Matches/safeties for physics (not engineering)

First time poster. I’ve learned a lot from stalking this site in the past. My youngest (a senior) is looking to study physics at a medium to large university. He has a nice list of reaches but not many matches/safeties. He wants to study physics as part of a broader liberal arts education but does not want a small LAC. Ideally, he would be in the arts/sciences school at a research university. He is a social, sporty guy but does not want a “party school.” Hopes to play club sports. He is flexible on geography but prefers the northeast or west coast. 1560 SAT, 3.97 GPA (unweighted). He is full-pay. He didn’t get a chance to tour many schools so I’m hoping this wonderful, knowledgeable community can help with suggestions I can pass on to him. Thank you!

CWRU is a low-reach, high-match for students with high-stats. For best chances, apply EA and interview (if possible.)

Is your son a National Merit Semi-Finalist? If so, there are a variety of schools offering major scholarships, most notably the University of Florida (full-ride under the state-funded Benacquisto scholarship) and the University of Southern California (automatic half-tuition with the possibility of full-tuition.)

I’m obviously biased since I go here, but has your son considered Brown? He’ll have the resources of an Ivy-League research university coupled with the freedom of the Open Curriculum to study nothing but what he loves (except 2 writing-designated courses, though these are available in Bio, CS etc.) Brown’s grading system is EXTREMELY strudent-friendly: GPAs are not calculated, there are no +/- grades, and you can S/NC (Pass/Fail) any class, which is great for those electives you’ve always wanted to take. Also, SNOW!!! :smile:

Hope that helps!

Another vote for Case. Lehigh might also be worth a look.

What is your home state? Usually your safeties will be found there.



Stonybrook, BU, agree with Case although I don’t consider Ohio Northeast.

What are his reaches and what did he like about them?

We liked the physics department at W&M, which would be a match. Research possible from 1st semester.

CWRU is awesome…but I would not call it a safety! It would be a match. There are about 5000 undergraduates…is that small or medium to you?
Case was formed from the union of Case Institute of Technology and Western Reserve College (a Liberal Arts College) so you get the best of both.

Wouldn’t lots of not super selective flagships like Arizona, ASU, UC various, Colorado, Hawaii, Indiana, Maryland, Oregon, Rutgers, Stony Brook, Washington, etc. be respectable for physics?

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It doesn’t appear that anyone referred to CWRU as a safety.

Note that many colleges which do admit by major or division may be significantly less competitive for physics than for engineering majors or CS, since physics is less likely to be an oversubscribed major than engineering majors or CS.

Thank you for the helpful responses. Case Western and Rochester look like good options. Rochester has the 2nd oldest observatory in the US. Did not know that. I’m not sure how he feels about Ohio but I will tell him about CW. Stony Brook, also, particularly because we are in NY.

His current list is (in no particular order): Columbia (likes the core), Penn, UCLA, USC, UCSB, Cornell, Pomona (small but has the consortium), CU Boulder. In terms of physics, he is interested in the astrophysics side if that is helpful. I believe the strong academics/“also has sports” balance is important to him.

Thank you again for the feedback.

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I suggest Johns Hopkins for his astrophysics inclination.

Arizona for astro. And since you are in NY, Stonybrook for sure.

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FWIW, here you can see how many physics majors each institution educates:

If he is willing to relax his geographic preference, I would look at the top half of the Big Ten schools. Their Physics programs do really well in grad school rankings and some of that filters down to undergraduate. I wouldn’t worry about some of their party school reputations. With their size, there is something for everyone.

Re #9, I’m not so sure of this. A physics major may not be oversubscribed, but it requires more intellectual horsepower to succeed in a physics major than to get through most engineering majors. (This is based on my own experience with classwork in both of these areas; I have a bachelors in physics, after transferring from an engineering college, and then a masters in engineering). Admissions committees reviewing the application of a probable future intended physical sciences major should be aware of what is takes to succeed in those majors, and at least ought to take this into account. I personally think that they do, based on the people who became physics majors at my school. (granted this was before electricity was discovered).

You can look at a particular college and see aggregate reported admissions stats, but that does not mean every applicant shares the characteristic of the median of those stats. There are standard deviations around the mean that may be relevant.

When I applied to colleges, the admissions guide books broke stats down more than they do now, by M-F for one. At most schools, the reported English SATs for matriculating females were higher than for the males, often significantly, and vica versa for math. There isn’t an M-F thing going on in this case, but the point is the stats needed for some candidates may differ from some others, notwithstanding the aggregate numbers.

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I didn’t catch your home state, but UC Santa Cruz has amazing astrophysics research, and would definitely be a safety. My son’s roommate did physics at RPI, and was very happy with the program and outcomes - ended up getting a BS/MS in 5 years but also did a double major with CS and a coop one semester at some awesome lab. Both he and my son (high stats kids, but probably not as high as your son) got big-time merit at RPI. Both did lots of club sports.

Embry-Riddle might be just up his alley. Alabama would put him in the right place for some great opportunities as well.

OP, you mentioned that he hasn’t been able to tour many colleges. DD and I have found many of the virtual tours to be extremely useful. Some are very polished and scripted. Those we don’t care for those as much as they mostly focus on the buildings and the university’s history. Other tours are comprised of both a tour of the campus along with interview clips with multiple students. Those do give a feel for the vibe of the campus. They only take about an hour, if that. The students can also sign up for virtual information sessions, which, when held with admissions, aren’t as useful because at least half the students fill the time with admissions questions whose answers can easily be found on the college’s web page (grrr…). However, some colleges have students involved in those sessions too, which is more helpful because they tend to dish about the programs, the ECs, campus life, etc.

While that is true, it is unlikely that the OP’s student with 3.97 HS GPA (unweighted) and 1560 SAT will be seen by any college’s admissions as being unlikely to be able to graduate as a physics major.

Of course, physics major students themselves may be a self-selected cohort of strong students, even though a college’s physics department has plenty of capacity and does not have to restrict admission to the physics major like departments of oversubscribed majors do. I.e. physics may be harder in terms of the actual academics in some ways than engineering majors or computer science, but is probably easier to get admitted to the major at most colleges where there is an admission selectivity difference between majors.

Would second the Big Ten schools. My daughter is a sophomore physics major at Purdue. Very strong science and engineering school that can be challenging to very challenging to get into, depending on major and when you apply. If there is any interest, applying early is strongly recommended. A little closer to the east coast, I believe Penn State is also strong in astronomy/astrophysics, with a fair amount of research into exoplanets.

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