Emory vs USC

My son is admitted to USC Price School and Emory Arts and Science He is very confused on where to go. Granted he has no idea what he wants to do.

Emory gave him a ton of money. So, I want him to go there, but I don’t want to push him and let him make a decision.

Any feedback is greatly appreciated.


what is his interest at Price? Public policy? Real estate? Urban planning?

If the former, I’d recommend Emory A&S, as I firmly believe that public policy is a grad type discipline. Emory is also cheaper.

Does he care about big time D1 sports, i.e., football? Greek scene? Both are big at 'SC.

Emory and USC are virtually academic peers. If Emory gave your son a lot more money than USC, this seems like a no-brainer to me.

Has he committed to one and gotten off the waitlist at the other? How else could this still be a decision to make?

@bluebayou , @solarjack - I agree with the idea that Public Policy is more of a grad discipline. He’s not into the Greek Scene. He actually plays sports and at Emory he can play vs at USC he can only watch.

I am happy to hear that USC and Emory are academic peers. Thanks for the feedback guys.

@bluebayou , @solarjack We are leaning towards Emory, and though he is intrigued at the possibility of living in LA, he is conscious about all the negative press USC has been getting recently. He is also considering doing a STEM major, and my understanding is that Emory is better for things like Math and neuroscience?

I am happy to hear that USC and Emory are academic peers. Thanks for the feedback guys.

math & neuroscience are strong at 'SC as well, so not sure it would make much of a difference. But note, neuroscience tends to have quite a few premeds, and the grade competition at CA colleges can be brutal. Not saying Emory would be easier per se, but perhaps less intense at least in teh lower division math/science courses.

@bluebayou and @CantbelieveNJ : Grading norms/means are about the same at the intro. level (I went and looked at various intro. STEM courses and some allow you to look at a syllabi at USC and they will usually explicitly report target averages and what a course grade will be curved to if necessary) so the intensity issue isn’t relevant. Even if you compared Emory to Berkeley and UCLA it is similar. The unusual brutality at a place like Berkeley usually comes in core courses that serve the engineering programs. For example, usually the pre-engineering calculus based physics course at many schools differs from that a regular STEM major or pre-health would take. The latter courses generally use the C+/B- or mostly B- average targets at places like USC and Berkeley as does Emory. I find that lots of students are exxagerating and being hyperbolic about “grade deflation” at certain schools. In reality, many other similar caliber schools grade similarly in STEM. Some student bodies just don’t talk about it or complain via social media as much, so I think that misconception about Emory is sort of derived from that.

And Emory students aren’t that “loud” or as present on social media as other top private schools, so you just don’t hear as much from them and most willing to say something, generally claim that these targets are “fair” and that you get out what you put in, and this may be because Emory doesn’t have D-1 sports or a giant party scene so students kind of just come in expecting the academics to be a certain way and are more open minded about what “rigor” should look like. You just sort of do the work and complain to friends in person every now and then. There is no culture of going to social media and warning people or complaining about tough grading and tests in certain courses. At Emory, no one cares that much to sort of expouse any sort of academic reputation regarding opinions about difficulty and all that.

For example, here is the grade distributions for all of gchem 1 at Berkeley:

(to prove Emory targets this, I’d have to post syllabi which are in my google drive and I just don’t wanna bother with that right now but am willing to maybe PM OP with them if they don’t believe me lol).

Now versus USC/other Ca universities that are elite, non-honors level classes may be delivered differently because enrollment per section in Emory intro. courses are generally quite a bit smaller than USC and other even similar enrollment (USC has much larger undergrad enrollment than Emory’s medium sized peers like Gtown, WUSTL, Vanderbilt, Cornell, Brown, and whatever other privates it labels as its peers) peer schools ranked above and below. It means they can do certain things less likely to be prevalent at USC.

I also suspect neuroscience is structured differently at the two, and depending on how picky a student is, it may matter. Emory has a pretty stringent 4 course core which I think is unusual among schools offering neuroscience majors. They definitely have the right intentions in how they structured it, but some students do value this concept of “freedom” in course selection and don’t know much about learning goals and skill development. I’ll go look at USC’s neuro program and get back to see if I can confirm, but I am sure it is structured more similarly to other schools.

@CantbelieveNJ : Okay, I just took a look and I lied about the structure on accident (bias having seen so many UG neuro programs structured in this sort of “take one intro and then choose your way to success afterwards”: To my surprise, these two are VERY similar in comparison to other programs (and IMHO provide excellent more focused training if he is say, into research or grad. school possibilities):
USC: https://dornsife.usc.edu/usc-neuroscience/bachelor-of-science-in-neuroscience/:
Emory: http://www.nbb.emory.edu/academics/major-requirements.html

3 vs. 4 (Emory has the writing requirement, 401)cores and then lots of electives.

What is cool to me about both programs versus many I see (keep in mind, I have a grad schoo/research bias) is that both programs (I actually checked out materials and syllabi from USC courses) is that both have much more of a problem solving/application, and research/experimental neuro/behavioral science focused lean versus many other programs which seem to have an almost overly clinically/medically oriented curriculum where the courses focus more on students gaining a knowledge of say…neuroanatomy and lots of content regarding pathways and specifics more so than a focus on “how” someone may discover those facts. Also, both have infrastructure for your son to combine those neuro and math interests. USC has the computational neuroscience “major” and Emory basically has it via the QTM department AND 2 computational neuroscience/life sciences fellowships for undergraduates. You won’t really lose out on Emory not having the major because the schools appear to offer the same courses (so you can basically major in NBB at Emory and craft a concentration by taking key math, biology, physics, and CS courses). There has also been this proliferation of computationally and mathematically focused courses in biology, with about half of them relevant to neuroscience majors. It also appears that Emory’s NBB major is much more than just a “major” and may be better developed in some ways.

The resources and opportunities offered through the program appear a lot more localized and robust. Compare the handbooks per major:

Your son won’t necessarily be hurting if he took Emory’s financial aid offer unless he really wants the D-1/USC sort of social atmosphere. To me it is clear, he won’t be losing out academically. Plus as I said before, the introductory courses at Emory that lead into most of the neuro courses could be more “interesting” for him. Despite them still being tough, faculty in the intro. life sciences (namely chem and biol) have worked extremely hard to make them feel less like large lecture weeder courses, and more like they are trying to seriously expose students to different ways of learning material. They use methods typically less used at most other peer research universities probably because smaller section sizes make it easier to do that (I’m amazed how places like Duke pull off curricular innovation with much larger enrollment, but kudos to them).

Either way, this is some of what I could gather. You can’t really go wrong with these two (I wouldn’t worry about them being overall “academic peers”. It just so happens that your son got into two schools and is interested in something both do EXTREMELY well even in comparison to some higher ranked peers IMO). Good luck! Hopefully you won’t have to spend the extra money lol.


I couldn’t disagree more with your first paragraph in post #7, but since cc is not a debating society, I’ll leave it at that.

(btw: grading policy can be significantly different than student culture. For example, Hopkins does not have grade deflation, but it can still be extremely intense in the intro premed sciences. Cal Engineering is a lot more collegial than Cal premed.)

@bluebayou : The numbers are there on that website, Go look at the numbers. It doesn’t matter what any of us “hear” or “think” when places like Berkeley release their numbers and they are in the range I suggest (Georgia Tech students still complain about grades but if you go on course critique, their grading norms are now in line with STEM at other elite schools). You do hear a lot about “grade deflation” and all that in STEM from some places more than others, but many schools just grade similarly in STEM (B- is a classical target) . The numbers suggest that. The lowest I saw in classes relevant to say a neuro major at Berkeley was a course GPA of about 2.67-2.7 (hell the gen. chem 2 average was approaching 3.2 at Berkeley!). This is in line with the stereotypical B- targets of many into. and intermediate courses at top schools and non. I am sure some professors are exceptions, but those are averages account for all sections. I think the problem is that people have no clue what goes on elsewhere so tend to assume the grass is greener elsewhere when things get rough for them. That is what I alluded to. Take any disagreements up with the Berkeley website compiling those grade distributions. Perhaps they miscalculated (but they appear to have solid sample sizes).

I didn’t care about “student culture”. Never mentioned it at all. Any nastiness among students at some schools versus others is all kind of in vein if they will ultimately get similar level courses and grading curves as similar caliber schools. You mentioned that the grading at USC and other California schools, and I addressed THAT. I don’t care to address “culture” because I don’t know what to believe. I just know that OP’s child should expect similar intellectual intensity and grading in those particular areas if USC grades similarly to a Berkeley or UCLA. I have no idea if such grading norms are sufficient at USC to yield the same alleged competition that Berkeley or JHU is known for, so I stuck to commenting about grading. Maybe a B-/B average should be considered “deflation”, but all I know is that it remains fairly standard in STEM at a lot of places.

I think the only thing I mentioned about student culture was Emory students’ presence on social media. To my knowledge and experience, Emory students are just less “hype” and are more apathetic especially regarding some issues, even this one. Only recently did I go on Emory’s CC and see a post from a current student that actually specifically addressed how difficult a certain course was for them. It isn’t as common as elsewhere it seems. One, if relying on CC or elsewhere would be led to believe that “oh grading is all gravy at Emory versus these other places with all the complaints on line”. It really isn’t. Emory students just complain amongst each other in person. It isn’t worth hitting social media (unless you talk FB meme page, but even there it is somewhat tame).

also curious about this

This is a transfer decision and not a freshman decision. That’s why it’s a decision to make.

@bernie12 , @bluebayou Thank you so much for the detailed discussion.

I would highly encourage USC over Emory, definitely worth the extra penny, since the connections and reputation of USC is much greater and better than Emory. I have lived my entire life without hearing of Emory’s name, but have heard of USC my entire life. Then again, this is your son’s choice and if he also has no idea what major he is going to do, then maybe it is best he tries to figure that out before making a decision between schools like this - maybe even take a semester off to think about it.

They are peer schools. You son can’t go wrong with either. I would lean towards the more affordable option.

OP is from New Jersey, so the USC name doesn’t travel any better than Emory’s in the Northeast, so can’t agree with the post about the USC name. The best place is the more affordable or campus/culture preference. Emory is closer to home, but that’s not a great reason to choose it either. This choice is more personal than anything.

It’s about fit and his preference but both are peer schools but with heavy discounts, Emory wins imho. It’s not like he is choosing #1 and #45th. Emory is smaller and has higher 4 year graduation rate. He can take train or bus to Atlanta.

I should have written that Emory’s in the east (Atlanta) and an say 2.5 hour flight, often at around $80. I agree that Emory and USC are academic peer schools. If the decision here is based on the money, campus, convenience to get home, and even safety, then Emory seems to be the easy choice. If it’s about wanting to be living in an urban campus and LA, then maybe USC is a better choice (oh yeah, and sports).