Help decide: U of Minnesota Twin Cities vs UMass Amherst vs U of Rochester vs Oberlin (natural sciences)

Hi All,

Help decide the last minute acceptance, please! My son is looking to study physics, chemistry, biology - ideally, wants to triple major, as he likes them all and can’t decide. Perhaps, minor in math. Eventually, plans to go to a grad school. Plays a music instrument and wants to participate in a band or orchestra, continue learning his instrument. He is an introvert, but is pretty social among his nerdy friends.

Current choice is between UMN-TC, UMass Amherst, UR, Oberlin. He doesn’t care about “big city” as he grew up in one.

As far as public schools: UMN or UMass? It seems that an undergrad research would need to be available, too. They are big schools, I know. He is confident he could find his crowd there, though.

UR seems to fit him best, but it’s almost double the price of the public schools. We could afford it, but it’s a stretch; he would need to get a PhD for free, then. :slight_smile: He likes the kids there, the smaller classes, the advertised research opportunities for undergrads, the flexibility of the program.

But is U Rochester worth the double price tag compared to the UMinn / UMass?

Oberlin: he didn’t like the kids much, so we’re leaning towards passing it, but thought I would mention it here, nevertheless.

Thank you, all!

U of Minnesota. Perhaps watch the videos on collegevine.

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Most physical science PhD programs are no cost because most PhD students are offered assistantships (teaching or research) that give free tuition plus a small living expenses stipend.

That said there is a terrible oversupply of bio PhDs and fewer than 1/3 of bio PhDs end up working in their research field–even when you take industry jobs into account. Many end up either teaching high school or as more or less permanent research associates. Chem and physics also overproduce PhDs, but not as many as bio programs do. (SIL is physics prof and he talks about the huge challenge it is placing his grad students into permanent positions.)

But is U Rochester worth the double price tag compared to the UMinn / UMass?

D2 graduated from UR not quite 10 years ago–when UR was expensive, but not so expensive as it is today. (She could only attend because she got a nearly full tuition merit scholarship.) She was double major in math + a physical science. (She was only able to complete the double major because she had 4 semesters math credits–through linear algebra–completed coming into UR.) She says UR offered her a lot of opportunities, but that today, at its current cost, she wouldn’t recommend it to anyone at full pay.
D did undergrad summer research internships at two big public universities and thought the breadth of course offerings in her specialty field at those larger Us was something the UR just didn’t offer and something which she wished she had the chance to explore.

Re: music at UR. D is a jazz musician (saxophone) and had hoped to continue her music at UR. Be aware that getting music lesson at Eastman with a grad student is free, but positions are only offered by a competitive audition process. Also lessons depend on the availability of a grad student(s) specializing in your instrument. So music lesson availability is not guaranteed for any particular instrument. There are instrument practice rooms at UR, but those are available on a first come -first served basis with music major/minors getting first priority. The on campus music ensembles are small and are open by audition only. Although Eastman students are not permitted to play in UR-main campus music ensembles/groups, UR music majors/minors get priority for ensemble spots. Sometimes there just are no open positions left for non-musics majors for popular instruments. As for non-sponsored/informal music groups–D didn’t pursue that because she was busy doing other stuff so I can’t speak about that.


I think all three choices are really good in terms of your child’s experience, and he can’t really go wrong for undergrad. If he knows he wants to go to grad school, or is going into a major, like Bio, that kind of needs an advanced degree to be really employable, then cost needs to be a factor.

I have been on campus at UMass a few times over the years, and believe UMass’ and Minnesota’s campuses are very different. UMass is like a big college town in Amherst, whereas the Twin Cities is a major metropolitan area. I don’t know what your son likes more, but those are two pretty different settings for a school.


You don’t need to spend twice the price on Rochester vs the two public options. He can get the education he needs at UMass or UMinn.

UMass has a great marching band - my kid’s shy and awkward roommate was in it, and it provided him instantly with a wonderful group of friends, until he made more friends through his classes and other interests. The food is fantastic, and the dorms are good, especially the honors campus dorms (which are right by the marching band rehearsal area), and some of the newer upperclassman dorms, which just happen to be near the science buildings. Amherst is a cute little college town, UMass’ campus is lovely, with the feel of a large midwest land grant campus. He would have the option of taking classes at any of the 4 other colleges in the 5 college consortium. And UMass now has a campus in an inner-ring Boston suburb, so he’d have access to housing if he were to do an internship at a science facility in the Boston area.


I’d drop Oberlin since he’s not as fond of it - no reason to keep it in the running.

For the others, have him look at what profs in his desired majors are researching to see if that sways him toward or away from any of the schools. Often that info can be found on department websites or via a search. Sometimes students need to email for it, but IME, places have been good about providing it to prospects.

Then figure out the cost aspect - if it’s even still a thing (aka, he doesn’t prefer one of the others).

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If you can afford but don’t want to afford Rochester…then don’t…so you don’t second guess. it’s really that simple to me.

Then it’s and you said it doesn’t matter- city vs. not city of the other two.

One thing to look at is food - UMASS is top rated and I have a co-worker that stated I’d eat there over a gourmet restaurant. A CC friend just took his son to visit and said the food was very good (and a consideration for them).

UMN food rates a B+ so not horrible…but you know, you eat every day and how many times do kids not eat, get low blood sugar, etc…so it might be a factor.

Getting to UMN will be much easier.

I don’t think you can go wrong but I’d eliminate UR for simple reason that you’re hesitant about the cost…and if you’re going to grad school, that extra money is not needed to be spent.

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Thank you, all the good answers, so it’s even hard to reply. :slight_smile:

We eliminated the Oberlin. From two public options, UMinn seems the strongest with more resources, even though UMass seems the nicest (campus, Amherst town, skiing nearby).

What if cost is not an issue? How would U of Minnesota and U of Rochester compare then? Academically, socially?

Thank you!

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Assume what you know. One is small. Almost nerdy. The other big sports, Greek. Not going be as smart overall but tons of smart kids. More going on. Different vibe altogether I’d assume.

U Rochester appeals to the students who care about academics, esp with research, music (singing, dance, instruments), and don’t care as much about sports (though some like hockey). It also appeals to those who like a more traditional campus bubble vs being integrated into a city. Within academics, students like their almost total lack of a core curriculum - one writing course is required and a couple of clusters outside of one’s major (as long as they haven’t changed things in the past few years). It’s a great school to double or triple major at.

This admissions video is older, but it sums up the campus pretty well. It was made by a competitive male acapella group on campus:

The main reason some students I know of didn’t choose it if they liked it is because it ended up too expensive for them. The main reasons some students don’t apply is the weather, the lack of major sports, and not really wanting as much of a research culture.

I can’t speak about U Mass or U Minn because I don’t know (personally) any students who have gone to either. That’s not a diss on either school. It’s merely because we live in PA and local students just don’t consider them over Penn St, Pitt, Temple, Rutgers, or UMD.

As suggested, UR seems like the obvious fit based on your son’s interests, goals and personality. Regarding costs, consider that PhD programs in your son’s fields of interest typically include a stipend for attendance.

BIL and SIL were profs at UMass Amherst, and lived in town, but I have limited knowledge of the academics. I know that the CS is quite good(I would assume the math department , too?), and you can get a good education there, but it is also known as a party school(ZooMASS) according to S1.

S2 has just chosen MN over other, higher rated schools for CompE(lots of math/physics). What sold him was the relatively small size of the CompE student body compared to other State flagships, the good teaching rep of the CSE teachers/TA’s/tutors in general, the pleasing buildings and study spaces, and the overall cozy feel of the East Bank, even though on paper MN is quite large. In particular, MN’s Math department is exceptional, with a very good rep for teaching, and overall. The recently renovated Physics building is, really, really nice, as is the Walter(CSE) Library.
S2 is not a party guy…just wants to engineer all day…but also likes that there is a very nice workout facility just a short walk away, as are the bulk of the residences and the Village, with all it’s restaurants. IMO the U has done a great job of keeping car traffic to the fringes of the campus, unlike some other state flagships like WI.
It wasn’t an easy decision turning down some more prestigious schools, but talking extensively to students within the school programs sold him on MN. They generally were less pessimistic about their experience than students at the other schools.
I don’t know if your son would be coming home for the summers, but MPLS/SPL is a very healthy job market, with a diversified lineup of companies looking to hire students, should he decide to stay here to work.

Thanks, all.

It’s down to UMinn vs UR.

Our son is leaning towards the UMinn but for what we perceive are the wrong reasons: a). the ability to study abroad for two years in potentially stronger schools; b). Bachelor of Individualized Studies at the College of Liberal Arts, which seems as flexible as the Rochester’s flexible curriculum.

Without considering the study abroad, he agrees that UR would be a better school (nerdy crowd, smaller classes, good professors, etc.). Yet, he is not crazy about either of the schools. So, his thinking is, he would do all that’s minimally needed at UMinn (gen ed and all intro sciences) and then would be taking classes in schools better than UMinn or UR overseas.

How crazy or feasible is his plan? And if the former, how can we convince him???

I feel like we’re making an important life decision with strong opinions and not enough data, nor time. :frowning:

He can find rigor at both. At most schools you can do study abroad options through the school or outside.

He’s unlikely to be abroad two years either.

Both are great. He’ll get great opportunities from both. If he’s indifferent save the $$ and go cheapest.

In your first post you said you could afford UR but it’s a stretch. College costs more than you think…$3-5k annually I’d surmise. UMN is a fine school. Why put yourself out. He’s going, not you. And if he studies abroad it will likely cost more.

You should be excited he is leaning UMN.

I think U of Minn TC is a great school. Its actually a reach for my s23 and his major so we dont think of it negatively here.

Twin Cities area has so many options for him. Lots of great companies in the area. Have you watched the videos on collegevine? They hype up their school quite nicely.

U of R has a bit of a stereotype of preppy snobby kids. U of Minn is going to be the opposite yet U of Minn graduates are quite successful.

I hear only good things about U of Minn, but my concern is that he wants to go there for the wrong reasons.

He loves all sciences but can’t commit to one or two. But at some point he has to, since the further into the sciences he goes the farther they separate. The advise from our friends in academia is that he needs to 1). study all intro science classes for the first two years, and then 2). find a research he loves and concentrate on it and the related science fields and classes. That would give him a cohesive yet diverse science background to go to a grad school. Not to mention relationships with professors who would be eventually writing his LOR’s.

Instead, he wants to take science classes in “better” universities abroad (and what are the chances of his getting accepted to those programs?). I don’t think the suggestion above from professor-friend would work with his naive idea of study abroad plans.

And we do want him to study abroad.

I don’t think the weird DIY major and the idea of taking advanced classes abroad are the best stepping stones to top grad programs. Why would the profs abroad want to work so closely with him if he wasn’t enrolled in their own program. The U of MN does have a strong study abroad focus but that’s not why you go there.

I think many kids are undecided at many schools. He’s 18. He’ll figure it out. He may take a class on…geography or anthropology or religion and even change out of sciences. You just don’t know. Again he’s 18.

If he wants to do research, all you need to do is ask. If he wants to be in academia, he can from both.

Both will provide fine study abroad activities. His thoughts may be wrong but so are yours conversely.

And the $$ save will help your family based on your initial post. And you will spend more than you think at either school.

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My opinions are as someone who is not emotionally invested in the situation and who works in a grad program where 100% of the students did a different degree first and then “changed their mind” and pivoted into a new type of program.

If the kid cant decide on a major now, why the focus on grad school research 4 plus years down the road?
I guess my interpretation of your kids thoughts and statements (from what you have told us) are that they want to explore options and that perhaps taking certain courses in overseas universities may help him decide his path. I see it as “if XYZ school overseas is known for excellenece in a particular subject area and I take a class there and love it, maybe I will be more confidence in choosing that path. But if I hate it, then I know to divert down the other fork in the road.”

Your kid got into some great universities and I think will be successful in the end. My experience with grad school is (again, as someone who works with grad students and who has gotten into 2 different grad schools-to complete my masters and now finishing my doctorate in the past few years) that its pretty easy to find a grad school who will accept you if you have the money to pay. I wouldnt fret about the ability of my 17/18 year old to get into grad school.