Strong Physics programs at non-elite schools

Tons of PhD Physics programs just in Texas. Rice, Houston, UTD, UT-Austin, UNT, TX Tech, SMU, Baylor, TCU and Texas A&M.

Describe the cost differences and employment options. Offer to pay for summer or semester abroad programs to satisfy the urge to be far away. Purdue or IU are such great options. The honors programs should really lower the class sizes and give more opportunities to make connections.

He wants to experience life outside the Midwest. He’s only lived in Indiana his whole life and attends a medium sized high school where about half the kids end up at IU and Purdue. He’s tired of being around conservatives all the time and wants to live in a more liberal part of the country. I’m from the East coast and have family and friends there. And we’re aware that college campuses are liberal pockets (I work in one), but the surrounding areas can be very conservative. He’s a vegan atheist attending a Catholic school. He’s ready to get out and see life beyond our bubble. He spent a few weeks in Cambridge MA this summer and he felt like he belonged there for instance.


[quote=“MITPhysicsAlum, post:48, topic:3618956”]
According to the OP, that’s the parent’s idea.

Not quite, he just doesn’t mention the West coast. I think due to his anxiety, he may not want to be that far away. As a family we travel East more often and it’s an easy flight or 12-hour drive to NY or Boston. And we have family there. Plus Dad attended law school in Boston so we lived there as well and he has heard us tell stories of our years out there.

Personally, I would prioritize the geography. That will be arguably as valuable/educational to the student as the classroom learning, in terms of his growth and development as a person. Which will stand him in good stead whatever his career ends up being.


What did you expect?

The total number of physics faculty in the US is growing about 1% per year. Typical department turnover is maybe 3-4% per year, so yes, to a very good approximation, someone has to leave before their replacement can be hired.

How should this be done differently so it isn’t dishearting?

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This boy knows he likes high school physics, but whether he likes or has any aptitude for physics at the college level ( much less grad level) is unknown. He may very well change majors and plans, so I wouldnt stress much about finding the right physics program-most of them will suit his purpose


I don’t disagree. I’m just answering the question asked - but I did want to warn the OP that the job might not be what she and her son think it is.

However, non-physics options will be different at different places.


I do appreciate the guidance you have provided in that regard

I am also a URochester fan but want to point out that Rochester is not really “east coast”. I’ve spent some time in central and western NY (including in Rochester) and it is culturally very different from the NYC area; more midwestern than east coast in my view. It is south coast of Lake Ontario though fwiw.

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Well coming from someone who has admitted to knowing very little about physics and math, I had zero expectations I guess. I am no expert which is why I’m asking and I appreciate everyone’s suggestions and feedback. At the end of the day, most students change their majors in college, so I’m going to bet that he will as well, especially when faced with these facts.

Exactly. I have a strong suspicion he will change his major in college or keep his physics major but go into a different career with it.

I think any school you can afford and want to afford can be fine. To your point, he has to get past rank.

I mean is there any noticeable difference between #49 Georgia and Ohio State vs #71 Indiana or #38 Wisconsin or #89 Delaware.

Math and physics can be done decently anywhere and most who aspire to phd will never sniff. So find what he thinks is the right fit - liberal east coast.

So niche lists schools by category. East coast liberal bent

Stony Brook
SUMY Albany

That’s from the top 75 and I omitted some smaller schools. But Midwest schools make the list too - Dennison, Beloit, Iowa, etc

Maybe find a list and craft from there.

I think the important application strategy difference between Ohio State and Purdue is the fact that Purdue admits to individual majors. Physics - Undergraduate Admissions - Purdue University

The anxiety issue would concern me. Maybe limit schools to cities with direct flights.

Rice came to mind if he’s open to Texas.

Penn State and NC State have nuclear reactors if that’s an interest. Pitt could be a nice option. Smaller public school.

I’m surprised U Chicago didn’t pop-up on the radar.

Boston would be a great college experience. Maybe throw flyers to Northeastern or BU too. Good luck.

It can matter for where you get your PhD, but not your BSc. (within reason). Many students from non-elite undergraduate programs get admitted to elite PhDs. Beyond that however, even more than at the undergraduate level, program and especially research fit, is far more important when choosing a graduate program. It’s all well and good to attend a program with a rock star researcher, but if that means that they aren’t actually supervising PhD students and it’s left to the post-docs, and all the PhD students are super competitive and engage in toxic and sabotaging behaviours, you may be better off at a lesser known program where you can get direct mentoring from your PI and more opportunities to publish, attend conferences, and to gain teaching experience. Ultimately it’s your CV that’s going to matter for getting hired, not the name of your PI.

Can not or is not?

MIT vs local community college are two very extreme examples, and not what’s being discussed here. An applicant from MIT does not necessarily have an advantage over an applicant form a solid mid-tier school just by the virtue of having attended MIT. As mentioned above it’s what you do while you’re acquiring your degree that matters much more so than the name of the school you attend. While it may be easier to access those kinds of research experiences that will garner an applicant a strong admit at an elite school like MIT, those kinds of opportunities are not exclusively available at those kinds of schools. A student who takes the initiative to seek out research and mentoring experiences can be equally successful in graduate school admissions coming from a less selective school.

He should not apply to UChcago. That likely isn’t a good environment for him.

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If he wants East Coast and liberal, then that’s what he should apply to - and I mentioned schools in an earlier post and there’s a lot more.

However, OP - have you guys made visits to schools yet?

Maybe a Beloit or Grinnell could work? Is he making “assumptions” or does he know?

As you said, you’ve got family in the East - there’s lots of schools to choose from - but then when he say pedigree - well at some point mom and dad have to say - but this is the budget.

it was to work for all - but there’s still fine schools where he can live in this liberal world he believes will exist (they will have the other side too) - use the niche list for help (it’s the most complete I found), find schools, go visit and see.

If your budget is $40K, then only look at schools that can get there.

If it’s $80K - call an ambulance - your husband fainted :slight_smile: and btw - many of us are like that - we could afford but didn’t want to…in part, because of what is taking place now (in the markets).

btw - a physics and math degree is great - even if he doesn’t go into academia - and he likely won’t…nor will he likely finish in those two majors.

But it can open many doors - like any other liberal art degree.

Find the right school for him, where he can prosper - going to a “pedigree” school is pointless if you’re miserable.

And some lesser pedigree schools provide top students opportunities they wouldn’t get at the creme de la creme schools. My daughter is experiencing that at Charleston.

Hope you find the right school - but if you set the parameters and then find possibilities to fit the parameters, I think everyone in your family can win.

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I definitely think that college is about more than academics and price and that fit and mental health are crucial. And my own family paid for me to go to an OOS flagship, so I can definitely understand reasons to pay more. But Indiana has such quality schools and I personally would have a hard time bypassing IU or Purdue for $22k vs. paying $60k at Michigan, because I don’t see how the fit between those Big 10 schools is all that different. But if your son was interested in marine biology, for instance, I could definitely see a rationale in leaving Indiana. Paying for smaller classes, or better support services, or a student culture where my child was likely to have an easier time forming a friendship group…all reasons that I would pay more. But, this is your family and everyone makes decisions on a different basis.

I totally agree with this. And if you give us any additional info about what your son would like with respect to a college experience beyond a strong physics program (besides prestige, liberal, east coast), let us know.

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If you have a further interest in recognition from the American Physical Society, you may want to include recent Apker finalists in your research as well, such as through APS Celebrates Undergraduate Research with the LeRoy Apker Award Finalists and Top Undergrads Vie for Apker Award. By subsequently seeking information on individual honorees, you can discover more about the educational environments of the undergraduate colleges they attended, their research interests and the physics PhD programs (commonly top-6) they selected.


Since he responded well to Cambridge and given that fit and other factors seem to come into play, why not look at Tufts, a medium size research university just 2 miles down the road from Harvard Square? Two of the hallmarks of studying at Tufts are flexibility in programming and interdisciplinary studies, both of which could serve him well as he progresses. There are lots of other great options in the Boston area as well.

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