MIT vs. CalTech (admitted to both)

<p>Dear MITers,</p>

<p>I was admitted to both MIT and CalTech for 2014. I am still undecided for which school I will attend and I had a few questions.</p>

<p>My basic concern is not averages of students or anything, I truly want to know where I could get the best Math/Physics education. Who has better competitive teams, who has tougher curriculum, better professors, better research, more research opportunities, etc. </p>

<p>I know the two school quarrel all of the time, but what could MIT offer me? I'm looking at opportunities from the top of the scale, not things like freshman experience or social experience but which school could I benefit the most from and have a successful career as a research scientist or mathematician.</p>

<p>Thanks for your help, I really appreciate it.</p>

<p>(P.S. I am posting this on both CalTech and MIT forums)</p>

I'm looking at opportunities from the top of the scale, not things like freshman experience or social experience but which school could I benefit the most from and have a successful career as a research scientist or mathematician.


<p>I'm going to let people more knowledgeable about the physics and math departments take on the academic quality aspect, but I have a question for you - do you think that the experience of being at a place has no impact on your education?</p>

<p>In the broad, both schools are top-notch in these departments - the tipping point in your education may very well be the experience of being at either school, which place inspires you more, pushes you more, things that lie outside of the department. (This isn't an argument one way or another - each school suits different [overlapping] sets of people.)</p>

<p>I looked at both MIT and Caltech and ultimately decided on MIT. I've heard Professor Lewin is amazing (he's a physics teacher there) and he has some videos online that are pretty good. MIT has a pretty good spirit and lots of tradition. It really depends on what you personally want out of a college aside from the academics. Strictly academically, they're probably about matched. You have to remember that college isn't ALL about the classes as much as it is about the overall experience and growth- friends, parties, sports, clubs, etc. What really sealed MIT for me was reading the blogs. It's a good way to see how people deal day to day up there.</p>

<p>(By the way, I wasn't admitted, which was heartbreaking, but it was my number one school and I spent months poring over every little morsel of information I could find.)</p>

<p>^ Prof. Lewin is retired, although according to my physics major friend he still roams the halls once in a while.</p>

<p>to the OP: I think the kind of math / physics you want to do also matters. For example, I've heard that the Caltech education in math and physics is a lot more theoretical than MIT's, which is more applicational.</p>

<p>If you're looking for top-shelf academics, you'll find them at both schools. Going to either MIT or Caltech will not impoverish you in terms of your science education.</p>

<p>I think there's a legitimate difference between MIT and Caltech when people are looking at the easiest possible method to skate by. I don't think there's a difference when people are looking at the most challenging schedule possible -- the sky's the limit in both places, and you can take graduate-level courses to your heart's content, spend all of your time doing cutting-edge research, etc.</p>

<p>Keep in mind that physics and math are both disciplines where schools' grad programs tend to select against their own undergrads.</p>

<p>If you want to be a research scientist, that probably means that you want a PhD. So keep in mind that whichever of MIT and Caltech you don't go to for undergrad, you could go to for grad, assuming that you did well enough as an undergrad.</p>

<p>Both school have great professors, research, research opportunities, curriculum. You really can't go wrong there. MIT has abut 75 math majors and 65 physics majors per year. MIT also has many students who come in very advanced in math and physics, as you are, and then later decide to be engineers because some cool application for all that theory caught their eye. </p>

<p>MIT has about 50 students per year start their math at differential equations or higher, and probably about ~25 of these students start their math education at MIT in very challenging classes for math majors (that is,, where the first decimal digit is one or higher). The point is, you will have a large peer group with similar ambitions. Freshman can easily get involved in research.</p>

<p>Having a large peer group that shares your math and physics ambitions is only one reason to go to MIT. The other reason to go to MIT is that it is just intellectually entertaining. You will meet many multi-talented, creative people with almost every side interest under the sun. To steal from Forrest Gump, MIT is like a box of chocolates, when you talk to people, you never know what you're going to get.</p>

<p>If you can visit both schools between now and April, that will help you get a sense of the different vibe at each. Stay over in the dorms if possible. S1 definitely had a preference after sitting in on classes at each. He also talked to a number of students and profs. Get on the FB groups for the admitted classes and talk to people who are already there.</p>

<p>Agree with jessiehl that if grad school is in the picture, think hard about what you want out of UG vs. grad school. Not just due to schools selecting against their own undergrads, but because there may be experiences available at one school that aren't possible at the grad level.</p>

<p>My older S was accepted at MIT and Chicago EA, deferred and waitlisted at Caltech. Ultimately chose Chicago because there are things Chicago does better in UG than MIT, and he wanted to pursue those opportunities while he has the chance. This process has also confirmed to him that MIT is his top choice for grad school.</p>

<p>A few notes to you, from someone who has looked into the math programs -- Caltech's graduate program is extremely small, though they have some nice departments. I personally would favor MIT's for graduate school. </p>

<p>Other things to keep in mind: which school has a larger breadth of offerings, and which school puts you through the most attractive (to you!) sequence of classes and such things to train you in the fundamentals? The latter is an important staple. The former will help you get acquainted with enough to have a good idea as to what you want out of graduate study. Another consideration is the student-professor interactions, as well as student to student interactions. There are several schools I could name with equally strong programs, but it's the culture at the different ones that really distinguishes them.</p>

<p>On that note, as there are several strong schools out there, you may not end up at either MIT or Caltech for graduate school. I'd not make the decision as to undergraduate study based on wanting to go to one of them for graduate study, because research interests change over time, and different schools can offer very different sorts of good things for budding researchers.</p>

<p>As a remark as to how different programs can be, UChicago's math program is supposed to be extremely exam-centric, has lots of personal advising, but also at the cost that they can require you to place into classes rather than just taking them at your will. On the other hand, my impression is Chicago really takes running its courses well very seriously, even in comparison with other great schools.</p>

<p>I agree with everyone here that you'll need to visit both schools. But I can perhaps add a few thoughts to this thread:</p>

<p>MIT and Harvard are close neighbors. The math departments of both schools sponsor a number of joint meetings and events during the year, and with cross-registration, you can take courses at Harvard, if you wish.</p>

<p>In terms of sheer numbers, there are more math/physics majors at MIT. I believe about a 100 students at MIT sit for the Putnam, for instance. One result is a great sense of energy and diversity within these groups. Toss in all the math majors at Harvard, and you have a community that is probably unique in North America, if not the world. </p>

<p>CalTech's research program for undergraduates offers many opportunities, and so does MIT's. But my guess is that the depth and breadth of offerings at MIT is greater. My daughter is a junior physics major. She's held a paid UROP since her second semester at MIT, and she's had some amazing research opportunities over the summer. Her research group now has the possibility of going to Germany this summer to install a new particle detector, and if they receive the funding, she will go with them.</p>

<p>CalTech has a georgeous campus, but after visiting both MIT and CalTech, my daughter decided to not apply to CalTech. She had a meeting with a physics professor at CalTech, and the professor's words stuck with her: "If you come here, you can expect to talk about only math and science all the time." This may not have been the professor's exact words, but this is how my daughter interpreted the conversation, and after talking with students on the campus, this is the impression she left with. She was looking for a place where she could feel she was at the "center of the world" in math and physics but also where she could meet other physics majors interested in the arts, skiing, literature, politics, and applications of technology to real problems. But that was her desire. Maybe you're looking for something different.</p>

<p>Visit both places; I think you'll see where you fit best.</p>

<p>Thank you all for your advice!
The reason I wan't asking about the personal aspect, etc was because from what I've heard MIT has a much better social scene according to everyone, so I was trying to look at the academic side.
If I attend MIT, I already have a lab position (continuing from my summer research there) starting this summer. However, I do not have the same situation at CalTech. I still do not know if I will be able to visit CalTech, my mom doesn't know if we can afford the tickets... </p>

<p>The best thing I found on here was the Harvard reference. I do really like the idea of being that close to another great school I can interact/cross register at.</p>

<p>As far as social, I find myself usually talking about math/science anyway to people, but there aren't many people I know who like it, so I have developed the ability to talk about other things, too, haha. I like the idea that I can do both at MIT and according everyone probably only math/science at CalTech.</p>

<p>What do you guys mean when you talk about the school selecting from their undergrads? They DO get most grads from the ug pool? or the opposite?</p>


<p>It means they encourage their undergrads to go elsewhere for grad school, because of the importance of networking or something like that. In some cases I think MIT grad school actually forbids their undergrads from applying.</p>

<p>I don't think you really CAN separate the academic from the social or other aspects of college, nor is it necessarily a great idea.</p>

<p>Because when you're talking about studying math or science at MIT vs Caltech, the academics really aren't very different. It's not like you can graduate from one only to have someone later on in your career say "Ah, but only if you had gone to [the other] you would have learned x more thoroughly!" Not gonna happen, I promise.</p>

<p>What will make a difference is how you fit into the overall culture and atmosphere of the college you're studying at. How happy you are, how you fit into the intellectual culture, how easy and fulfilling it is to explore other interests, will all make a bigger difference than the difference between studying math at MIT or Caltech. My point is that it's not about which is "better" or "harder" or has "better professors" (because those are very subjective questions in the first place, with no real answers in the second place) but about which ones you find more stimulating.</p>

<p>As for grad school, some schools make it an official policy to NOT accept undergrads from their school into the grad program. I tend to think it's best to explore other options after undergrad, but I don't have a clue why some schools make this an official policy. And I'm not sure if MIT and Caltech have such polices in their math and physics programs either, so that's something to look into.</p>

<p>We have visited both schools and liked them both. I'm really hoping you can find a way to afford tickets to CA.... maybe you could go alone? (You'd be doing that anyway next year). I think it is important to get the feel of your campus choices before committing years of your life and tons of $. </p>

<p>To me Cal Tech dorms had more of a Hogwarts flavor... live in same house 4 years and do weeknight dinners with your housemates all together. MIT also has strong dorm social lives, but less structured meals etc. If any of that concerns you or excites you, ask current students for more info or read the various CC forums.</p>

<p>Re: academic inbreeding -- it's a field thing more than a school thing. Most science fields discourage inbreeding, although this is beginning to change somewhat. Most engineering fields inbreed gleefully.</p>

<p>For kicks and giggles, only one person inbred in our own math program this past year (though I think there were slightly more acceptances than one), but I believe an EECS graduate student told me inbreeding is popular enough.</p>


<p>I don't know Caltech's policy, but many top schools will reimburse selected FA candidates for some or all of the expenses to attend their admitted students weekend. I know MIT and Stanford did last year although I don't know what criteria they use in making such offers. If it becomes a make or break factor in making your decision it can't hurt to ask.</p>

<p>Thanks again. I really don't like that policy forbidding people to apply for grad school, it seems you should be allowed to go wherever you are qualified...</p>

<p>What is the "inbreeding" you talk about???</p>

<p>I will look into reimbursement. It is also very hard when no one knows what CalTech is, so they automatically say "you are going to MIT, right?".</p>

<p>Re: inbreeding, there's a famous quote from Richard Feynman on page 59 of his book, Surely You Are Joking, Mr. Feynman:</p>

<p>"When I was an undergraduate at MIT I loved it. I thought it was a great place, and I wanted to go to graduate school there too, of course. But when I went to Professor Slater and told him of my intentions, he said, “We won’t let you in here.” I said, “What?” Slater said, “Why do you think you should go to graduate school at MIT?” “Because MIT is the best school for science in the country.” “You think that?” “Yeah.” “That’s why you should go to some other school. You should find out how the rest of the world is.”" </p>

<p>Feynman went to Princeton, of course. That was decades ago, but I've heard MIT's physics department still holds this philosophy.</p>

<p>Inbreeding means taking a school's own undergraduates for graduate school.</p>

<p>About 20% of MIT undergrads head off to grad school at MIT directly after graduation -- the engineering departments are famous for inbreeding, to the extent that it's a point of pride to be "MIT cubed" and have your undergraduate, master's, and PhD degrees from MIT. </p>

<p>The science departments take their own less readily in general (which is true of science departments across the country). Of course, students often like to stay in the same area anyway -- the top feeder to my (Harvard) biology PhD program is MIT, and I believe the top feeder to MIT's biology PhD program is Harvard. ;)</p>