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What colleges are good for physics?

MattHooperMattHooper 0 replies1 threads New Member
I just finished my junior year of high school and I'm starting to get into the whole college thing. I've known for a long time that I want to major in physics (and possibly double major in math, but if not then certainly minor in it) and go to grad school and eventually get a Ph.D in theoretical physics. I asked my counselor what colleges are good for physics and she put a list on my Naviance and instructed me to buy and read the 2020 Fiske college guide.

After reading Fiske and doing some research online, I was disappointed with her list. I felt like most schools either weren't very good for physics and/or had acceptance rates either too high or too low, which was odd.

I have pretty good test scores (35 on the ACT and 790 on the math 2 subject test) but pretty mediocre grades (I can't really check my GPA because my school's new website makes it very difficult, but Naviance says my unweighted GPA is 3.3. I don't know if that's for freshman and sophomore year or if it includes junior year or what. I think weighted is a bit over 4.0). I've taken all honors, Pre-IB/AP (a term my school uses for some 9th and 10th grade classes, which is a level above honors), and AP classes (three so far, more next year). My extracurricular activities are somewhat impressive, but I don't think they're anything to rely on.

Given these, I think I should be looking for schools in the 30–50% acceptance rate range, but what do you think? And what are some good schools? I've herd Reed, Case Western Reserve, Rensselaer, UC Santa Barbara, etc. are good for physics, but do I have a shot? I'm not sure about schools like University of Rochester, WPI, Brandeis, and a few others. I mostly based this on Niche's ranking of schools for physics and googling to see if anyone has asked about the physics programs of any of these on this forum before.

Also something I don't really know, what makes a physics department (or any academic program for that matter) "good"? Is it just funding? Student to faculty ratio? Undergraduate research opportunities? Breadth and variety of courses? What should I be looking for?

Lastly, I live in Florida and my parents have Prepaid. They say they will pay for wherever I want to go, but I think it would probably be most beneficial to go to a public Florida school unless I get in somewhere very good elsewhere. I know UF is top of the Florida list, but do you think I will get in? Then probably FSU, but after that? I heard USF is probably third, but maybe not. And between UCF and FIU which is better for physics?

Sorry if this post is too long or poorly written, I'm new to this forum and I wrote this at 1:30 AM (not that that's an excuse). I would really appreciate it if anyone could just answer a few of my questions. Thank you.
11 replies
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Replies to: What colleges are good for physics?

  • ucbalumnusucbalumnus 83404 replies741 threads Senior Member
    MattHooper wrote: »
    I have pretty good test scores (35 on the ACT and 790 on the math 2 subject test) but pretty mediocre grades (I can't really check my GPA because my school's new website makes it very difficult, but Naviance says my unweighted GPA is 3.3. I don't know if that's for freshman and sophomore year or if it includes junior year or what. I think weighted is a bit over 4.0).

    You should be able to calculate your own unweighted GPA by adding up all of your semester grades (A=4, B=3, C=2, D=1, F=0) in academic courses and dividing by the number of grades.
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  • jllmtwjllmtw 78 replies1 threads Junior Member
    UF or FSU would be a good choice. I think any school with a good engineering program (which UF has) will likely have a good physics program as well as will most large schools (Florida has several). Others nearby to consider would be Auburn, GaT, UGA, Clemson, UNC, Duke and NCSU, but since your parents have pre-paid, I think I would stay in-state.

    The key to Physics is to start doing research as soon as you can so when you apply to grad school, you have a great resume. My son graduated in Physics from a large engineering school, started doing research as a freshman and pretty much had his pick of grad schools. Good Luck
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  • aquaptaquapt 2438 replies51 threads Senior Member
    UCF is strong in physics, particularly astrophysics if that's an interest.
    https://www.ucf.edu/news/for-those-who-dream-of-space-ucf-is-the-place/
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  • mikemacmikemac 10582 replies154 threads Senior Member
    Ignoring cost, UCSB via the Physics major in the College of Creative Studies can't be beat. CCS thinks of itself as grad school for undergrads, so you'll work closely with the faculty and be able to take any class you want (undergrad or grad) at UCSB, prerequisites waived. If you think you can do it, they'll let you. UCSB is also the home for the The Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics.

    For most families, though, money is a big factor. If that's the case then just about any school will do provided you take an active role (as explained in reply #2)
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  • PrdMomto1PrdMomto1 562 replies7 threads Member
    I think you need to have a better idea of your GPA. Knowing what it is unweighted is helpful in helping you develop an appropriate list. As @ucbalumnus said, you should be able to calculate it yourself.
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  • merc81merc81 11806 replies201 threads Senior Member
    edited May 28
    I've known for a long time that I want to major in physics (and possibly double major in math, but if not then certainly minor in it) and go to grad school and eventually get a Ph.D in theoretical physics.

    Though the Princeton Review doesn't offer an equivalent list for physics majors, it does offer a sampling pertaining to colleges that would be excellent for the study of math, "Great Schools for Mathematics Majors." Suggestions include Harvey Mudd, MIT, UChicago, Caltech, Pomona, Haverford, Amherst, Hamilton, Williams, Bowdoin, Reed, Carleton, Harvard, Brown, Grinnell, CMU and URochester. In most cases, these colleges would be excellent for the study of physics as well. You can find the full list in PR's print edition.

    With respect to research opportunities and associated graduate school prospects, you should find these articles on Apker Award (the highest recognition for undergraduate research in physics) recipients and an Apker finalist interesting (you can search for others):

    https://www.pomona.edu/news/2018/10/22-eric-cooper-18-wins-top-honor-physics

    https://www.hamilton.edu/news/story/elise-lepage-18-an-apker-physics-award-finalist

    https://communications.williams.edu/news-releases/10_13_2015_apkeraward/
    edited May 28
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  • aquaptaquapt 2438 replies51 threads Senior Member
    edited May 28
    The College Transitions list of schools that produce the most eventual physics PhD's has quite a mix of competitiveness:

    Caltech
    Reed
    Swarthmore
    Lawrence U
    Carleton
    Haverford
    Williams
    MIT
    CO School of Mines
    Grinnell
    Amherst
    Princeton
    Wabash
    College of Wooster
    Gustavus Adolphus
    Vassar
    Kenyon
    Rice
    Bryn Mawr
    URochester

    Some of these schools would likely give merit to a student with a 35 ACT even if the GPA isn't through the roof. Others are highly competitive and give need-based aid only. But they're all consistently producing physics grads who go on to get doctorates.

    The FL in-state schools will be hard to beat on cost, but the admissions process is going to weight GPA and class rank heavily. The Honors College at UCF is great but the average weighted GPA is 4.4. (Average ACT is 32 so you're above the line in that regard, but it's still a stretch. Though, as others have said, you should recompute and make sure you know where you really stand.

    UC schools are going to be ridiculously expensive for you - at least $65K/year. If that's actually an option, they have the advantage of not counting freshman grades toward the UC GPA, so if 9th grade was your weakest year, that could be an advantage. This is also true of Canadian universities, and those would be more affordable than California. Canadian degrees are also somewhat more specialized, with fewer gen ed requirements, so that might appeal if you're someone who wants to focus on physics right away.
    edited May 28
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  • MYOS1634MYOS1634 43229 replies471 threads Senior Member
    edited May 29
    Waterloo (in Canada) would be a great low match for Physics - they'd look at your junior-senior grades, weigh the AP Physics/AP Calculus grades most, and add your ACT score.
    Lawrence in Wisconsin could be a match or safety depending on GPA and rigor. You'd have to start demonstrating interest right now.
    UCF Honors may be a stretch due to your GPA but Physics is very good so, worth a try. UF and FSU are worth looking into but I think the average weighted GPA for UF is 4.4.
    edited May 29
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  • theloniusmonktheloniusmonk 2970 replies5 threads Senior Member
    edited May 30
    "I've herd Reed, Case Western Reserve, Rensselaer, UC Santa Barbara, etc. are good for physics, but do I have a shot?"

    I went to hs in upstate NY and Rensselaer (RPI as I knew it) had an excellent reputation for physics, but that was like 30 years ago. Based on my high school, you have a good shot at RPI but you should research how the physics dept is now.

    "what makes a physics department (or any academic program for that matter) "good""

    Usually a "good" physics dept is determined by the grad school reputation (ex: Nobels) than the undergrad experience, so you should be careful about that.


    "Suggestions include Harvey Mudd, MIT, UChicago, Caltech, Pomona"

    The OP is saying that Case or RPI is going to be tough and you bring up these colleges. Why don't you add Oxford and Cambridge as well so OP can study with Newton and Hawking.
    edited May 30
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  • merc81merc81 11806 replies201 threads Senior Member
    edited May 30
    The OP is saying that Case or RPI is going to be tough and you bring up these colleges.
    I named a range of colleges from the Princeton Review sampling to provide context for others from it that may be less selective, then suggested that the OP seek the entire list, which I didn't have in front of me, for additional ideas.

    Why don't you add Oxford and Cambridge as well so OP can study with Newton and Hawking.
    While Newton and Hawking both held the Lucasian Chair at Cambridge, Oxford has not been equivalently endowed with physics luminaries, and I wouldn't have recommended it as an equivalent alternative.
    edited May 30
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  • MYOS1634MYOS1634 43229 replies471 threads Senior Member
    For a 3.3 GPA (let's assume it's uw) beside Lawrence where you have a real shot, Wooster, Gustavus Adolphus listed above would be low matches and would likely offer merit.
    If money is not right, st Andrews in Scotland would care most about your AP scores and act, and would not weigh your GPA as much.
    Pitt also weighs test scores more than GPA.
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