, he could stay at home while in college. That saves a tremendous amount of money over the long haul. I was able to graduate debt-free by staying home and working while in school. Even if he only did it the first two years, it would make a huge difference for your wallet.
    Last edited: Aug 21, 2014
  13. Aug 21, 2014 #12
    Thanks for the replies. If he can go to College of Charleston and still stand a good chance of getting into one of the best grad schools, then that sounds like a good choice.
  14. Aug 21, 2014 #13


    Staff: Mentor

    Also try not to focus too much on a single major, keep your options open until you're sure. While its good to have some focus, you also need to have a backup plan for academics and for future career options. I somethimes counsel students to have a secondary skill like CS since its much easier to have a career in computers than other sciences.
  15. Aug 21, 2014 #14
    I agree, I changed my major twice before realizing what I really enjoyed. I thought I wanted to do something and then a few courses later I found something else that I had never even considered. Drennen is very determined, but he understands the need for a back up plan. He also understands that astrophysics jobs are hard to get and that he may have to do something else until he lands on what he wants. My dad has a friend that works at NASA, and he has been very helpful also. Again thanks for all the replies, this is truly a wonderful resource.
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