Liberal arts college for physics grad school

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Liberal arts college for physics grad school

Post by Etranger » Tue Oct 02, 2012 2:22 pm


A few months ago, I made a thread asking for some guidance related to choosing colleges. I ended up deciding to go ahead and apply to the US. As it turns out, the liberal arts colleges in the top top 50 - top 60 of the US News Rankings have a fair bit of funding available for international students. I don't care about

My eventual aim is to work in physics for as long as I can (i.e, probably for the duration of a PhD) and then move on to industry. Ideally, the school should be able to provide one with a solid undergraduate curriculum (i.e, not Vassar or Sarah Lawrence) and possess the resources (research opportunities for one; whether at the school or elsewhere) that would enable one to get into a good grad school. I'm a guy, so no women's colleges. Sucks, as Barnard and Wellesley are a little less selective than Columbia and MIT; students there can cross-register!

Since among the members here, on, are physics faculty, graduate students and prospective graduate students, I figured I would get good suggestions. It's quite hard for me to be able to gauge the level of a physics program on my own but in some cases, who'll make the cut of my college list is quite straightforward.

I gotta pick ten of the least selective ones. So, already, Amherst, Swarthmore and Williams are out of the question. If I can find enough time to write good applications for them, or I decide to not apply to one of my reach schools, I'll apply to them. Middlebury and Oberlin don't really look like my kinda place (Reed is my top choice) but if their physics programs are good, I'd be willing to take a chance and apply. I also heard that Kenyon's physics department is the best of their science departments. It looks like a nice school, but I really can't tell.

At any rate, I would appreciate it if you could help me pick out some schools. If you've been to any of the liberal arts colleges in the top 60, I'd be interested to read what you thought of your experience there.


Notes: 1) I do realise that some of you may think I'm nuts. Truth be told, I probably am. That said, I've messed up before and I want to do my very best at college. I don't know of anyone who's knowledgeable enough to help me out.
2) Yes, I know this post is under graduate school selection and that this forum is geared towards grad school preparation and application....which is why I posted here. :oops:


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Re: Liberal arts college for physics grad school

Post by Etranger » Thu Oct 04, 2012 3:34 pm

Any suggestions?

UofRichmond is another school I'm considering. I know a member here went there. Would be cool (assuming you see this) if you write about how the physics department was like there, in terms of availability of classes, research opportunities and any other thing that comes to mind when you think of the school and physics there.

I really gotta pick 10-12 schools ASAP. If I absolutely had to pick them now, here's the ones I'd apply to.

Reed, Kenyon, Lafayette, St. Olaf, Carleton and Macalester. Problem with that list is that there's only 6 in there, and they may include too many selective colleges.

Anybody know anything about Connecticut College, Trinity (both CT and TX), Colby, Bates, Franklin & Marshall, Gettysburg, Denison, Skidmore or Kalamazoo? Those are a few others I'm looking at...

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Re: Liberal arts college for physics grad school

Post by bfollinprm » Fri Oct 05, 2012 1:34 am

Before I post about UR, I'll say Haverford and Harvey Mudd are good physics schools in a liberal arts setting; it might be, however, that neither offer the sort of funding you're looking for (though definitely apply for a Fulbright ( if you qualify.

Ok, now on to my alma mater...

Richmond has three things positive for it for a physicist. The big one is research; you won't have a problem finding a professor to work with, who will pay you over the summer to do science, and if you're devoted, you should publish at least once. This gives you a leg up on graduate applications, since most undergrads don't have a publication, and yours will likely be as one (or the first) of very few authors. The second is the science scholars program, which (assuming you earn it) offers a very generous financial aid, and provides some level of additional academic support (you'll be advised by science faculty from the get-go, will have preferential placement in classes, and gives access to some career networking opportunities. Finally, almost everyone spends a semester abroad (the school makes this very easy), which means you can go somewhere else, take classes you otherwise couldn't, meet faculty at other schools, and possibly do research there (especially if you go in the spring, and stay on for the summer); all for no extra cost.

There's also some bad things about UR for physics students. The first is class selection; there just aren't a lot of upper level courses offered here. There is a cross-enrollment agreement with the University of Virginia (a top 5 state university, and top 50 grad school), but it's > 1 hour away, so it's hard to plan taking classes there. The second (though this is debatable as a drawback) is that the general education requirements take a year and a half to complete, so you can't just load up on maths and science.

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Re: Liberal arts college for physics grad school

Post by Etranger » Sat Oct 06, 2012 9:24 am

You guessed correctly. While those two do have financial aid available for foreigners, it's very limited. Haverford offers aid to only 1 or 2 international students each year. The numbers are slightly more favorable at Mudd (<15 or <10 per year with aid, according to a student on another forum; couldn't find an official source), but it's ultra competitive. There's loads of people who apply there with great "numbers" (GPA/test scores), and Mudd doesn't look like the kind of school who'd be willing to overlook my poor GPA. Low, as in barely 3.0 if I were to guess, but with an upward trend at the very end (I didn't know what to do with myself but I eventually decided against nihilism and figured things out :-) :-)). Even if I were to get straight 800s in math II and two science subject tests, I probably wouldn't get in there.

Indeed, getting into any college would be like winning the jackpot. There's hoping the other

Thank you so much for all those details about Richmond. I will try look for more information on the number of international students they fund each year, and if my SAT scores* fall in the range of the 75th percentile, I will definitely apply. I don't know if I will be able to get fee waivers, so if it looks like I won't get in, I'd rather spend the $$ on a school I have a better shot at. I know someone (online), who was accepted there, but didn't get any aid. On that note, I don't understand how some colleges accept those students they cannot offer any aid to - how are they going to be able to attend if they don't have the money? Thankfully, that acquaintance got off the waitlist at Mount. Holyoke.

Having said that, Richmond sounds like a great place to be for a physics major. Most small colleges - Mudd/Caltech/other science schools aside - don't have much in the way of upper level courses, so that's just something I gonna have to deal with when and if I'm there. Besides, things worked out just fine for you (UC Davis :-) :-)), so that shouldn't be a problem.

By any chance, do you know anything about the other schools I mentioned? Kenyon is one I'm considering very seriously.

*I took a practice test yesterday and got 2020, which was far below my usual performance. I took the actual test today, and I think I did better, but we never know, right? Scores will be available within two weeks.

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Re: Liberal arts college for physics grad school

Post by wiak2 » Sat Oct 06, 2012 12:33 pm

Reed is a very good school, but I have heard that they actively fight grade inflation, so expect to work to keep your GPA up. The best part is that you might get a chance to take a class from this great man:

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Re: Liberal arts college for physics grad school

Post by Etranger » Mon Oct 08, 2012 6:11 am

wiak2 wrote:Reed is a very good school, but I have heard that they actively fight grade inflation, so expect to work to keep your GPA up. The best part is that you might get a chance to take a class from this great man:
He's emeritus professor now, so he may or may not be teaching classes any more. That said, there is a course named "Elementary Particles" at Reed. Perhaps he teaches that one on odd years? Or maybe they just use his book for it, I don't know. Why else would they call it "Elementary Particles" and not something like "Intro to particle physics", which is what most schools would opt for?!

I know someone who went to India recently; I asked her to get me his E&M book, which I will (hopefully!) start working on during the summer before college. A friend, who's already doing physics at the local U, borrowed it, and he seems to enjoy his writing style. "Very informal and clear", which is what all fans of Griffiths' book seem to say!

I've narrowed down the list. So, in case anybody knows of any of those schools (I know, I'm being a pain), post here!

Code: Select all

1. UChicago
4. Macalester
5. Kenyon
6. Trinity (CT)
7. Lafayette
8. Connecticut
9. Franklin and Marshall
10. Gettysburg
11. Rhodes
12. St. Lawrence
14. Dickinson
15. Reed
I've ordered them, not in order of preference, but in the order in which they appear in the US News rankings. Again, I don't care much for those, but it would be safe to assume that those lower down on the list are somewhat less selective.

UChicago is, of course, a high reach. I haven't decided who #2 and #3 will be.

I'd appreciate your input. Thanks!

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